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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Fall 2009

E 370W • Women's Autobiographical Writing

Unique Days Time Location Instructor


Course Description

Please refer to the course schedule for course days, time, room location, prerequisites and possible cross-listings:

Writers have always employed an ingenious array of narrative strategies to construct and project their sense of an autobiographical self, but historically that task has entailed an additional cultural challenge--if not an outright psychological impossibility--for women writers worldwide. Although the male autobiographical impulse did not fully begin to manifest itself in Western culture until Rousseau (notwithstanding the anomaly of St. Augustine), women still tended to confine themselves to the less overt (and egoistic) modes of the diary, letter, memoir (often purporting to be about another subject), and fiction. It is the goal of this course to examine the autobiographical impulse in women's writing by exploring the concept of the individualistic self vs. the sense of self as a part of community (and duty)--and the ways in which that communal self can both partake of humankind and participate in self-actualization.

We will begin by reading Carolyn Heilbrun's Writing a Woman's Life (1988) and conclude with Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own (1929). In between, we will be tracing women's autobiographical writings from Sappho to Tillie Olsen, encompassing as well the recorded experience of the African American, the Chinese American, and the Chicana. Although members of the class may have read individual titles from the course list before, they will now have the opportunity to read them critically within the context of other women's writing--itself likely to be a first-time experience. Finally, each student will be responsible for introducing to the rest of the class a single work not on the reading list and "outside" its cultural curve; these titles will constitute a multicultural list for future (and I hope immediate!) reading.

Grading Policy

Writing and class discussion will constitute the primary activities of this course. Students will write three papers--the first two of approximately 3-5 pp. each, the last a more extended paper of 8-10 pp.--and deliver two brief oral reports. All papers will receive extensive critical commentary and will be discussed in office-hour consultation; 75% of course grade will be based on these papers. The remaining percentage points will be satisfied by the oral reports and regular class participation/attendance.


Poetry packet: Sappho, Bradstreet, Wheatley, E. Brontë, E.B. Browning, Rossetti, Dickinson, H.D., Moore, Brooks, Bishop, Plath, Rich, Sexton, Giovanni, Levertov, Lorde. Selections: Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love (1373); Kempe, The Book of Margery Kempe (1436-38); St. Teresa, The Life of Teresa of Jesus (1562-65); Wollstonecraft, Travels in Norway and Sweden (1796); A. James, Diary (1892); Olsen, Silences (1978). Texts: C. Brontë, Jane Eyre (1847); H.E. Wilson, Our Nig; or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black (1859); Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper (1899); J. Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House (1910); Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969); Sarton, Journal of a Solitude (1973); Kingston, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (1975); Cisneros, House on Mango Street (1983)


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