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Every person has a narrative compass – one or more stories that have guided their lifework.
In “A Narrative Compass: Stories That Guide Women’s Lives” (UI Press/April 2009), editor Betsy Hearne, former director of the Center for Children’s Books and professor emerita in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, has collected essays by female scholars from a variety of disciplines to identify and examine the stories that have motivated them and shaped their research.
Telling the “story of her story” leads each of the essayists in the book to insights about her own methods of textual analysis and to a deeper, often surprising, understanding of the connective power of imagination.
As children, the common retort to name-calling on the playground often was “it takes one to know one.” Hearne believes that it takes a story to know one. Authentic, enduring engagement with a story involves getting inside it and letting it get inside, internalizing as well as analyzing it. One cannot tell or even know a story from the outside.
“Most of us have – often without realizing it – a narrative compass, one or more stories that have guided our lifework, either from childhood or at some later stage,” Hearne said. “This collection features essayists of many different backgrounds, cultures, institutions and disciplines. What emerged as their key narratives included folk and fairy tales, family stories, children’s classics and books of fiction, nonfiction, even theory. The stories of their stories are inspiring.”
When people understand the relationship between text and context, they often do so because of their internalized knowledge of storytelling. But when the academy teaches us to silence our voices as storytellers – as female scholars often report has happened to them – the disjuncture that results makes us unable to use narrative itself as an analytical tool. This collection of essays demonstrates how the stories we have appropriated shape our interpretive abilities.
The scholars whose work appears in “A Narrative Compass” represent a diversity of interests, stages of development, ethnic backgrounds and disciplines. Their stories range from literary texts to folktales and family narratives in the oral tradition. Their essays vary in length and in tone, but they all communicate the passion of the storyteller whose lifework has been dominated by the epistemology of narrative. The volume also includes an introductory essay that analyzes the ways in which these stories braid the personal and professional as a means of understanding storytelling as methodology.