Dr Jo Parnell

Conjoint Fellow

School of Humanities and Social Science

Career Summary


Dr Jo Parnell is a reviewer, essayist, memoirist, conference speaker, and a practitioner and analyst of creative non-fiction, especially the literary docu-memoir. She has a particular interest in the work of Helen Garner, Tony Parker, Sheila Stewart, and Catherine Cookson. As a writer of literary docu-memoir, Jo has evolved a new way of writing lives, adapted from the form pioneered by Tony Parker.

Currently, Jo is drafting a “how to” text book on literary docu-memoir. Professor Hugh Craig, formerly her principal supervisor, is her mentor. Her work has been published nationally, and internationally. One of her works, “Translating and conveying the damaging childhood in Our Kate” was requested for inclusion as a central chapter in Catherine Cookson Country: On the Borders of Legitimacy, Fiction and History, a world-first text book on Catherine Cookson, edited by Julie Anne Taddeo.

Research Expertise
The main focus of my research, literary docu-memoir, is an unusual and little known form which involves the creative nonfiction writer audio-taping ordinary people for their life experience and thoughts and feelings, as the resource material for a literary production. I look at how other creative nonfiction writers have used the form, and how the form blurs the boundaries between life writing and life narrative and straddles literary memoir and literary documentary. This specialised form demands that the writer be as non-judgemental of the subject as possible, and to write with reflection and understanding. This involves the ability of the writer to feel empathy with the subject and convey that in writing in order to present and share with the reader another person’s feelings as if they are her or his own. The writer of literary docu-memoir does not tell or explain the subject’s story but creates a literary space in which the subject speaks for her- or him- self. The memoir component is primarily that of the subject. The documentary component can take the form of illustrations and photographs inserted by the writer to lend credence to the text. The documentary component can also be factual elements which the subject mentions naturally in conversation about her or his experience, and which produces a documentary-type effect in the narrative on a personal and affective level.


  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of Newcastle
  • Bachelor of Arts, University of Newcastle
  • Bachelor of Arts (Honours), University of Newcastle
  • Master of Philosophy, University of Newcastle


  • Creative Writing
  • English Literature
  • Literary History

Fields of Research

200599Literary Studies not elsewhere classified50


For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.

Chapter (1 outputs)

2012Parnell JA, 'Translating and conveying the damaging childhood in Our Kate', Catherine Cookson Country: On the Borders of Legitimacy, Fiction, and History, Ashgate, Farnham, England 85-102 (2012) [B1]

Journal article (3 outputs)

2014Parnell JA, 'Literary (creative nonfiction) docu-memoir: a different way of writing a life', European Journal of Life Writing, C87-C104 (2014) [C1]
2012Parnell JA, 'Translating metaphor: Understanding experience', Humanity, 2012 49-59 (2012) [C2]
2010Parnell JA, 'Establishing literary authority: A two-way process', Humanity 2010 - Constructing and Reconstructing Authority, 2010 1-8 (2010) [C2]

Creative Work (1 outputs)

2012Parnell JA, The houses that cried, International Auto/Biography Association (IABA Europe), Amsterdam, Netherlands (2012) [J2]

Other (1 outputs)

2014Parnell JA, 'The Family Herald: A Domestic Magazine of Useful Information and Amusement (1843-1940)', University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections blog ( pp.1-27): Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle Library (2014)

Thesis / Dissertation (2 outputs)

2013Parnell JA, Creative empathy: how writers turn experience not their own into literary non-fiction, University of Newcastle (2013)
2010Parnell JA, The Carpet Child, University of Newcastle (2010) [T3]

Dr Jo Parnell


Conjoint Fellow
School of Humanities and Social Science
Faculty of Education and Arts