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American Autobiography

ENGL 286.301
instructor(s):
MW 5-6:30
fulfills requirements:
Sector 1: Theory and Poetics of the Standard Major
Sector 5: 19th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Pre-1900 Seminar Requirement of the Standard Major

This course is an introduction to the study of autobiography and related genres through a survey of some of the most influential and exciting American examples of life-writing.  We will explore the forms autobiographical writing takes and some of the fundamental questions and problems it addresses, such as: Why write an autobiography?  Upon what (re)sources can the autobiographer rely?  In telling one’s own story, what can or should one reveal about other people (relatives, friends, enemies, lovers, public figures, etc.)?  What is the relation between the “self” that writes and the “self” that is written about?  How do race, sexuality, gender, class, and religion influence autobiographers’ self-perceptions and the ways in which they tell their life-stories?  What is the relation between autobiography and other genres, such as history and fiction?  Likely authors will include: Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglass, Henry Adams, Gertrude Stein, Vladimir Nabokov, Malcolm X, Audre Lorde, Maxine Hong Kingston, David Wojnarowicz, Kathryn Harrison, and Alison Bechdel.  Course requirements will include participation in class discussion, a series of brief quizzes, an in-class presentation, one short essay, and one longer essay.