“All biographies like all autobiographies like all narratives tell one story in place of another.”
Helen Cixous (Rootprints, 71)



Dr. Deandra Little
Associate Professor &
Assistant Director

Teaching Resource Center
 Hotel D, 24 East Range

Office Hours: Thurs 1-3 pm & by appt.



“The problem for the female autobiographer is, on the one hand,
to resist the pressure of masculine autobiography as the only
literary genre available for her enterprise, and, on the other,
to describe a difficulty in conforming to a female ideal which
is largely a fantasy of the masculine, not the feminine imagination.”
Barbara Johnson (A World of Difference, 1987, 154)

In this course, we will read and examine a series of life writings by US women written in the mid- to late 20th Century. We’ll consider how these texts blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction, as we read and discuss memoirs, essays, short stories, and poems written by and about women writers. Along the way, we’ll consider a number of big questions, including the following:

  • What does it mean to "write one's life"? What stories do they tell, and what do they tell us about story or narrative?
  • How do these women writers see their gender, class, or ethnic identity in relation to their writing? Do these autobiographies reveal, like Johnson argues, a problem unique to "the female autobiographer?
  • What boundaries do they draw or negotiate for their own (or their readers’) sanity?
  • What makes a story “true”?
  • How do we determine what a story, novel, poem "means"? And, to whom?

Course Objectives:  In this course, you will

  • Read, think, and discuss 
  • Develop the analytical and interpretive skills necessary for critical reading and literary scholarship, including
    • attending to the language and context of a given work,
    • formulating and answering scholarly questions
    • analyzing narrative structure, themes, aesthetic sensibility or viewpoint,
    • developing and defending your own interpretations
    • responding to opposing interpretations of other scholars and classmates, and
    • exploring connections or disjunctions between texts.
  • Practice literary analysis in classroom discussion and in your writing by forming, testing, and reshaping your informed responses to a text.
  • Hone your writing skills, with an emphasis on persuasive verbal and written arguments that rely on sufficient and appropriate textual evidence and secondary sources.
  • Learn to evaluate the multiple types of secondary sources available (e.g., web or paper, journal article or monograph, theoretical or historical approach) and their relative usefulness to you for your writing and thinking.
  • Deepen your understanding of the discipline, whether or not you go on to major in English. Throughout the semester, we will discuss and practice what it means to "think like" a literary critic or to "do" literary or cultural studies and to understand their value in the larger culture.
  • Jointly create intellectual community through class discussions and other collaborative interactions.

Reading List: The following are required texts for the course:

Mary Karr, The Liar’s Club (1995)
Susanna Kayson, Girl, Interrupted (1993)
Lucy Grealy, Autobiography of a Face (1994)
Ann Patchett, Truth & Beauty (2004)

A selection of excerpts, essays and secondary sources found in the Course Packet: ENLT 2552-002 (Purchase at Brillig Books)

NOTE: The books are available in paperback at the Student Book Store on the Corner, the Course Pack at Brillig Books off Elliewood (across from the parking deck)