FT 05-I Telling Lives
Thomas Stokes, Department of Modern Languages, TTh, 9:45
“Telling Lives” centers on autobiography and memoir, which are among the most interesting and varied literary forms of our time. Writing about one’s own life is a venerable and time-honored pursuit. Examples of it exist from the ancient world, from the Middle Ages, and from the Renaissance, but modern autobiographical writing found its true model in Rousseau’s Confessions. We will read several books together in this tutorial. Maxine Hong Kingston’s memoir of life as a Chinese-American girl, The Woman Warrior, and James McBride’s book, The Color of Water, about his Jewish mother who married an African-American man, are stories about strong women and their struggles for identity against their own cultural norms. Kien Nguyen’s memoir, The Unwanted, is the story of a Eurasian child from Vietnam who found his way through prejudice to a successful life in America. Paul Monette’s Becoming a Man is the story of a gay man who experienced social and emotional difficulties similar to Nguyen’s. Primo Levi, an Italian Jew who was a chemist before World War II, writes about his ancestors and about his own experience using the metaphor of the chemist’s periodic table. Wadysaw Szpilman’s memoir, The Pianist, long banned in Poland, tells the story of how music allowed him to remain sane during the persecution of Jews during World War II. Into Thin Air recounts Jon Krakauer’s personal experience of disaster on Mt. Everest. In the tutorial, we will explore what it means to write about one’s own experience. “Tell all the Truth, but tell it slant/Success in Circuit Lies,” Emily Dickinson wrote. That is a good starting point for considering such issues as lies, truth, candor, self-understanding, and memory in the accounts which writers of autobiography and memoir give of themselves.