Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-546b4f848f-gfk6d Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-05-30T12:23:09.544Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

5 - Postcolonial auto/biography

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 January 2012

Ato Quayson
University of Toronto
Get access



The connections between autobiography and the postcolonial are profound. Postcolonial studies has brought political concerns to bear on literary texts, showing not only how such texts respond to structures of power and privilege, but also how they may play a part in creating or contesting such structures. In parallel, autobiography studies takes as its object a series of texts that cannot simply be addressed in formalist terms, that insist on their referentiality even as they form new subjectivities, both individual and collective, for writers and readers. Parallel battles over terminology, indeed, indicate intersecting disciplinary tensions. As Ato Quayson’s introduction illustrates, debates over the inclusion of the hyphen in ‘post(-)colonial’ arise from discussions over whether the term marks a temporal or an epistemological rupture. Auto/biography studies, similarly, has recently made greater use of the terms ‘auto/biography’ and ‘life writing’ as concepts more inclusive than Philippe Lejeune’s definition of autobiography as ‘a retrospective prose narrative produced by a real person concerning his [sic] own existence, focusing on his individual life, in particular on the development of his personality’, widening attention to a variety of forms in different social and cultural contexts. At the same time, others have insisted on the specificity of ‘autobiography’ as a particular modern genre promoting individual subjectification, and constituting a site of struggle over redefined individual and communal identities in modern society.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2012

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


al-Ghazali, Abu Ḥamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad. Deliverance from Error and Mystical Union with the Almighty (Al-munqidh min al-ḍalal), trans McLean, George F., Washington, DC: Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 2001.
Alatas, Syed Hussain. The Myth of the Lazy Native, London: Frank Cass, 1977.
Anderson, Benedict. The Spectre of Comparisons: Nationalism, Southeast Asia and the World, London: Verso, 1998.
Andrews, William. To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760–1865, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.
Appadurai, Arjun. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.
Arias, Arturo. (ed.). The Rigoberta Menchú Controversy, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001.
Arnold, , David, , and Blackburn, Stuart (eds.). Telling Lives in India: Biography, Autobiography, and Life History, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.
Ashcroft, , Bill, , Griffiths, Gareth and Tiffin, Helen, The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-colonial Literatures, London: Routledge, 1989
Azikiwe, Nnamdi. My Odyssey: An Autobiography, London: Hurst, 1970.
Beverley, John. ‘The margin at the center: on Testimonio’, in Gugelberger, Georg M. (ed.), The Real Thing: Testimonial Discourse and Latin America, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996.Google Scholar
bin Abdul Kadir, Abdullah. The Hikayat Abdullah, trans. Hill, A. H., Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1970.
Boehmer, Elleke. Colonial and Postcolonial Literature: Migrant Metaphors, Oxford University Press, 1995.
Breslin, Paul. Nobody’s Nation: Reading Derek Walcott, Chicago University Press, 2001.
Brouillette, Sarah. Postcolonial Writers in the Global Literary Marketplace, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
Casely Hayford, Joseph Ephraim. Ethiopia Unbound: Studies in Race Emancipation, London: C. M. Phillips, 1911
Chatterjee, Partha. The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World, New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.
Coetzee, J.M.Confession and double thoughts: Tolstoy, Rousseau, Dostoevsky’, in Attwell, David (ed.), Doubling the Point: Essays and Interviews, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.Google Scholar
Coetzee, J.M.Waiting for the Barbarians, London: Secker & Warburg, 1980.
Cooper, Frederick. Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.
Cruikshank, Julie, in collaboration with Angela Sidney, Kitty Smith and Annie Ned. Life Lived Like a Story: Life Stories of Three Yukon Native Elders, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.
Dalziell, Rosamund (ed.). Selves Crossing Cultures: Autobiography and Globalisation, Kew, VIC: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2002.
Dirlik, ArifLiterature/identity: transnationalism, narrative and representation’, Review of Education, Pedagogy and Cultural Studies, 24 (2002).Google Scholar
Du Bois, W. E. B.The Souls of Black Folk, Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co., 1903.
During, Simon. Postcolonialism and globalisation: a dialectical relation after all?’ Postcolonial Studies, 1 (1998).Google Scholar
Eakin, Paul John. How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999.
Fabian, Johannes. Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object, New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.
Fischer, Michael M. J.Autobiographical voices (1, 2, 3) and mosaic memory: experimental sondages in the (post)modern world’, in Ashley, Kathleen, Gilmore, Leigh and Peters, Gerald (eds.), Autobiography and Postmodernism, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994.Google Scholar
Fischer, Michael M. J.Ethnicity and the post-modern arts of memory’, in Clifford, James and Marcus, George E. (eds.), Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.Google Scholar
Ford-Smith, Honor. ‘Afterword’, in Sistren, with Ford-Smith, Honor, Lionheart Gal: Life Stories of Jamaican Women, Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2005.Google Scholar
Foucault, Michel. ‘Technologies of the Self’, in Martin, L. H. et al. (eds.), Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988.Google Scholar
Françoise, Lionnet.. Autobiographical Voices: Race, Gender, Self-portraiture, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989.
Fyans, Foster. Memoirs Recorded at Geelong, Victoria, Australia, Geelong: Geelong Advertiser, 1986.
Gandhi, M. K., An Autobiography or the Story of My Experiments with Truth, trans. Desai, Mahadev, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, 100 vols. (Delhi: Government of India Publications Division, 1994), vol. 44, p..
Geertsema, Johan. ‘Ndebele, Fanon, agency and irony’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 30 (2004).Google Scholar
Gusdorf, Georges. ‘Conditions and limits of autobiography’, in Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical, ed. and trans. James, . Olney, Princeton University Press, 1980.Google Scholar
Hofmeyr, Isabel. ‘We Spend Our Years as a Tale that Is Told’: Oral Historical Narrative in a South African Chiefdom, Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1993.
Holden, Philip. Autobiography and Decolonization: Modernity, Masculinity, and the Nation State, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008.
Hornung, Alfred, and Ruhe, Ernstpeter (eds.). Postcolonialism and Autobiography: Michelle Cliff, David Dabydeen, and Opal Palmer Adisa, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1998.
Huddart, David. Postcolonial Theory and Autobiography, London: Routledge, 2008.
Hurston, Zora Neale. Dust Tracks on a Road, Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1942; New York: HarperPerennial, 1991.
ibnMunqidh, Usamah. An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Period of the Crusades; Memoirs of Usamah ibn-Munqidh (Kitab al i’tibar), trans. Hitti, Philip K., New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.
Innes, Catherine Lynette. The Cambridge Introduction to Postcolonial Literatures in English, Cambridge University Press, 2007.
James, C. L. R.Beyond a Boundary, London: Hutchinson, 1963
Kaplan, Caren. ‘Resisting autobiography: out-law genres and transnational feminist studies’, in Smith, Sidonie and Watson, Julia (eds.), De/Colonizing the Subject: The Politics of Gender in Woman’s Autobiography, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992.Google Scholar
Kaunda, Kenneth David. Zambia Shall Be Free: An Autobiography, London: Heinemann, 1962.
Kenyatta, Jomo. Facing Mount Kenya: The Traditional Life of the Gikuyu, London: Heinemann, 1938.
Kincaid, Jamaica. At the Bottom of the River, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1984.
Kincaid, Jamaica. The Autobiography of My Mother, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996.
Kincaid, Jamaica. A Small Place, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988.
Kincaid, Jamaica. ‘Those words that echo … echo … echo’, Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from The New York Times, New York: Times Books, 2001.Google Scholar
Krishnan, Sanjay. ‘Reading globalization from the margin: the case of Abdullah Munshi’, Representations, 99 (Summer 2007).Google Scholar
Krishnaswamy, Revathi, and Hawley, John C. (eds.). The Postcolonial and the Global, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
Kuzwayo, Ellen. Call Me Woman, London: Woman’s Press, 1985.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Tristes Tropiques (1955), trans. John, and Weightman, Doreen, New York: Atheneum, 1973
Lamming, George. In the Castle of My Skin, London: Michael Joseph, 1953.
Lejeune, Philippe. ‘The autobiographical contract’, French Literary Theory Today: A Reader, ed. Todorov, Tzvetan, trans. Carter, R., Cambridge University Press, 1982.Google Scholar
Liliuokalani, . Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen, Boston: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1898.
Liu, Lydia He. Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity: China, 1900–1937, Stanford University Press, 1995.
Lovesey, Oliver. ‘Chained letters: African prison diaries and “national allegory”’, Research in African Literatures, 26.4 (Winter 1995).Google Scholar
Mandela, Nelson. Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, London: Little, Brown, 1994.
Menchú, Rigoberta. I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala, ed. Burgos-Debray, E., trans. Wright, A., London: Verso, 1984.
Milner, Anthony. The Invention of Politics in Colonial Malaya: Contesting Nationalism and the Expansion of the Public Sphere, Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Momaday, M. Scott. The Way to Rainy Mountain, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1969.
Moodie, Susanna. Roughing It in the Bush, or Life in Canada, London: Richard Bentley, 1852; ed. Carl Ballstad, Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1988; Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1989.
Moore-Gilbert, Bart. ‘The Confessions of Saint Augustine: roots and routes of postcolonial life writing’, A/B: Auto/Biography Studies, 20.2 (Winter 2005).Google Scholar
Moore-Gilbert, Bart, Postcolonial Life-Writing: Culture, Politics, and Self-Representation (London: Routledge, 2010)
Nandy, Ashis. The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983.
Nehru, Jawaharlal. An Autobiography, with Musings on Recent Events in India, London: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1936; Delhi: Allied Publishers, 1962.
Nkrumah, Kwame. Ghana: The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah, Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson, 1957; New York: International Publishers, 1979.
Nuttall, Sara, and Coetzee, Carli (eds.). Negotiating the Past: The Making of Memory in South Africa, Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Odinga, Oginga. Not Yet Uhuru, London: Heinemann, 1967.
Owen, Norman G. et al. The Emergence of Modern Southeast Asia: A New History, Singapore University Press, 2005.
Parker, David (ed.). Inhabiting Multiple Worlds: Auto/Biography in an (Anti-)Global Age, special issue of Biography 28.1 (Winter 2005).
Ping-Ying, Hsieh. Autobiography of a Chinese Girl: A Genuine Autobiography (1936), trans. Chi, Tsui, London: George Allen and Unwin, 1943; Pandora, 1986.
Pouchet Paquet, Sandra. ‘West Indian autobiography’, Black American Literature Forum, 24.2 (Summer 1990).Google Scholar
Réjouis, R-M. ‘Caribbean writers and language: the autobiographical poetics of Jamaica Kincaid’, The Massachusetts Review, 44.1/2 (Spring 2003).Google Scholar
Rawick, George. The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1972.
Raychaudhuri, Tapan. ‘Love in a colonial climate: marriage, sex and romance in nineteenth century Bengal’, Modern Asian Studies 34.2 (2000).Google Scholar
Reid, Anthony. ‘Understanding Melayu (Malay) as a source of diverse modern identities’, in Barnard, Timothy P. (ed.), Contesting Malayness: Malay Identities Across Boundaries, Singapore University Press, 2004.Google Scholar
Robbins, Bruce. Feeling Global: Internationalism in Distress, New York University Press, 1999.
Said, Edward W.Out of Place: A Memoir, London: Granta Books, 1999.
Sanford, Victoria. ‘From I, Rigoberta to the commissioning of truth: Maya women and the reshaping of Guatemalan history’, Cultural Critique, 47 (Winter 2001).Google Scholar
Schaffer, Kay, and Smith, Sidonie. Human Rights and Narrated Lives: The Ethics of Recognition, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
Scott, Jamie S., and Griffiths, Gareth (eds.). Mixed Messages: Materiality, Textuality, Missions, London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Sina], Avecinna [Ibn. Sirat al-shaykh al-ra’is (The Life of Ibn Sina), ed. and trans. Gohlman, William E., Albany: State University of New York Press, 1974.
Smith, Sidonie, and Watson, Julia (eds.). De/Colonizing the Subject: The Politics of Gender in Women’s Autobiography, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992.
Soyinka, Wole. Aké: The Years of Childhood (1981), London: Methuen, 2000.
Stoll, David. Rigoberta Menchu and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999.
Suleri, Sara. Meatless Days, University of Chicago Press, 1989.
Taqi, Mir Muhammad. Zikr-I Mir (The Autobiography of the Eighteenth Century Mughal Poet: Mir Muhammad Taqi ‘Mir’), ed. and trans. Naim, C. M., Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa. Detained: A Writer’s Prison Diary, London: Heinemann, 1981.
Walcott, Derek. Another LifeM, London: Jonathan Cape, 1973.
Wenzel, Jennifer. ‘The pastoral promise and the political imperative: the plaasroman tradition in an era of land reform’, MFS: Modern Fiction Studies, 46 (2000).Google Scholar
Whitlock, Gillian. The Intimate Empire: Reading Women’s Autobiography, London: Cassell, 2000.
Writers, Sangtin and Nagar, Richa. Playing With Fire: Feminist Thought and Activism through Seven Lives in India, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.
Yaeger, Patricia. ‘Editor’s column: the end of postcolonial theory? A roundtable with Sunil Agnani, Fernando Coronil, Gaurav Desai, Mamadou Diouf, Simon Gikandi, Susie Tharu, and Jennifer Wenzel’, PMLA, 112 (2007).Google Scholar
Yew, Lee Kuan. From Third World to First: The Singapore Story 1965–2000, Singapore: Times Editions, 2000.
Yew, Lee Kuan. The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore: Times Editions, 1998.
Yi-Sheng, Ng (ed.). SQ21: Singapore Queers in the 21st Century, Singapore: Oogachaga, 2006.
Young, Robert J. C.Postcolonialism: An Historical Introduction, Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.
Zimmerman, Marc. ‘Testimony, Menchú, me and you’, Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association, 33.3(Autumn 2000 – Winter 2001).Google Scholar

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats