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Fall 2021

FALL 2021 M.A. PROGRAM IN BIOGRAPHY AND MEMOIR COURSE OFFERINGS


BAM 70100: Forms of Life Writing
3 credits, Tuesdays, 4:15PM – 6:15PM, Professor Brenda Wineapple
This course will interrogate various forms of so-called "life writing" (biography/fictional biography/memoir) to investigate the meaning, aims, ethics, pitfalls, and possibilities of the genre as practiced in literature.  We will therefore examine a wide range of topics that various forms of life-writing encounter: the relation between fact and fiction; the significance of politics and historical context; the impact of individual psychology; point of view in narration; the function of imagination; the use or exploitation of marginal figures.  And to the extent that life-writing depends on the creation of character, this course looks closely at how such characters are created from real people: how a living, breathing person seems to arise out of a mass of sometimes contradictory “facts”; how characters are made to change, that is, if they do; how characters can make a story move; and of course how or if forms of life-writing might be liberated from its traditional borders.
Email bwineapple@earthlink.net for draft syllabus
 
BAM 70400: Ethical Problems in Biography and Memoir
3 credits, Mondays, 4:15PM – 6:15PM, Professor Ava Chin
This course explores the range of ethical issues that pertain to memoir and biography, and investigates how writers and authors approach them. Utilizing a variety of texts, including nonfiction graphic novels, we will discuss: truth, falsehood, and representation; authorial point of view; attempts at objectivity and clarifying subjectivity; writing about family, living subjects, and marginalized communities. Students may be exposed to other ethics-related issues, such as libel, confidentiality, and consent.
 
BAM 70500: Multi-genre creative writing as a path to memoir
3 credits, Wednesdays, 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM, Professor Bridgett Davis
The best memoirs are at their heart a quest. As the memoirist you are searching to understand how and why key events in your life happened, and you are bringing the reader along on what is a fact-finding yet emotional journey.
    Key to this journey is investigative work: via interviews, combing through personal documents and researching cultural context, you will uncover answers -- even to questions you didn’t know you had. This research must anchor your story to the truth, because memoir is about the truth. But it must equally ignite your imagination, because memoir is also about the art of invention.
    How you serve these two gods comes down to craft. Your goal should be to tell a true story that reads like good fiction, that unfurls in the reader’s mind like a good film. Drawing on my own skill set, I will explore with you how this feat is accomplished: by employing techniques used by novelists, writers of creative nonfiction, journalists and screenwriters. When applied to your own writing and done effectively, the result will be compelling memoir.
Draft syllabus here
 
BAM 70500: Case Histories: patient and physician narratives of self and disease 
3 credits, Wednesdays 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM, Professor Allison Kavey
 Disease is the great equalizer.  We will all be patients eventually.  But who are we to the physicians who encounter our pathological selves, who are we to ourselves, and who are doctors under those white coats?  This class endeavors to use disease as a common ground to discuss case histories as autobiographical and biographical tools.  We will read physician memoirs to better understand how they imagine themselves as people and professionals, and how they relate to their oddly narrative art--the act of writing is embedded in medical practice through case notes.  We will read patient memoirs and think about the nature of pain, the ways in which disease shapes us and how we resist its warping, and think about the person behind the case histories.  In short, this is a course that looks through both sides of the patient-physician mirror to try to grasp some very human truths.           
 
 

COURSES FROM OTHER PROGRAMS


ENGL 78000.  Post / Modern Memoir
4 Credits, Thursdays 4:15PM – 6:15PM, Professor Nancy Miller
(Please note: BAM students must register for the 4 credit option)
“I do not know how far I differ from other people,” Virginia Woolf remarks in Moments of Being, thus summarizing the memoirist’s dilemma. In this course we will explore strategies of self-representation in the works of twentieth and twenty-first century writers and artists, for whom questions of identity have led to experiments in form. Readings include works by Lynda Barry, Roland Barthes, Alison Bechdel, Teresa Cha, Nan Goldin, Zora Neale Hurston, Maxine Hong Kingston, Maggie Nelson, Gertrude Stein and Virginia Woolf. 
Weekly responses, in-class presentations, and a final paper, which may be a creative exercise.
 
FREN 70500: Writing the Self: From Augustine to Covidity
4 credits,
Tuesdays 4:15pm-6:15pm, Professor Domna Stanton
(Please note: BAM students must register for the 4 credit option)
Taught in English

How is the self written, constructed? What forms and shapes does this writing take over time, in different genres? what purposes does it serve, what work does it accomplish for the several selves inscribed in the text and for others (including the self) who will read it? This course will begin by tracing self-writing from the Middle Ages to today, in theoretical texts (Derrida, Butler, Lacan, Lejeune), and primary works, beginning with confession (St Augustine, Rousseau); then early-modern discursive forms of interiority (Gentileschi, Sévigné) that steadily enlarge both the scope of self writing and the figures of the self. We will consider the centuries that women's autogynography and the self-writing of persons of color and other others took to be recognized -- from Kempe, Heloise and Pisan to slave narratives (Equiano, Jacobs, Douglass), and letters, diaries and journals (Woolf, Nin, de Beauvoir). Our readings will culminate with the proliferation of forms in the 20th- and 21st century: from autofiction (Colette, Stein, Eggers) and pictorial modes (Leonard, Bourgeois, Abramovic); Holocaust memorials, trauma narratives (Frank, Levi, Agamben) and testimonials (Manchu); to AIDS memoirs (Arenas, Guibert), the matter of black lives (Cullors, Kendi and Blain), and the global pandemic that engender terror and dying along with possible transformation and rebirth. Finally, given the untraceable lines between the ‘real’ and ‘the fictive,’ we will end by debating whether all writing is self-writing.
 
ENGL 89000.  Mining the Archives, Reinterpreting the Past. 
4 Credits, Wednesdays 2:00PM – 4:00PM, Professor David Reynolds
(Please note: BAM students must register for the 4 credit option)
During the past two decades, a revolution has occurred in scholarship: troves of archival materials that were once very hard to access and search have been digitized and put online. Rare books; entire runs of newspapers; obscure pamphlets; letters; manuscripts; images—these are some of the rich resources that are now universally available and instantly searchable. The implications for the study of literature, popular culture, history, and biography are immense. With the help of now-available archives, previously unnoticed dimensions of past cultures can be explored. Famous figures or writings of the past can be placed in fresh contexts, and new ones can be unearthed. And it’s not only primary research that has profited from digitalization: so has secondary research. An ever-increasing number of scholarly journals and books are online. This surfeit of online material, however, brings new challenges. How does one sort through the apparently endless digitized archives? How do we take notes without accumulating masses of mere trivia? Most importantly, what are the most effective strategies for using archival research as the basis for writing original essays or book-length monographs? How do we move from the raw material of the archive to the publishable article or book? This course addresses such issues. Students from any field or period concentration will have the opportunity to explore online archives that are especially interesting to them and relevant to their work. If Covid permits, each student will also visit at least one physical archive in order get hands-on exposure to works of interest and to seek out material that has not been digitized. Class readings include articles or book chapters about archival research. Students will periodically report to the class about their progress in the archives and will write a term paper based on their research.