21W.730-3 Expository Writing: Autobiography - Theory and Practice

As taught in: Spring 2001

A page covered in Frederick Douglass's handwriting.

Chapter from Frederick Douglass's draft manuscript of his autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, ca. 1880. (Frederick Douglass Papers) (Image courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.)

Level:

Undergraduate

Instructors:

Elizabeth Fox

Course Description

Focus: What can we believe when we read an autobiography? How do writers recall, select, shape, and present their lives to construct life stories?  Readings that ground these questions include selections from Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Linda Brent (pseudonym for Harriet Jacobs), "A Sketch of the Past" by Virginia Woolf, Notes of A Native Son by James Baldwin, "The Achievement of Desire" by Richard Rodriguez, The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston, and "Our Secret" by Susan Griffin. Discussion, papers, and brief oral presentations will focus on the content of the life stories as well as the forms and techniques authors use to shape autobiography. We will identify masks and stances used to achieve various goals, sources and interrelationships of technical and thematic concerns, and "fictions" of autobiographical writing. Assignments will allow students to consider texts in terms of their implicit theories of autobiography, of theories we read, and of students' experiences; assignments also allow some autobiographical writing.