Autobiographical Writing

This course will demand a lot of reading and writing. We will experiment with different ways of writing autobiography by using the course readings as models, and we simultaneously will explore issues, problems, and questions that these readings raise about writing autobiography.  I’ve based the readings for this course—and the kinds of writing you can do for it—on a broadly defined understanding of autobiography.  I hope that the wide range of reading and writing will invite discussions about how to define autobiography, and what’s at stake in struggles over definition.  Our readings will include not only more traditionally literary forms of autobiography, but also a sampling of texts often labeled as ethnography, political propaganda, sociology, or popular culture—our readings will include, for example, testimonio, political essays, celebrity autobiographies, cancer journals, prison letters, and also autobiographical narratives that defy disciplinary and genre boundaries as they make use of cookbook recipes, dreams, letters, diaries, poems, journal entries, legal documents, and academic scholarship.  The class will also include a consideration of autobiography in relation to writing happening through Facebook and blogs. You will write on topics that include, for example, food, money, hair, family.


As we address questions of what autobiography is, we also will consider questions such as the following:  Why do you want to write autobiography, and what strategies will best enable you to fulfill your purposes and motives?  What are the ethical issues involved in deciding whether or not to write and publish stories that might shame your family or violate their privacy, and what are some ways autobiographers are able to preserve the privacy of those whom they might want to protect?  To what extent is the story that you tell about yourself determined by the genres and cultural narratives available to you?  If you’re interested in challenging or revising these narratives, to what sources can you turn? Does writing autobiography necessarily entail valuing individual or purely personal concerns over more communal social or political ones? How have social media such as Facebook changed our understandings of what constitutes the self, and the line between the public and the private?


Please note:  This course has a Contemporary Ethical Issues (E) Focus designation. Contemporary ethical issues are fully integrated into the main course material and constitute well over 30% of the course content. A significant portion of class time will be spent discussing ethical issues. Through the use of lectures, discussions and reading and writing assignments, you will develop basic competency in recognizing and analyzing ethical issues; on responsibly deliberating on ethical issues; and making ethically determined judgments.


ASSIGNMENTS AND REQUIREMENTS:  Short writing exercises (~10%); participation in writing workshops (~10%); a minimum of 20 pages of polished autobiographical writing (~65%); contributions to the creation of an anthology of writings by the class (~10%); an end-of-the-semester portfolio (~5%).  Attendance is mandatory.



Readings will be compiled in a COURSE READER or made available as PDFs on Laulima.