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Autobiography: Writing at the Boundaries of Self and Society

ENGL 476.940
instructor(s):
W 5:30-8:40

The autobiographical form provides a unique opportunity for individuals to negotiate identity on their own terms; it extols the irreducible nature of lost pasts and captures that which "has made out on the borderlands," on the margins of history. Through a series of paired readings of twentieth-century autobiographies, we will investigate "the impossible science of the unique being" in terms of place, time, class, race, and gender. The pairings will include Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa and Antoine de Saint-Exupery's Wind, Sand, and Stars, Zora Neale Hurston's Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography and Richard Wright's Black Boy, Mary McCarthy's Memories of a Catholic Girlhood and Alfred Kazin's Walker in the City, The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Angela Davis--An Autobiography, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes and Alice Kaplan's French Lessons, and Maxine Hong Kingston's Woman Warrior: A Memoir of a Girlhood among Ghosts and Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited. You will be asked to analyze the events that comprise these autobiographies and the narrative strategies each autobiographer used to chart the dimensions of his or her life. You will also be asked to select models from these readings to compose limited autobiographical pieces. Course requirements: class attendance and participation and 2-3 short analytical papers about autobiographical forms and 2-3 examples of autobiographical writing.