2022 – Fall


Course Number: JOUR-GA 1281.002

Day & Time: Wed | 9:50 AM – 1:50 PM

Location: 20 Cooper Square, Room 700 (Library)

Instructor: Kate Bolick

Life Writing

Examining an era, issue, phenomenon, or idea through the lens of an individual life—and your relationship to that life—is one of the more exciting ways to unpack history and shed light on the present. In this seminar we’ll explore how to learn a life, through reading (biography, autobiography and memoir; letters and diaries; novels, stories, essays), looking (at art, dance, film, and photographs), listening (to music and recorded voices), asking (interviews, researching, reporting), and more. We’ll also study and experiment with the increasingly varied methods of writing life stories, including memoir-biography hybrids, biographies of objects, group biographies, biblio-memoirs, and bio-fictions.

Each student will choose their own biographical subject to study over the course of the semester by conducting interviews, secondary-source research, and archival research. Course readings will ground discussions of life-writing’s “big” questions: Can a life be contained in a book? Should it? How has life-writing changed over time? What does it look like now? Where is it headed? These conversations will inform your understanding of this wonderfully elastic form, and provide you with a foundation. Working life-writers, such as Dame Hermione Lee, Darryl Pinckney, Nicholson Baker, Maggie Doherty, and Charlotte Gordon, will visit and discuss their work.

The goal of this course is NOT to complete a polished piece of longform writing. It is to lay the groundwork for a successful life-writing project—whether a longform memoir-biography hybrid essay, a straight-up critical-biographical review essay, or a book. You will complete 4 short writing assignments (2-5 pages each). Your grade will be equally divided into class participation and written work, 50%/50%.

CRC Priority