ENG 412: Life Writing: African American Autobiography


Dr. Gabbin 3 credits

          This course will focus on the practice of life writing, most commonly recognized as autobiography, done by African American writers during the last sixty-five years.  While life writing goes back many thousands of years, the term "autobiography" emerged in the late 18th century, a product of the Enlightenment and notions of self.  It resulted in major works of British and American literature in the 19th century and has flourished as a genre since the 20th century.  It is the fastest growing, most widely read, and according to many the most complex of all literary genres in the last five decades. The lively interest in autobiography outside of the academy has reached a voyeuristic status, but it has also created a new art.   (Note: Memoirs of a Geisha).  While there exists both anxiety and uncertainty in the critical literature concerning the definition  and/or boundaries of autobiography, it is clear that autobiography is, as scholar Jay Parini has argued, “the essential American genre, a form of writing closely tied to our national self-consciousness.”  In this course, we will explore works by Richard Wright, Jesmyn Ward, bell hooks, James McBride, and Maya Angelou, among others.  The course will also include an opportunity for us to engage in some individual life writing, organized around such themes as significant ancestors, the formation of identity, the vocabularies of the self, and the relationship between subjectivity and memory.

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