English R1A

Reading and Composition: note new topic: Autobiography

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
6 Spring 2013 Beck, Rachel
MWF 12-1 107 Mulford

Book List

Bechdel, Alison: Fun Home; Douglass, Frederick: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass; Lunsford, Andrea: The Everyday Writer; Terkel, Studs: Working

Other Readings and Media

Brief additional readings posted on bspace.


James Frey’s memoir A Million Little Pieces, which chronicled the author’s horrific past, created a sensation among readers for its gripping treatment of addiction. But the book caused a far greater sensation when The Smoking Gun, checking police records against the claims Frey made in the memoir, determined that he “had wholly fabricated or wildly embellished details of his criminal career.” Frey and his publisher were eventually sued for fraud by readers for selling fiction as fact—for violating a convention of genre.

In this course we will set out a provisional definition of autobiography and its conventions, one we will complicate as we read texts that play with those conventions. Some questions we will consider: How do cultural norms influence the self one is able to represent in writing? What happens when another self is at the center of the writing? What does self-presentation look like in a work that is filled with many selves (e.g., a collection of oral histories)? How does autobiography employ elements of fiction? And given that elements of fiction are present in autobiography, what’s the relationship between fiction and nonfiction? What difference does it make if a story is true?

Like all R1A sections, this class is designed to develop the reading, analytical, discussion, and writing skills that will help you understand others’ ideas and articulate your own responses. To reinforce the critical reading and writing skills you are learning, we will regularly incorporate short in-class writing and revising exercises into class.

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