21L.310 Bestsellers: The Memoir

As taught in: Spring 2010

Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Cover of the first English publication, J. Parson's, London, 1793. (Image courtesy of wikipedia.org.)




Dr. Wyn Kelley

Course Description

What is a "life" when it's written down? How does memory inform the present? Why are memoirs so popular? This course will address these questions and others, considering the relationship between biography, autobiography, and memoir and between personal and social themes. We will closely examine some recent memoirs: Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life, Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father, Edwidge Danticat's Brother, I'm Dying, Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel, and Alison Bechdel's Fun Home. Students will write two brief papers: a critical essay and an experiment in memoir.

As a "Sampling," this class offers 6 units, with a strong emphasis on close reading, group discussion, focused writing, and research and presentation skills.