from University Press of America/Hamilton Books
Drawing Life:
Narratives and the Sense of Self

Author, teacher, clinical psychologist, sociologist, educator, public speaker, and frequent contributor to national television and radio programs. Author of thirty books, his writings have appeared in professional and literary journals as well as in national magazines and major American newspapers.
NEW articles written
by Tom Cottle

Not surprisingly during the recent recession and rise of unemployment, Hardest Times: The Trauma of Long-Term Unemployment has been discovered by a host of journalists and commentators.

Headline news of the day, the affect of long-term unemployment on the lives of American workers and their families, remains one of the most difficult issues, one that clearly has relevance for millions of our citizens. In Hardest Times, Thomas J. Cottle captures the lives of American workers no longer receiving compensation or insurance benefits, people no longer known to the American public.


Thomas Cottle Wins Distinguished Writing Award

to Thomas Cottle's
August 11 Interview on
The Diane Rehm Show

In Drawing Life, Thomas J. Cottle examines the ways people interpret their life experiences and construct meanings for the events they have encountered. In this manner they discover their various identities and the essence of what we call the self. In reading the sixteen life studies contained in this volume we encounter both inner reflections as well the power of culture to shape the meanings people give to their circumstances, the events that befall them. The stories reflect as well the role of human relationships, and social institutions in defining our personal identities and sense of justice. What makes us unique, therefore, is the personal story we tell as it is the story that reveals our constructions of the world and of ourselves. The stories recounted in Drawing Life illuminate not only our past, but also our perceptions of the present, and our imaginings of the future, and in this way they become anthologies of our life experiences.




  • On Narratives and the Sense of Self
  • The Abandoner
  • Do You See Me as a Human Being or Just Another Black Face?
  • No Way to Look But Back
  • Jacob and Millie Portman
  • A Woman Named Sarah Clara Keller
  • Marcus Nathaniel Simpson: If the Lord Has Patience, I've Got a Future
  • Professors


  • Adolescent as Story Teller: The Case of Anorexia Nervosa
  • The Young and their Prophets
  • They Got Anger Pushing 'Em in One Direction
  • The Evils of Testing and Tracking
  • The Bedroom of Sheila Cooperton
  • A Child to be Envied
  • Mind Shadows
  • Just a Memory


  • The Value of Stories: Applications for Research and Healing

From the Preface

As I look back upon the work appearing in the following pages, I see all too clearly quite a few of my own teachers, and again, not all of them found in classrooms, but all of them surely contributing to my efforts to figure out this being human thing. Hopefully the reader will hold in mind that the people offering me bits of their lives, people whose words are presented in this volume stand among my important teachers. Together we are at work attempting to discover meanings, transform events into experiences, and feel this provocative idea of we are what we have learned. So perhaps this book is about sharing some of the results of our ruminations and reflections. Perhaps too, it is not exactly the case that experience is the best teacher. Rather, we require teachers to help us to forge enduring experiences from events, which in turn, serves as yet another form of pedagogy. I think in this context of Jung's notion that ideal psychotherapeutic enterprises, and research interviews as well, commence with both persons confessing either aloud, or in silence, and conclude with both souls feeling transformed. Not so incidentally, between confession and transformation, Jung asserted that both persons experience the acts of explanation and education, this last word being one that would have pleased Professor Oakeshott.

There is no question in my mind that those of seeking to collect the stories of people and pass them on to a public we believe must hear these stories and hence learn of these lives, are somehow educated and transformed by the work. But let me to state this more emphatically: I cannot believe that one listening to the kinds of narratives reproduced in the book could not be transformed, somehow, by the accounts. At very least, recalling the words of Emmanuel Levinas, surely they must sense a certain stirring - that word again - within themselves, a stirring I have attempted to reveal in the book's final section. This stirring, Levinas instructed is hardly an esoteric idea. It implies that we feel an urge to move toward the other and through this movement feel a call to our own humanness. The stirring, in other words, is the sensation of the other being inside us. It is funny to think that the pregnant woman is not the only one able to experience life stirring within her.

In the end, I suspect we all draw life from the stories told to us, or read to us, by a host of not merely storytellers, but story teachers. As many have written, perhaps all we are is contained in the stories we tell, to others and ourselves; it is the quintessentially creative act of which we are all capable. Which means that much of what we are is also constituted in the stories that have been told to us, stories that, in my mind, literally breathe life into us, and, as many have alleged, continue to live inside us aiding in our constant efforts to draw life.

Thomas J. Cottle
Professor of Education
Boston University
2 Silber Way
Boston, MA 02215
Telephone: 617-566-6426
Email: tcottle@bu.edu

Books | Biography | Articles | Speaking Engagements | Order Books | Contact