This introductory course is for students interested in autobiographical writing. We will explore the ideas of memory and truth as we analyze a variety of memoirs in all their forms and iterations. Spanning decades and nations, styles and subjects, our reading list will include several of the following titles: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles Blow, Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, Not Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen, Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson, The Color of Water by James McBride, Just Kids by Patti Smith, Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey, Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance, and Educated by Tara Westover.
Personal essays by James Baldwin, Edwidge Danticat, Lars Eighner, Mindy Kaling, Frank McCourt, and Elie Wiesel will also be incorporated. We will consider what these texts can tell us about the complex intersection of art and truth as we explore questions of empathy, self-expression, memory, and the making of identity. Through free-writing exercises and specific writing prompts, students will pull from the fabric of their lived experiences to craft original works of their own. During the writing workshops, students will learn to employ fictional techniques such as characterization, dialogue, and plot, as well as how to employ emotional tools (authenticity, curiosity, empathy, and urgency) to transform their personal experience into compelling prose that speaks to the humanity in all of us.