Non-Fiction Prose

English 364 Non-Fiction Prose

MWF 9:30-10:20

Craig Howes

“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.

Learning Outcomes

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.