Assignments

Blog
Each student will post three blog entries over the course of the semester. Students who don’t post on a given week will post comments on at least two of that week’s posts. Your responses should focus on something specific you find interesting about the reading. You should ask questions, explore personal reactions, and experiment if you feel like it. You have a lot of freedom with these. There’s a single rule: Include at least one quotation from the reading. Feel free to quote outside sources too. You can also consider an alternative post—an autobiographical one that imitates the style of a writer we are reading.

You might choose to develop one of your blog entries into your final project for the course. I’ll assign each student to a blogging group during the first week of class and post the dates for each group’s posts on our calendar page, along with assignments for that week’s blog. The blogs are meant to give you a place to experiment and write informally. When I evaluate them, I’ll be looking for genuine engagement rather than polish or correctness. Posts are due on Sundays by midnight and comments Mondays by midnight.

The Ethics of Autobiographical Songs (a short essay)
For our third class (September 14), we’ll read Ann Powers’s essay about the ethics of autobiographical songs, along with a chapter Paul John Eakin’s Living Autobiographically, about the implicit rules of autobiography. Each student will choose a piece of autobiographical music. During class, you’ll workshop your ideas and plans for a short essay (800-1000 words) on the ethical implications of your chosen song (or album or song cycle). You’ll post your essay on our blog some time before class the following week. Be sure to embed the song in your post. To embed a YouTube or Vimeo video, all you need to do is paste the link into the post. If you want to embed from a streaming service, you’ll need the embed code, and you’ll need to switch from “visual” to “text” mode when you’re composing your post.

Presentations
Paul John Eakin argues that “autobiography structures our living”–that telling stories about ourselves is part of everyday life, fundamental to our relationships, and integral to our legals systems, our educational institutions, and our work experience. Autobiography is a literary genre, but we also practice it when we interview for a job, give testimony in court, or share on social media.

Your job is to has two parts: 1.) To introduce the rest of us to an interesting example of autobiography in culture or everyday life and 2.) To explain what your chosen example means with the help of a theory proposed by a literary critic or reflections of an autobiographer or memoirist. Presentations should be about 5 minutes.

Advice: Think carefully about format. Tailor your presentation so that it works well on Zoom. Do you want to share images or video? Do you want to make a slide presentation or circulate handouts? Be specific and use concrete examples. Practice and time your presentation a few times. Ideally, you should meet with me at least one  week before your presentation to talk about your ideas. If we can’t meet for some reason, we can discuss your ideas over email.

Semester Projects
For your semester projects, most students will complete a critical essay, a craft essay, a short memoir, or a memoir mixtape. (You might also consider creating a biography, listicle essay, podcast, video, ethnography, board game, video game, musical composition, or website.) There are two requirements: The project must address questions about memoir, and it must involve research. For memoir projects, that research might focus on history, geography, language, memory, philosophy, politics, environment–any questions raised by the people and questions you’re writing about.

Whatever medium you choose, you should think about whether your project is critical, craft-oriented autobiographical, or a hybrid. Critical and craft projects should make an argument about a memoir or group of memoirs that engages questions raised by critics we’ll read during the semester. Autobiographical projects should explore techniques and conventions at play in some of the memoirs we discuss–and must be accompanied by a 1-2 page epilogue contextualizing the essay with regard to other memoirs or memoir traditions.

Written projects should be between 2000-2500 words in length, roughly 8 – 10 pages. We’ll discuss scope and length for other kinds of projects as you develop them.

Students will post project proposals the week of April 12 and drafts the week of November 10. I will assign you to writing groups. You’ll read each other’s proposals and drafts and offer feedback. I encourage you to meet with me to discuss your plans and ideas throughout the process. Revised essays will be due December 18 (via email or, depending on the medium, posted to the blog).

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