Requirements & Info

Blog: 20%
Presentation: 20%
Ethics of Autobiography in Songs: 20%
Semester Project (short memoir, critical essay, video, or podcast): 40%

Course Texts may be purchased through the QC Online Bookstore. I’ve included links to short readings on the Calendar page.

Hanif Abdurraqib, Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to a Tribe Called Quest (U Texas Press)
Eve Babitz, Slow Days, Fast Company (New York Review of Books)
James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (Vintage)
Joe Brainard, I Remember (Granary Books)
Ellen Forney, Marbles (Avery)
Ariel Francisco, A Sinking Ship Is Still a Ship (Burrow Press)
Michelle Zauner, Crying in H Mart (Knopf)

Course Goals

  • Gain an overview of a tradition of twentieth- and twenty-first-century autobiographies that experiment with form.
  • Recognize major arguments and debates in the contemporary theories and ethics of life writing.
  • Become adept at recognizing and analyzing formal features of autobiographical writing.
  • Practice close reading and analysis of works in various autobiographical media, including books, essays, graphic narratives, video, and stand-up comedy.
  • Practice writing in stages and gain understanding of their own writing process, through informal writing (in class and on course blogs), drafting, responding to feedback from peers and the instructor, and revision.
  • Become familiar with tools for composing digital media–particularly audio and video.
  • Conduct research on a self-defined topic relevant to course readings and discussion–including the critical evaluation of online sources, the use of research databases and library resources, and participation in scholarly and intellectual “conversations” at play in various texts: literary works, scholarly articles, journalism, and popular writing.

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, examine our birth certificates or driver’s licenses, give testimony in court, look at family photos, 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. Do you want to project images or video? Do you want to provide handouts? Be specific and use concrete examples. Rehearse and time your presentation before recording it. You should meet–by phone or Zoom–a week or two before your presentation to talk about your ideas.

If you have a learning, sensory, or physical reason for special accommodation in this class, contact the Office of Special Services at 718-997-5870, and please let me know that you have done so.

The Writing Center
The Writing Center is a great resource for getting feedback on your writing, whether you’re struggling or just want to hear the ideas of a trained expert as you’re revising.

Academic Integrity
Students’ work should be their own. But a student’s ideas should also engage the ideas of other thinkers and writers. Communication creates a community of thinkers through which meaning circulates. This is where citation and plagiarism can become tricky. Plagiarism is, of course, a serious issue. It is important that you establish your own point of view, make it clear what ideas are yours and which come from your sources, and respond to those sources critically. Be sure also to cite all sources appropriately, using MLA style. Finally, if you’re struggling with your ideas, your writing, or your sources, be sure to talk to me. Plagiarism sometimes arises from confusion and sometimes from desperation. If you are feeling panicked or just unsure about a writing assignment, talk to me. I can help you with the process. I count on you to take your academic integrity seriously, and I take any breach of the college’s policy on plagiarism seriously, too. You should familiarize yourself with that policy, and let me know if you have any questions about it.

Formatting Guidelines for Writing Assignments
All your formal writing should be typed, double-spaced, with 1” margins. Please proofread carefully, so that your essay is polished and free of typographical errors. Give every essay a title and include your name as well as the course name and number. Be sure to include a list of works cited. Use MLA Guidelines for citing sources and constructing your works cited list. We will discuss my expectations in class, but in general I expect essays to contain serious thought, analysis, and reflection, not simply summary or description. If you’re including quotations in short memoir, MLA Guidelines might not make sense. In that instance, you and I can work out a system of citation that feels organic to your project.

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