Autobiography is at once the most popular and sophisticated genre of our time. From international bestsellers to contemporary classics to challenging experiments, more autobiographies are written and read than any other kind of 21st-century book. We’ll explore this literary-historical phenomenon and the many forms of autobiography (including graphic memoir, heterobiography, autofiction, witnessing, autothanatography, travelogue, jockography, genealogy, and ecobiography) that have been making our bookshelves groan and our server-farms swell. Our seminar’s focus will be on reading and discussion of a diverse range of 21st-century autobiographical works that raise (as autobiographical writing has always done) urgent questions of living—questions about identity, selfhood, experience, and responsibility. We’ll read dazzling recent works by the likes of Paul Auster, Ishmael Beah, Alison Bechdel, Edwidge Danticat, Paul Kalanithi, Mary Karr, Karl OveKnausgård, Kiese Laymon, Maggie Nelson, Patti Smith, and Adam Zagajewski. With its focus on autobiography, this seminar will enhance your understanding of many central concepts in literary studies, including genre, voice, persona, form, style, point of view, audience, theme, and period. Seminar discussions and a series of very short essay assignments will help you to hone your speaking and writing skills. There will also be a number of brief, straightforward quizzes—but no mid-term or final exam.
This seminar satisfies the Sector 6 requirement of the English Core curriculum.