FT 08-M Telling Lives
Tom Stokes, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures
“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, The Woman Warrior, chronicles life as a Chinese-American girl, and Paul Monette’s Becoming a Man is the story of a gay man’s social and emotional adjustment. In The Periodic Table, Primo Levi, an Italian Jew who was a chemist before World War II, writes about his ancestors and about his own experiences using the metaphor of the chemist’s periodic table. Also included will be Karen Fisher’s novel A Sudden Country and the book and film versions of Into the Wild (Jon Krakauer).
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 that writers of autobiography and memoir give of themselves.