Biography: Memoir Across Media


This class will introduce you to the key critical concepts, prevailing methodologies, and current discussions within the field of Auto/biography Studies. You will become familiar with the work of many of the major theorists and critics in the field, and you will read (or watch, or listen to) a wide range of challenging and inspiring auto/biographical texts. The primary aim of the class is to explore how different media (print, photography, painting, film, video, audio recording, music, installation art, social media, and digital formats) have been used to tell life stories. While attending to the issues raised by particular media, we will also take up questions regarding the critical challenges posed by auto/biographies emerging within in postcolonial and indigenous contexts; the difference race, gender, and sexuality make in the creation and reception of auto/biographical texts; the role of testimony in adjudicating cases of human-rights abuses; the issue of verifiability in interpreting and assessing memoirs; and the socioeconomic dynamics shaping the production and circulation of texts marketed as “autobiography and memoir.”

The class format will be a mix of lecture and discussion, alternating with lightening-round sessions led by seminar participants. For your final project, you have the option of writing either 1) an article-length scholarly paper or 2) a conference paper and a book review. A project proposal will also be required.

Required Reading

(Subject to change. Please wait until the first class meeting to purchase these books, some of which may be available as electronic resources through the UHM library system.)

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006).

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me (2015).

Hart, Hannah. Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded (2016).

Ledesma, Alberto. Diary of a Reluctant Dreamer: Undocumented Vignettes from a Pre-American Life (2017).

Nelson, Maggie. The Argonauts (2015).

Sacco, Joe. Palestine (2015).

Other materials include Bach, Ethan, Bodhi Life: A Transgender New Media Artist’s Digital Memoir (digital multimedia); Baker, Bobby, Diary Drawings: Mental Illness and Me (drawings); Faliks, Inna, Polonaise-fantasie: The Story of a Pianist (album); Folman, Ari, Waltz with Bashir (animated film); Higa, Ryan, How To Write Good (graphic memoir); Reed, Brian, S-Town (podcast); Tailfeathers, Elle-Maija, Bihttoš (video and animation); Varda, Agnès, The Beaches of Agnès (film), YouTube videos by Connor Franta, Hannah Hart, and Tyler Oakley.

Readings in criticism and theory will be available in electronic format through the UHM library system.

Student Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this class you should be able to

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with current theories and methods within Auto/biography Studies, particularly regarding the genre of memoir
  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the range of media in which memoirs are currently produced
  • Mobilize key concepts in Auto/biography Studies in your own scholarly writing
  • Engage in critical dialogue with scholarship in Auto/biography Studies in your own scholarly writing
  • Articulate and support a critical argument in an oral presentation format and respond productively to commentary from peers
  • Articulate a critical argument in a proposal for an article or conference presentation
  • Articulate and support a critical argument in an article-length paper or in a conference presentation and a book review 
  • Document your sources accurately and consistently using a standard academic citation style