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Elizabeth Cullingford, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Fall 2007

E 380F • Literature For Writers: Biography

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
36145 MW
3:30 PM-5:30 PM
MEZ 1.104

Course Description

In our course we will examine and practice biography, one of the most challenging forms of writing. It is a form demanding the narrative instinct of a fiction writerthe capacity to imagine a lifeand the skilled discipline of an historian. The course takes its title from the great biographer of Henry James, Leon Edel, who said that the biographer may not invent his facts but is allowed to imagine his form. By form, I take Edel to mean both the life of the chosen subject as the biographer sees it and the way the biographer chooses to narrate the life.

In the first part of the course we shall read a variety of essays and books by biographers to see the variety of form biography takes and to learn the pitfalls of previous practitioners. In our early classes, we'll meet with the research librarian of the HRC, the PCL English bibliographer, and a librarian from the CAH. For the remainder of the semester, students choose a biographical subject and explore the holdings of the Humanities Research Center and the Center for American History, select original papers--letters, diaries, manuscripts, notes--to form a biographical essay based on an examination of those papers and other biographical material available on the chosen subject. Since both archives have vast holdings, the selection of a subject is an intellectual adventure in itself. In the past, students have written biographical essays on family figures, a pregnant pioneer woman traveling on a wagon train from Kansas to Texas, the magician Houdini, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Aldous Huxley, Edgar Lee Masters, Hannah Arendt, Edith Wharton, Emma Goldman, Aleister Crowley, Tina Modotti, and other figures, famous and obscure.

The course is an invaluable research opportunity for graduate students engaged in creative or scholarly work.


Essays by Leon Edel, Iris Origo, Jean Strouse, Janet Malcolm, Claudia Roth Pierpont, Andrew Motion, Lytton Strachey, and others. Biographies: Son of the Morning Star by Evan S. Connell, Seeing Mary Plain by Frances Kiernan, and Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee.


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