Students and alumni of UEL’s Creative and Professional Writing (BA) and the MA Writing: Imaginative Practice degrees collaborated with the director and coordinator of EastLife to produce short autobiographical pieces on a particular aspect of their lives that they chose to ‘perform.’ The pieces are innovative, unique, and speak from a wide range of voices and perspectives, based on the student’s choice of the ‘self’ they wished to write about. In no way do they represent traditional autobiographical approaches rooted in purely non-fiction voices, or confessional journalism. These pieces are experimental and playful, diverse in subject matter, voice and style.
After the students submitted their autobiographical pieces, the challenge was to set them up with community elders from whom they could learn a little more about the East London that came before them. Some writers found their own elders to interview and write about, but the majority were paired with elders via several community events. Conversations with members of these groups, including the weekly Canning Town Library coffee morning and Age UK Stroke Survivors support group, both of which we were warmly welcomed into, provided inspiration and real-life detail for stories that the writers developed into biographical pieces. The writers took away with them more than stories: they were moved and touched by the connection they made with the elders, and certainly that went both ways. As with their autobiographical pieces, the biographical pieces included here are creative interpretations of interviews and stories that the community elders so generously shared with our project team.
We organised the pieces around three themes: Memory, Culture and Change. These are key themes in any urban life, and they allowed us to interweave biography with autobiography, offering a way of looking at life writing in the broader context of its socio-political importance.