English R1B

Reading & Composition: Recent Memoirs on Loss

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
11 Spring 2012 Fritz, Tracy
MWF 2-3 225 Wheeler

Book List

Didion, Joan: The Year of Magical Thinking; Hacker, Diana: Rules for Writers; O'Rourke, Meghan: The Long Goodbye; Oates, Joyce Carol: A Widow's Story; Trillin, Calvin: About Alice

Other Readings and Media

There will be a course reader of literary criticism.


In her review of Joyce Carol Oates’ A Widow’s Story (2011), Janet Maslin describes the memoir as a contribution to the growing “loss-of-spouse-market.” Indeed, from Calvin Trillin’s About Alice (2006) to Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (2007) to Meghan O'Rourke's The Long Goodbye (2011), memoirs about death--spousal and otherwise--seem to be quite popular. While they may offer consolation to the bereaved (and whether or not they do is debatable), these texts also offer new insights into the limits of language. In this class, we will explore the following questions: How does pain—both mental and physical—resist linguistic representation? How does a traumatic event like a death disrupt narrative? Given the lack of modern mourning rituals, how does writing give form to grief?

Students will explore these questions while learning how to read critically, write clearly, and argue persuasively. Emphasizing the development of research skills, this course will teach them how to locate academic sources, evaluate these outside materials, and use them to construct their own positions. Over the course of the semester, students will produce approximately 32 pages of writing. This writing will be broken down into three essays which will increase in length as the term progresses. For the final two papers, they will be required to perform research tasks and reference texts beyond those provided in class.

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