Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Description

GLS 592: Writing Biography: How to Research and Write about Another Person's Life

Instructor: Michelle Bliss (blissm AT uncw DOT edu)

For this course, students would read successful and varied biographical books, such as Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild and Into Thin Air, along with essays like Wendy Brenner's "Love and Death in the Cape Fear Serpentarium," and NPR profiles/remembrances. For class, students would also read helpful guides to biographical writing (which are also helpful for creative nonfiction in general), including: Telling True Stories (Mark Cramer and Wendy Call), Creative Nonfiction (Philip Gerard), and Writing Creative Nonfiction (Gerard and Carolyn Forche).

Students would learn different ways to research and organize a biography, especially how to choose key details, how to structure the work around their subject's unique story, and how to write a narrative using tools from the fiction writer's toolbox. The course would also address the ethical considerations involved with writing nonfiction about other people.

The final project for the course would be a biographical essay or series of essays. Other assignments could include presentations and informal writings. Students would get to choose their own subject. They could write about a friend, family member, or noteworthy community member who they could interview. They could even choose a prominent person who they could research from afar. From there, students would perform that research and synthesize what they learn into literary biographical material.

I'm currently working on a biographical book about a Wilmington teacher who died of a drug overdose, so I would share my experiences with that project as well. My goal for the class is for students to get an introduction to the genre of biography and to practice that form so that they leave with an understanding of genre conventions and a project that could stand on its own as an essay or be further explored.

Last Update: February 7, 2017