ENGL 3792 - L American Autobiography
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This course will examine the development of American autobiography from the early captivity narratives written in the colonial period to the contemporary memoirs of today. We’ll begin by focusing on a few early examples of the autobiographical tradition in America: the captivity narrative (Mary Rowlandson), the bootstrap narrative (Benjamin Franklin), the slave narrative (Frederick Douglas,) and the immigrant story (Mary Antin). In the second unit of the course, we’ll read personal essays and excerpted chapters from autobiographies written in the 20th century by writers like Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin, Vivian Gornick, Maxine Hong Kingston, David Foster Wallace, and Richard Rodriguez. Our final reading will be voted on by the class. We’ll choose one work from the following list of memoirs: Maggie Nelson’s Bluets; Bob Dylan’s Chronicles; Natasha Tretheway’s A Daughter’s Memoir; Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped; graphic memoirs by Art Spiegelman and Alison Bechdel. Our goal is to study the different forms that an autobiography can take and learn about the tradition of life writing from colonial days to the present. Along the way, we’ll ask whether American autobiographies share certain characteristics, consider the problem of memory and the distortions of truth that can occur in telling a life story, and explore the important ways that family, community, gender, class, race, and ethnicity shape identity. We’ll also try our hand at writing a short piece of autobiographical writing. The course will be reading and writing intensive with three group discussion forums, two reading responses (2-3 pages), a research paper (7-10 pages), and a short autobiographical essay of your own due at the end of the semester. This course is a “Forms, Identities, Reading Practices” course designed to pose questions about who writes and reads for whom, in what ways, and why it matters. It is an Advanced course. It fulfills a III B ADVANCED requirement for the English Major. It does fulfill "Interpreting Literature and the Arts.” Pre-requisites: an introductory-level literature course or a straight “A” in ENGL 1100 or 1200H on transcript that you show to the instructor. It counts towards the Minor in American Studies.
Peters, Ann. (2021, Spring), Syllabus, ENGL 3792 - L American Autobiography, Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University.
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