In this episode of the History Workshop Podcast, a unique perspective on the memoir and biography, and the art of writing about lived experiences. Alison Light tells a very personal story about her ongoing efforts to write a memoir about her relationship with Raphael Samuel, who died in 1996. She uses their marriage as a kind of a lens through which to see both their shared past and her future. She also reflects on our ideas of ‘personal life’ – suggesting instead that the public sphere cannot be separated from private experience, especially in the process of writing a memoir. As we share more and more of our lives online, this is something we are all increasingly familiar with.
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Raphael Samuel was one of the pioneers of ‘history from below’ and one of the founders of History Workshop. He was described by Stuart Hall as one of “the most outstanding, original intellectuals of his generation.”
Alison Light is a celebrated writer and scholar. Her remarkable work takes her readers into the fine grain and texture of everyday lives. It’s the relationships between family, friends, and members of a community that matter in her work, because these form the daily substance of life. She shows how these relationships are shaped by ideas about economics, culture, nation, race, class and gender. Her work has been applauded for opening up new vistas, and for using women’s history and popular fiction as a way of illustrating how family history is public history. Her book Common People published in 2014 was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize in non-fiction. She is currently an Honorary Professor in the Department of English, at University College, London; and a Senior Associate of Pembroke College, Oxford.
This talk was recorded at Queen Mary, University of London at the 2016 Raphael Samuel Memorial Lecture.