English R1B

Reading and Composition: Memoir

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2019 Su, Amanda Jennifer
MWF 9-10 233 Dwinelle

Book List

Bechdel, Allison: Fun Home; Coetzee, J. M.: Foe; Diaz, Junot: This is How You Lose Her; Kingston, Maxine Hong: Woman Warrior; Rankine, Claudia: Citizen

Other Readings and Media

A course reader will be issued.


What constitutes the “I” of a first-person narrative? How does it alternately designate an individual, a collectivity, or even a historical consciousness? In this class, we’ll be considering the shapes that these questions take across a variety of forms, including the personal essay, the book-length treatise, the graphic novel, the “ethnographic novel,” the poetry collection, as well as the genre of film. Beginning with the wildly popular Modern Love column in The New York Times, we’ll examine the beguiling pull of the first-person narrative. From there we will branch into an investigation of how narrative interweaves with documentary photography or comic line-drawings in Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and the graphic-novel film Persepolis, respectively.

We will query the fine line between fiction and memoir by debating the controversies that have swirled around several prominent fiction writers: Junot Diaz, whose favored narrator, Yunior, bears close biographical similarities to the writer himself; Maxine Hong Kingston, whose first novel Woman Warrior sparked an impassioned debate about Orientalism and whether ethnic persons were ultimately doomed to ethnographic self-narration instead of aesthetic invention; J. M. Coetzee, who enigmatically accepted his Nobel Prize in Literature by giving a speech in the voice of a fictional character, Robinson Crusoe. How do these writers articulate a relationship to race and ethnicity, to themselves and to the world, via their negotiations of the first-person narrative? The course will culminate in a longer research paper where you’ll learn how to utilize secondary and critical sources in support of an original thesis. 

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