A Collective Portrait of America: Literary Memoir Since the Civil War (LIT2282.01)

Rachel Lyon

“Everyone must bear his own universe,” wrote Henry Adams in his seminal autobiography, “and most persons are moderately interested in learning how their neighbors have managed to carry theirs.” In this course we will interest ourselves in the universes of American writers from Adams’ time to the present, using autobiography, memoir, and personal essay as our entry points. From the nineteenth century narratives of Adams and Frederick Douglass we’ll enter the twentieth with Gertrude Stein and Zora Neale Hurston, among others; trace the contours of that century through the explosion of the genre — and its fracture into countless sub-genres — in the 1990s; and, finally, arrive with the likes of Rebecca Solnit, Maggie Nelson, and Ta-Nehisi Coates in the genre-bending present. As we analyze each individual literary text in its own right, we will identify patterns, conventions, and evolutions in this highly flexible literary form, generating, meanwhile, a 160+ year-long collective portrait of a country in flux and the literary citizens who have both shaped it and been shaped by it. Students should be prepared to write brief, weekly responses, sometimes critical, sometimes creative; a mid-length critical midterm paper; and a long-form final project, which may take the form of a critical paper or a memoir of their own.


Learning Outcomes:



Delivery Method: Fully in-person
Course Level: 2000-level
Credits: 4
W 10:00AM - 11:50AM & W 2:10PM - 4:00PM (Full-term)
Maximum Enrollment: 20
Course Frequency: One time only

Categories: Literature , Fully In-Person , All courses
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