English 364 Non-Fiction Prose
“Based on a True Story”—Translation, Transmission, and Adaptation
Since non-fiction prose is what fiction has traditionally pretended to be, students will
already be familiar with many of the genres and writing strategies we will encounter in this class. Our focus, however, will be how experience gets turned into writing, and then how that writing gets turned into other media.
The sections of this course will compare various examples of how people have represented their own lives, the lives of others, and sometimes both. Though this list is tentative, most if not all of these texts in various media will be part of the course.
Fun Home Alison Bechdel
Maus, Art Spiegelman
Justice Memoirs and Testimonio
Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen Liliʻuokalani
Between the World and Me Ta-Nehisi Coates
I, Rigoberta Menchú—the whole controversy
Books and Movies and Documentaries
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, and Capote
The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Malcolm X
Stuart, A Life Backwards, by Alexander Masters, with the television production
Fires in the Mirror by Anna Deveare Smith
Memoirs of an Age
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, with the movies
Thomas Couser’s brief overview of memoir will be assigned, and students will also read shorter pieces and critical and theoretical works provided by the instructor.
In addition to regular e-mail postings on the readings, students will write at least two substantial critical papers, and one substantial piece in one of the genres that we will be discussing—memoir, personal essay, biography, comics, documentary, or one agreed upon with the instructor. There will be mandatory conferences on all assignments, with the opportunity to revise for a higher grade. There will also be a final examination.
Three outcomes of this course for students should be a better understanding of the writing and media environment that “imaginative literature” actually occupies a very small place within; a more informed sense of non-fiction’s aesthetic and cultural dimensions and functions; and a heightened appreciation of the power, appeal, seductions, and dangers of “real” writing.
Major and Minor Course Fulfillment
This course meets the 300 Level Breadth of Field Requirement, the 300 Level Elective Requirement, and should meet the Historical Breadth 1900 to the present requirement.