Faculty of Arts


Writing Selves

Please note: this is archived course information from 2012 for ENGLISH 354.


The many forms of biographical and autobiographical writing are now lively areas of contemporary reading interest and theoretical debate, but these topics were not covered by earlier English Department courses. This Special Topic course gives students a chance to extend their skills in critical reading and composition by completing a combination of weekly writing tasks and readings in and about the many ways in which selves are written.

Lectures will expand on the core question of how selves have been, and continue to be written. Students will explore the narrative strategies and rhetorics involved in establishing point-of-view, in writing speech or dialogue, in negotiating the borders between fiction and reality, and in establishing the reader’s role and position in respect of the text. Issues of gender and gendered language, identity politics, the social self, and the self understood in relation to history, will be explored, as will the self in relation to place, animals, and the material world.  

A particular focus of the course will be issues of memory and childhood; another will be the ways in which historical and autobiographical narratives are interwoven. The five set texts address these themes in various ways. These set texts are supplemented by a Course Reader, an anthology of critical and creative readings, which will range more widely, dealing with critical theories of text and authorship, difference, and identity politics. The Course Reader will also include extracts from supplementary works of self-writing, in the form of poetry, biographical and autobiographical texts, letters, and essays.

Students are also expected to engage with, and write in response to, samples of the secondary literature which has evolved around the genre since the mid-twentieth century, when autobiography and biography first began to be seen as a form of creative writing.

Student in-term coursework comprises a series of life writing exercises in which they will work through some of the practical and theoretical issues covered in the course. These will be carried out on a week-by-week basis and amount to approximately 3000 words. A selection of edited and revised versions of these writing exercises will be submitted in a portfolio at the end of semester. (40%)

Students will complete an essay (1000-1500 words) in the second half of the semester. The essay will demonstrate students’ understanding of the key ideas, writing techniques, and theories of discourse and identity discussed in the course. (20%)

The two-hour examination (approximately 2000 words) will require students to answer two essay-style questions. (40%)

Availability 2012

Semester 1




Antonia White, Frost in May (1933), Virago, 2006.

Rudyard Kipling, Complete Stalky and Co. (1899), Ed. Isabel Quigly, Oxford, 2009.

Pat Grace, Tu, Penguin, 2004.

Georges Perec, W or the Memory of Childhood, trans. David Bellos, 2002.

Sia Figiel, The Girl in the Moon Circle, Little Island Press, 2009.

Recommended Reading

Hermione Lee, Biography: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 2009.

David Shields, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, Vintage, 2011.


Coursework + essay + exam


ENGLISH 354: 15.0 points


30 points at Stage II in English or Writing Studies



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