Intro to Lit: Creative Writing (Writing Your Life)

This class introduces you to a range of autobiographical forms, such as print and graphic memoirs, diaries, spoken word, stand-up comedy, and self-portraiture (including selfies), and it gives you the opportunity to build your writing skills by composing your own autobiographical texts, sharing them with others, and revising them based on the feedback you receive. The class also familiarizes you with some of the basic concepts and terms in the field of life writing studies, which will give you useful vocabulary for responding to your classmates’ work and reflecting on your own.

Our writing assignments will give you the chance to think and write about a range of topics, including identity, family, love, illness, loss, food, travel, and money. Most of them will deal with your own life experiences, but I will also ask you reflect in writing on some of the assigned material and, at the end of the semester, on your overall experience in the class.

Some class sessions will take the form of workshops in which you and your peers respond to each other’s writing; other sessions will involve lecture and discussion. Our class discussions will focus on the reading assignments as well as on conceptual and ethical questions relating to autobiography: What compels you to write about your life? Why do you choose particular genres and media (such as written narrative, diary, drawing, video, or photography) in which to tell your story? Does it matter if you tell the story truthfully? How do you decide what to include and what to leave out? How much can you trust your memory? Are you the sole “owner” of your life story, or can other people make claims to it, and on what grounds? How does your personal story connect with the broader experiences of your community and that community’s history? Who might be harmed if your story goes public? What benefits might you and others gain?

This course has a Writing Intensive (W) Focus designation. It uses writing to promote the learning of course materials and provides interaction between the instructor and students while students do assigned writing. Written assignments contribute significantly to each student’s course grade. The class requires students to do a substantial amount of writing—a minimum of 4,000 words, or about 16 pages. To allow for meaningful professor-student interaction on each student’s writing, the class is restricted to 20 students.

Student Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this class you should be able to

  • Compose clear, coherent, and engaging autobiographical texts
  • Undertake disciplined revision of your autobiographical texts in response to constructive critique
  • Articulate constructive critical responses to other people’s autobiographical texts
  • Demonstrate a familiarity with a range of autobiographical forms
  • Demonstrate an ability to employ the basic concepts and terminology of life writing studies when discussing autobiographical texts
  • Demonstrate an ability to identify the ethical issues that arise in connection with creating and consuming autobiographical texts
  • Employ online text-editing and commenting tools effectively

Required Text

The only text you’ll need to purchase for this class is Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir. Other readings will be available in electronic formats through the UHM library system, in the library reserves, via links to online resources, or as files on the Laulima class site. Readings will include selections from the work of Allie Brosh, Alexander Chee, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jonathan Caouette, Annie Dillard, Lars Eighner, Hannah Gadsby, Roxane Gay, John Dominis Holt, Chang-rae Lee, Hasan Minhaj, Bich Minh Nguyen, Trevor Noah, Jamaica Osorio, Ruth Reichel, Sarah Smarsh, Amalia Ulman, and Jose Antonio Vargas.


  • Five two-paragraph preliminary sketches toward your autobiographical narratives.
  • Five autobiographical narratives (at least 4 pages each). You have two options for these assignments: 1) you may write five separate essays based on the themes we will be discussing from week to week, or you may write a smaller number of longer essays, extending previous assignments.
  • One essay (at least 2 pages) reflecting on two of the assigned readings.
  • One final portfolio, including  an essay (at least two pages) reflecting on your experience in the class.

Format: Synchronous in Zoom during scheduled class times (TR 12:30–1:15)