Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Description

GLS 592: Composing a Self: Autobiography and Memoir from the Margins

Instructor: Hannah D. Abrams

How do we tell the truth of our lives? What is the nature of identity, and how is it influenced by culture and language? Where does personal history end and storytelling begin? What is the difference between autobiography and memoir? To what extent can we read autobiography as history or ethnography? In this course, we will consider these questions as we read a range of contemporary autobiographies and memoirs. In our discussions, we will explore how writers compose their lives, construct an identity, and create a somewhat coherent self often against enormous, personal, societal, and cultural obstacles. More specifically, we will read the autobiographical work of authors who have been socially marginalized, due to race, gender, ethnicity, mental illness, or socio-economics. Students will also examine their own lives in their particular cultural contexts, and create an autobiographical work, which reflects and synthesizes the issues discussed in class.


Our reading list will be diverse in subject and form, and may include the following:

  • Marie Arana, American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood
  • James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
  • Mark Doty, Heaven's Coast
  • Eva Hoffman, Lost in Translation
  • Lucy Grealy, Autobiography of a Face
  • Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior
  • Richard Rodriguez, The Hunger of Memory
  • Philip Roth, Patrimony

Course Requirements:

Assignments will include critical responses to readings (1 - 2 pp), short creative writing exercises, and a work of autobiography or memoir (20 - 30 pp).

Last Update: February 8, 2012