Sem Biography (LSE)

This course provides a
detailed introduction to the texts, methodology, criticism, and theory of the
major genres in life writing, and examines in what ways, and with what
reservations, life writing can inform MA projects and theses in all four of our
department’s areas of concentration, and provide the basis for doctoral
dissertations as well.


The course will be
organized around three broad and related generic designations: Biography, Oral
History, and Autobiography/Memoir. The Biography readings and discussion will
situate the genre historically, and suggest something about the range of its
applications in other fields. The Autobiography/Memoir readings and discussion
will be focused on the issue of autobiography as a strategy of gender,
cultural, or national politics. Oral history, film, graphic narrative, and
digital life writing will be discussed throughout the course, introducing
students to the techniques for recording, preparing, creating, adapting, and
publishing resources for studying people’s lives, and to the kinds of works
being created in these genres.



Since the
students’ own research interests will be remarkably diverse—preliminary work
for writing a biography, life writing as a pedagogical issue, extensions of
biographical issues into cultural and/or rhetorical and/or race and/or gender
studies, narrative theory, biographically-oriented literary or film criticism,
a commitment to creative non-fiction, and so on—I want class members to learn
as much as possible from each other.
All students will conduct and transcribe an oral history; prepare
a biographical article about someone for publication; and write a short
autobiographical text.  A final project,
designed in consultation with the instructor, will bring life writing theory
together with a topic of special interest to the student.  At least two class reports on some assigned
reading will be required, as will weekly postings on the upcoming reading.
There will be several mandatory conferences.



Alison Bechtel. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic; “Matthew,” “Mark,” “Luke,” and
“John” from The Bible;Lytton Strachey. G. Thomas Couser, Memoir: An Introduction; How to Do Oral History;Sigmund Freud.
“The Wolf Man” and “Leonardo”; Nigel Hamilton. Biography: A Brief History; Janet
Malcolm. The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath
and Ted Hughes.
Eminent Victorians;Plutarch, Selections from Lives; Art Spiegelman, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds
History and Here My Troubles Began
; a substantial number of other texts,
provided on Laulima.

Several films, one of which will be Citizen
, a substantial amount of criticism and theory, and selections from
Hawaiian texts in translation—John Papa ‘Ī‘Ī, Samuel M. Kamakau, and J. G. M.
Shelton (Kahikina Kelekona)—will also be assigned.  I will be drawing materials as well
from Locating Life
Stories: Beyond East-West Binaries in (Auto)Biographical Studies.
Perkins, ed. A Biography Monograph. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, for
the Biographical Research Center, 2012.