American Memoir from Walden to Today (LIT2282.01)

Rachel Lyon

That the term ‘memoir’ derives from the same root as ‘memory’ is no coincidence. Just as a memory can be faulty, fanciful, incomplete, and even entirely incorrect, so can a memoir. What counts as truth in a genre defined by its very subjectivity? Is it precisely these quasi-fictional elements that give some exceptional memoirs more literary staying power than others? These questions and more will likely arise in this course, wherein we will read and study a selection of memoirs by American writers from Henry David Thoreau (Walden, 1857) to Kiese Laymon (Heavy, 2018); analyze each in its own right as an individual, literary text; find patterns in, and discuss conventions of (and pressures on), the genre; and, in the end, walk away with a 160+ year-long, diverse, collective portrait of a country in constant flux, and the literary citizens who have shaped it and been shaped by it. In addition to Thoreau and Laymon, we are likely to read Henry Adams, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Maya Angelou, Maxine Hong Kingston, Mary Karr, Alison Bechdel, and Maggie Nelson. Students should be prepared to write brief, weekly critical responses; 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: Fully In-Person , All courses , Literature
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