In addition, the term literacy narrative has social, cultural, ideological, and tropological dimensions for us. Literacy accounts, as Linda Brodkey’s (1986) work has established, are structured by a series of cultural “tropes,” and, thus, serve as “social Rorschachs” (p. 47) that provide a historically situated snapshot of what specific cultures and subcultures mean by literacy and, by extension, illiteracy.

Such narratives are rich in meaning in that they “twice encode culture,” Brodkey (1987) observes; they are simultaneously “practices and artifacts” (p. 46). Because our cultural understandings of literacy are the tropic material of which literacy narratives are woven, even though some narratives affirm and some resist “culturally scripted ideas” (Eldred and Mortonson, 1992, p. 513) about literacy, they cannot avoid reflecting, in some way—either directly or indirectly—what it means to be read and compose in our culture.

Given the constructedness of literacy narratives on all levels—micro-, medial, and macro—we also acknowledge that these stories blur the boundaries of fiction and nonfiction.  Autobiographical recollection, in short, is never quite the same as autobiography (Scott, 1997; Earle, 1972). Thus, we understand the formulation and telling of literacy narratives to be “weighted with… interpretation” (Lapadat, 2004, p. 113) and believe that such accounts are always, in part, “prevarications”  (Grumet, 1987, p. 322).  Storytellers use personal accounts to position themselves within the contexts of their own lives at home, within families, with peers, in school, in communities, and in workplaces. Through literacy narratives, individuals connect these contexts to their understanding and practice of literacy (Corkery, 2006, p. 64). Because literacy narratives, as we define them here, are autobiographical, they always involve a degree of self representation. Thus, we understand such stories to be sites of both “self-translation” (Soliday, 1994, p. 511) and “redefinition” (Corkery, 2006, p. 69). As people tell literacy stories, they also formulate their own sense of self; with each telling, this self changes slightly according to a constellation of social and cultural factors, personal aspirations and understandings, the audiences being addressed, and the rhetorical circumstances of the telling itself, among many other factors.

Our own fascination with literacy narratives in a larger disciplinary context, has also been shaped by the narrative turn (Daya and Lau, 2007), and particularly what Georgakopoulou (2006) has called a “third wave” of narrative studies that re-situates analysis “from narratives-in-context to narrative-and-identities” (p. 125) and that is linked to a related contemporary focus on identity in sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, discourse analysis, and social psychology among several other fields (cf., Bucholtz and Hall, 2005; Bamberg, 2005).