Date of Thesis

Spring 2021


This thesis frames autotheory, a genre and practice of writing based in autobiographical and theoretical work, in the feminist genealogies established by Lauren Fournier and as a study in vulnerability. I revisit and reconsider Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of my Name (1982) and Cherríe Moraga’s Waiting in the Wings: A Portrait of Queer Motherhood (1997) in terms of contemporary conversation on autotheory that center on Nelson’s popular memoir The Argonauts (2015), arguing that Lorde, Moraga, and Nelson practice autotheory by writing through physical and metaphorical wounds. This thesis considers how vulnerability is tied to the autotheoretical impulse by studying how three feminist writers practice autotheory in texts pointed to as forerunners to the genre: autotheory not only reveals vulnerability: it can only be accomplished through vulnerability. Chapter One considers how Lorde deconstructs and reconstructs mythology in Zami to learn how to accept vulnerability in search of new paradigms for women. Chapter Two argues that Moraga uses her past journal entries from her pregnancy and early motherhood to open a conversation with the self and write through her wounds to new apertures. Chapter Three considers recent conversation on The Argonauts and argues that Nelson’s form not only makes room for citation, but also for narrative rupture where citation can no longer sustain or hide vulnerability. I use these three texts to show how the autotheoretical impulse arises where structural vulnerabilities and personal vulnerabilities collide, like motherhood as understood through Adrienne Rich’s definitions of institution and experience.


autotheory, autobiography, Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga, Maggie Nelson, vulnerability

Access Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Type

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Chase Gregory

Second Advisor

Elena Machado

Third Advisor

Erica Delsandro