Narrative Matters 2020: Narrative and Social and Personal Transformation

10th Narrative Matters Conference – Atlanta, USA – May 11-14, 2020

Stories are not static. A story is told - in a novel, a movie, a speech, or a conversation - and in the telling, and hearing, things happen. In some way, great or small and for better or worse, moods change, minds change, lives change. Narratives possess power to move us and transform us on several levels of our lives: intellectual, emotional, moral, spiritual, and political. The potential of narrative theory and practice to effect meaningful personal and societal change is chief among the themes that will be covered at the 10th Narrative Matters conference, an interdisciplinary biennial event that brings together scholars and practitioners worldwide to consider the central role of narrative - or story - in our lives and our world. In the keynotes, workshops, papers, and symposia to be featured at Narrative Matters 2020, such themes will include:

  • narrative and cultural transformation
  • narrative and medicine and healthcare 
  • narrative and the struggle for human rights
  • narrative and transformational reminiscence 
  • narrative and therapy / personal growth 
  • narrative and spiritual development
  • narrative in teaching and learning
  • narrative and qualitative inquiry   
  • narrative and the ethics of storytelling
  • narrative and literary theory
  • narrative and technology 
  • narrative and media 

Program Committee and Organizing Chairs

Don Redmond, Ph.D., Mercer University – Atlanta

Richard LaFleur, Ph.D., West Georgia State University

Advisory Board

Clive Baldwin, St. Thomas University, Canada

Robyn Fivush, Emory University 

Mark Freeman, College of the Holy Cross 

Lois Presser, University of Tennessee

Bill Randall, St. Thomas University, Canada 

Karen Scheib, Emory University

Gerben Westerhof, University of Twente, The Netherlands 

Local Organizing Committee at Mercer in Atlanta

Don Redmond 
Richard LaFleur 
Marlon Williams 
Toni Monroe
Caroline Fernandes
John Mark Parker


Isabel Wilkerson - The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

Isabel Wilkerson is author of The Warmth of Other Suns, the New York Times’ bestseller that brings to life one of the epic stories of the 20th Century through three unforgettable protagonists who made the decision of their lives during what came to be known as the Great Migration. Warmth won the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction among many other accolades. In 2012, The New York Times Magazine named Warmth to its list of the All-Time Best Books of Nonfiction.  In early 2013, The New York Times Book Review declared that Warmth “was published only two years ago, but it shows every indication of becoming a classic.”

Wilkerson won the Pulitzer Prize for her work as Chicago Bureau Chief of The New York Times in 1994, making her the first black woman in the history of American journalism to win a Pulitzer Prize and the first African-American to win for individual reporting. Wilkerson has also won the George Polk Award, a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, and she was named Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists.
She has taught narrative nonfiction as Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University, as Cox Professor at Emory University and as Professor of Journalism at Boston University.

Dan McAdams - Why You Need a Life Story and What Happens When You Don’t Have One 

Dan P. McAdams is the Henry Wade Rogers Professor of Psychology and Professor of Human Development and Social Policy at Northwestern University.  A personality and life-span developmental psychologist, Professor McAdams studies the nature of human selfhood as it develops in culture and over the human life course, focusing on themes of agency, intimacy, redemption, and generativity in human lives and in the stories human beings create to make sense of their lives.  He is the author most recently of The Redemptive Self:  Stories Americans Live By (Oxford, 2013), The Art and Science of Personality Development (Guilford Press, 2015), and The Strange Case of Donald J. Trump:  A Psychological Reckoning (Oxford, in press).

Hanna Meretoja - Transformative Storytelling and Narrative Agency 

Hanna Meretoja is Professor of Comparative Literature, Head of Department, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, and Director of SELMA: Centre for the Study of Storytelling, Experientiality and Memory at the University of Turku in Finland. She has served as a visiting scholar at the University of Tübingen, Sorbonne Nouvelle and Uppsala University and as a visiting professor at the American University of Paris, and in 2019-2020 she is Visiting Fellow at the University of Oxford. Her research is mainly in the fields of narrative theory, narrative hermeneutics, and narrative ethics. Her books include The Ethics of Storytelling: Narrative Hermeneutics, History, and the Possible (Oxford University Press, 2018), The Narrative Turn in Fiction and Theory (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), and the co-edited volume Storytelling and Ethics: Literature, Visual Arts and the Power of Narrative (Routledge, 2018).

Arthur Frank - Telling Good Stories: The Questionable Ethics of Shakespeare’s Storytellers 

Arthur Frank is professor emeritus in the Department of Sociology at the University of Calgary. His first book was a memoir of his own illnesses, At the Will of the Body (1991, new edition 2002). He then wrote a study of how people narrate their own illnesses, The Wounded Storyteller (1995, second edition 2013), complemented by a book on the ethics of clinical relationships, The Renewal of Generosity (2004). His most recent book is Letting Stories Breathe, about how stories affect our lives. His interests include narrative bioethics, clinical education, and healthcare practice, especially end-of-life care. 

Call for Proposals

Open on July 1, 2019 through October 31, 2019 with notifications by December 20, 2019

Clear, concise, and academically-grounded proposals on topics in keeping with the conference themes are welcomed for (1) individual papers (20 minutes plus 10 minutes for Q&A), (2) joint panel of up to 3 related papers (90 minutes), and (3) posters. PLEASE NOTE: All proposals will be subject to peer-review by advisory board members or colleagues associated with the discipline of the author. Proposals will be rated in the following categories; quality, use of narrative and narrative-related research, interdisciplinarity, and innovative approaches.  

Proposals are due no later than October 31, 2019; please submit as a MS Word attachment to 

  • the title of your presentation and a 200-word abstract
  • the format of your presentation (individual paper, joint panel, or poster)
  • your name(s) and institutional affiliation(s), including department(s), when applicable
  • a brief biographical statement for each participant, including highest degree  (100 words)
  • your equipment needs (internet, computer, and powerpoint technology will be provided)
  • your contact information: mailing address, email, phone and fax numbers(if applicable)

Registration (Opens on July 1)

Early Bird rate through January 1, 2020 - US$325
Regular Rate through April1, 2020 - $395

Opening Reception at Center for Civil and Human Rights on 5/12/19



The mission of The National Center for Civil and Human Rights is to empower people to take the protection of every human’s rights personally. Through sharing stories of courage and struggle around the world, The Center encourages visitors to gain a deeper understanding of the role they play in helping to protect the rights of all people. The National Center for Civil and Human Rights harnesses Atlanta’s legacy of civil rights to strengthen the worldwide movement for human rights. Atlanta played a unique leadership role in the American Civil Rights Movement. Through harnessing Atlanta’s legacy and galvanizing the corporate, faith-based, public-sector and university communities, The Center serves as the ideal place to reflect on the past, transform the present and inspire the future.

Pre-Conference Workshops on May 11, 2020 

A.  Interviewing for Narrative Research - Ruthellen Josselson and Amia Lieblich (6 hours)

Narrative interviewing has as its aim an in-depth understanding of another person and attempts to understand what is not said as well as what is.  The goal of this workshop will be to reflect upon and to improve skills as interviewers in the context of narrative research.  While there will be some didactic material, most of the workshop will be spent in experience. 

In this all day workshop, participants will take up the problems of orienting to the interview through a clear conceptualization of the research question and we will consider the interrelationship between the theoretical context that frames the research and the actual interaction in the interview with the participant. Taking a close look at the interview itself, we will focus on understanding the interpersonal process, thinking about the data, and talking about the problems inherent in communicating the results of what we have learned.  Throughout, we will keep in mind the question: What does it mean to know another person?  We will also discuss various approaches to doing life history interviews. 

Ruthellen Josselson, Ph.D. is Professor of clinical psychology at The Fielding Graduate University. She was formerly a Professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a visiting Professor at Harvard University School of Education and a Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University. She is a co-founder of the Society for Qualitative Inquiry in Psychology, has co-edited eleven volumes of The Narrative Study of Lives and is the founding and ongoing editor of the Journal, Qualitative Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association. She received the Henry A. Murray Award, the Theodore R. Sarbin Award and the Distinguished Contribution to Qualitative Research Award from the American Psychological Association as well as a Fulbright Fellowship. She is the author of Interviewing for Qualitative Inquiry: A Relational Approach. She has recently published a book, Paths to Fulfillment: Women’s Search for Meaning and Identity, based on a 35-year longitudinal, interview-based study of women’s identity. 

Amia Lieblich, Ph.D. is a professor emerita of Psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, presently the president of The Academic College for Society and the Arts (Israel) and one of the pioneer scholars of narrative research. She has done numerous studies using interviews to explore life-stories and community oral history. She co-founded and co-edited the series The Narrative Study of Lives and gave numerous classes and workshops in narrative interviewing.  She lives in Israel, is a well known writer in Hebrew, and many of her books have been translated into English. One of these, Narratives of Positive Aging: Seaside Stories, was published by Oxford University Press in it’s series Explorations in Narrative Psychology. Her book with Rivka Tuval-Mashiach, Narrative Research: Reading, Analysis, and Interpretation, has become a classic text.  Her recent narrative research focused on “new poverty” and “befriending our death”.   

B. The Power of “We-Stories” to Transform, Heal, and Inspire – Karen Skerrett (3 hours)

All relationships have stories: a first meeting, a failed vacation, a scary fight; and they are as unique as the people who tell them. A “We-story” is a particular type of couple story that captures a joint memory and reflects a particularly positive moment from the relationship. It embodies at least one of the seven key factors identified through research: security, empathy, respect, acceptance, pleasure, humor, and shared meaning and vision. Since the “We-story” affirms what is good about being together, it provides an enduring metaphor for the relationship’s most positive features and most meaningful values. Research suggests that the capacity to draw on a “We” perspective offers proven individual health and relationship benefits, and provides a touchstone that helps a partnership thrive over time. “We-ness” and the related concepts of mutuality and reciprocal practices are the sine qua non of connection and communal relationships; what clinical and relational research often describe as being at the heart of relationship satisfaction. These concepts reflect a move away from the individual emphasis of traditional social psychology to a focus upon interdependence, dyadic coping, inclusion of other in the self and transactional memory.

This workshop will utilize stories from an ongoing Couple Story Project to examine the differences between couple stories and “We stories” in a variety of contexts including psychotherapy, chronic and debilitating illness, and developmental transitions. Techniques for eliciting “We-stories” will be addressed as well as methods to enhance particular elements of the story to further advantage the partnership. Finally, pathways from a “We-story” to the development of a relationship vision will be explored and linkages made to broader family and community narratives. 

Dr. Karen Skerrett is a licensed clinical psychologist, Advanced Practice Registered Nurse and faculty member at The Family Institute at Northwestern University. Dr. Skerrett maintains a clinical and consulting practice specializing in the treatment of couples and families, particularly those challenged by illness and disability. She has taught at the University of Illinois and the Adler Institute, and has been a long time faculty member at the Chicago Center for Family Health. Most recently, she developed the first doctoral program in Advanced Practice Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing in southern California at the University of San Diego. Dr. Skerrett has written numerous articles in professional journals and is co-authoring two forthcoming books, one with Dr. Karen Fergus, Couple resilience across the lifespan: Emerging Perspectives, and the other with Dr. Jefferson Singer: Cultivating “We Stories”: A positive approach to couple therapy.  She is a frequent presenter at national and international conferences. Her current work centers around the unique processes of relational resilience and growth in couples and the development of healing narratives across the lifespan.

C. Re-Storying Later Life: An Introduction to Narrative Gerontology and Narrative Care – Bill Randall (3 hours) 

Gerontology is a multi-disciplinary field that explores the complexity of aging from a range of perspectives: psychological, sociological, biological, etc.  The sub-field of “narrative gerontology” is rooted in the conviction that human beings are storytelling beings, that we make sense of our lives, our relationships, our world, and our experience of aging through what are essentially narrative processes.  This lively, interactive workshop will introduce you to core concepts in a “storied” approach to working with older adults in a variety of settings. Such concepts provide a framework for practice that presses past the negative view of aging that is prevalent in society today and envisions more positive possibilities instead - e.g., related to wisdom, spirituality, and meaning. Among the concepts to be covered are biographical vs biological aging and growing old vs getting old, plus narrative development, narrative environment, narrative openness, and above all, narrative care. 

William (Bill) Randall, EdD, is Professor of Gerontology at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, Canada.  A graduate of Harvard, Princeton Seminary, and the University of Toronto, and a former minister with the United Church of Canada, he has helped to pioneer a unique approach to aging known as “narrative gerontology”.  He is author or co-author of over 60 publications on this and related themes, including the books The Stories We Are: An Essay on Self-Creation (University of Toronto Press, 2014), Reading Our Lives: The Poetics of Growing Old (Oxford, 2008), and The Narrative Complexity of Ordinary Life: Tales from the Coffee Shop (Oxford 2015).  Bill has been a principal co-organizer of three previous Narrative Matters conferences and is currently co-editor of the online, peer-reviewed journal Narrative Works: Issues, Investigations, and Interventions.  (

Additional Workshops To-Be-Announced

Conference Location 

The Atlanta Administration and Conference Center
3001 Mercer University Drive
Atlanta GA, 30341

Conference Hotels 

W Hotel Midtown Atlanta
188 14th St NE, Atlanta, GA 30361
Room rate of $169US + Tax
Booking Instructions: Please identify Narrative Matters Room Block and call hotel directly at 877-946-8357.

Atlanta Marriott Northeast/Emory Area
2000 Century Blvd NE, Atlanta, GA 30345
Rate of $129US + Tax
Booking Instructions: Please identify Mercer University Narrative Conference May 2020 and call Marriott Reservations at 866-355-1289.

Helpful Links 

Narrative Bibliography

Carter Center

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site

National Center for Civil and Human Rights 

International Visitor’s Guide to Atlanta in Multiple Languages