I love teaching two different kinds of graduate courses: one an advanced course in the field of autobiography studies and the other a course entitled Writing for Publication. Here are descriptions and course requirements for the most recent iterations of these courses.
English 630.001 Autobiography: Theorizing and Engaging Written, Graphic, and Online Life Writing
The genres of contemporary life writing are many, some long-lived, some emergent. Here are just a few: academic life writing, addiction narrative, autoethnography, autographic, autotopography, blog, confession, diary, ecobiography, ethnic life narrative, gastrography, jockography, “oughta” biography, personal essay, scriptotherapy, testimonio, trauma narrative. And the theoretical questions their reading invites are many. Do we approach autobiographical narratives as story scripts? Or do we see them as social action, critical for the function they serve as opposed to the form they take? Do we see them as sites of agency, of telling otherwise, or do we see them as organized, tamed, reframed, and constrained within the institutions, terms and idioms of sociality, and ideological environments out of which they emerge? And where do we set our frame: Do we see them in relationship to communal, national, and/or the larger, global traffic in narratives?
Having entered a particular narrative, whether as genre or act, where do we direct attention? To the narrating subject? Do we explore the conditions of narration, including who tells what kind of story to whom? Do we see them as an intersectional site of heterogeneous, overlapping, sometime discordant subject positions and identity statuses (gender, ethnicity, sexuality, race, religion, etc.)? Do we hone in on the narrator and the rhetoric of self-telling? Or the psychic mechanisms of giving an account? Or the intersubjectivity of sites of narration binding first- and proximate or distant second-person witnesses? Do we ponder the addressee (or reader/listener) the narrative projects? Or the paratextual apparatuses that situate and authenticate the narrative? Or the agents, publishers, marketers, and pundits who commodify the narrative, aid in its circulation, and proffer initial readings for the public? Or the distant reader, sitting alone with a material book or screen or listening on a podcast? Or the reading communities to which texts are directed and marketed and through which narrative meanings and calls to identification are activated or forestalled? These are but some of the theoretical and methodological issues that the field of life writing pursues.
We will explore several genres of contemporary life writing – in written, graphic, and online modes. We will consider narratives of witness to explore how genres of the autobiographical facilitate or impede political projects. We will consider how contemporary modes of life writing conjoin autobiography, biography, and fiction to unsettle any simple generic differentiations. We’ll explore the rich field of graphic memoir. And we’ll spend time identifying and theorizing online forms of life writing.
Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, Reading Autobiography (2010 edition)
Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomedy
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
Dave Eggers, What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, A Novel
Ellen Forney, Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me
The Sangtin Collective and Richa Naggar, Playing with Fire: Feminist Thought and Activism through Seven Lives in India
GB Tran, Vietnamerica
Patti Smith, Just Kids
Blog Posts (10%)
Throughout the semester you will submit a total of five blogs posts of 500 words each that riff on some aspect of the readings we are discussing. Everyone will submit their blog posts to ctools. You may find that you are motivated to respond to someone else’s blog. That’s fine. As you write your blog posts experiment with voice, and address.
Collaborative eight-page (double-spaced) theory paper (30%)
You will pair up with another member of the class, preferably someone from another discipline. The two (or three) of you will decide on a theoretical question to pursue based on the readings up to and including February 15th T. Collaboratively, you will pose your question; determine the theoretical issues involved; choose your reading/s or passages within readings as sites for interpretation; tease out your argument; and refine your prose style. I encourage you to schedule a meeting with me before you get too far along on this project. This essay is due March 7th, 5pm.
Final Project (40%)
You will develop an individualized final project. It’s up to you to decide and explain to me why you want to do what you are proposing, even if it’s the normative seminar paper.
You may feel most comfortable pursing the seminar paper of 15-20 single-spaced pages. If you do, think about taking on a theoretical issue that you can explore, using the readings of the course, primary and secondary to give depth and nuance. Or you could decide you want to do a deep reading of a particular primary text; or several primary texts. Remember that when you bring in particular essays you need to beyond summaries or reviews of the readings. If you pursue a deep reading of some aspect of a particular primary text, you will want to consult work beyond what we’ve read in class, if available.
However, you can propose an alternative kind of project. You could, for instance, develop your own anthology of essays on particular thematic, or theoretical, or formal aspects of life writing. In this case you would want to determine what set of around 10 essays you would put in conversation with one another; write an introductory essay situating the theme or theory or issue; and then provide abstracts for each essay that captures why you’ve chosen that essay for your collection.
Or you might have some kind of multi-media presentation you want to pursue. Or a curious curation of some kind. Or an assembly of “key words” that have become important to you as you become more familiar with the field of autobiography studies. Or you might want to do your own comic that is a metacomic about some issue or problematic.
Seminar Participation (20%)
Active class participation is an obligation of everyone in the course. Seminar participants are expected to engage vigorously in discussion, in agreement and disagreement, at the same time as maintaining an open, constructive ethic of interaction. Everyone brings disciplinary questions, knowledge, and discourses to the table. Everyone benefits from the heterogeneity of those questions, knowledge, and discourses.
English 630.001 Special Topics Writing for Publication
In this course, we will be doubly focused. The primary focus will be on preparing a publishable essay. Students will choose a paper or dissertation chapter they are interested in revising and submitting for publication. We will spend several weeks on a series of exercises: charting theoretical and methodological threads and issues; preparing an abstract; crafting a compelling introduction; naming and claiming the extent of the argument. We will workshop each essay. At the end of the course, everyone will present a fifteen-minute version of the paper and submit the essay to a journal.
A second focus of the course will be a more broad-based discussion of the work of a humanities scholar in the next decades, including the transformation from scholarly publishing to scholarly communication. We will read targeted essays and blogs on the following issues: the state of scholarly publishing in the humanities; the new modes and media of scholarly communication; the venues and politics of open access; and the scholar as curator.
Expectations, process, skills and capacities development:
Each essay will have two specified reviewers who will be responsible for reading the essay carefully; adding comments in google.docs; and writing a one-page review (which will start off with three strengths and then turn to issues that need to be addressed through revision). Thus, each person will be responsible for two essays.
Presentations with visual element
You will be making at least two presentations with visual components. My expectation is that you know how to prepare ppt. If you are also versatile in Prezzi, let me know so we can use your expertise.
You will give a twelve-minute paper based on your essay for the final min-conference.
You will submit at the end of the course an essay you are prepared to submit to a journal. You will research journals in your field and prepare a list of five possibilities for submission.