Dana Anderson

9:30a-10:45a TR (30 students) 3 cr., A&H.

TOPIC: “American Non-Fiction Prose: Autobiography, Conversion, and the Self”

In this course we’ll be exploring autobiographical narratives about experiences of profound self-transformation, experiences that we might loosely group together as conversions. We’ll briefly consider the “conversion paradigm” that famous converts like Augustine and Paul have established, then move on to discuss how twentieth-century autobiography dramatically widens the scope of what we consider a conversion, from strictly religious encounters to racial, gender, political, and ecological dimensions of identity transformation. We will likely read the following narratives, as well as a few others:

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Carry A. Nation, The Use and the Need of the Life of Carry A. Nation
John G. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks
Thomas Merton, Seven Storey Mountain
Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Deirdre McCloskey, Crossing: A Memoir

Throughout our reading, we will take special interest in questions of the “at-stakeness” of such works and the changed identities they narrate: that is, for what kinds of audiences, and for what purposes, do authors tell stories about their conversions? To help us with these questions, we’ll be taking a close look at readings in general issues of autobiography, narrative, identity, and conversion by such authors as Sidonie Smith, Philippe Lejeune, John Eakin, Jerome Bruner, Nancy Smith, Judith Butler, Roland Barthes, William James, and others.

We will complete several shorter response papers to questions that our readings help us address, two 5–7 page papers, and a longer final paper. We will also share group presentations on each of our authors and their work.