English | Seminar: Literary Form, Mode, and Theme
L460 | 1909 | Eakin


2:30p-3:45p TR (15) 3 cr.

TOPIC: TELLING STORIES ABOUT OURSELVES

Columnists tell us that we live in an age of memoir, and memoirs
such as Frank McCourt's ANGELA'S ASHES (which we'll read)
have headed THE NEW YORK TIMES best-seller lists in the last
few years. In this seminar we'll read some of the best--and most
talked about--examples of this literature of memoir, autobiography,
or life writing, as it is variously called. Why do people write
memoirs? And why do people read them? What kinds of shapes
have these writers both discovered and devised to present their
personal experience in narrative? Inevitably, these first-person
narratives are concerned with issues of identity and identity
formation: How, they ask, do we become the "I's" we say we are?

For the major course project, I will invite students to write a
personal narrative of their own, either about themselves or about
others they know. If you are interested in trying your hand at
writing personal narrative, this is the course for you. Alternatively,
students may elect to write a long critical essay on one of the
assigned readings. There may be an hour exam, but there will be no
final exam. Students may also be asked to report on a memoir that
is not on the list of assigned readings.

The following synopsis is meant to suggest the range of topics and
readings. Although the list is tentative, we will probably read most
of these texts.

(1) Brief lives and portraits: John Updike, " A SOFT SPRING
NIGHT IN SHILLINGTON"; Lillian Hellman,
PENTIMENTO; Jon Krakauer, INTO THE WILD (or Chip
Brown, "I Now Walk into theWild").
(2) Oral history (everyone has a story): Robert Coles and Jane
Hallowell Coles, WOMEN IN CRISIS.
(3) Gender and sexuality: Paul Monette, BECOMING A MAN.
(4) Identity and the body: Lucy Grealy, AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF
A FACE.
(5) Children and their parents: Frank McCourt, ANGELA'S
ASHES; Mary Karr, THE LIARS' CLUB; Art Spiegelman,
MAUS I AND II.
(6) Siblings: John Edgar Wideman, BROTHERS AND
KEEPERS.
(7) Fact and fiction: Tim O'Brien, THE THINGS THEY
CARRIED; William Maxwell, SO LONG, SEE YOU
TOMORROW.
(8) Ethics: Philip Roth, PATRIMONY; Kathryn Harrison, THE
KISS; Janet Malcolm, THE JOURNALIST AND THE
MURDERER.

If you are interested in this seminar and would like to discuss it
with me further, please contact me via email ("eakin").