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NEAR E 296 A: Special Studies in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizat ion

Meeting Time: 
MW 10:30am - 12:20pm
SAV 130
Joint Sections: 
C LIT 252 A
Professor Naomi Sokoloff
Naomi B. Sokoloff

Syllabus Description:

Introduction to Genres: Autobiography, Memoir, and More

C LIT   252A/NEAR E 296A

5 credits

VLPA for C LIT 252A    I&S for NEAR E 296A

MW 10:30-12:20

Savery 130


Professor Naomi Sokoloff

Denny Hall 220



This course explores varieties of life narrative, including autobiography, memoir, diary, autobiographical fiction, and poetic autobiography. Along with a focus on written, print texts, we will also consider other media, such as graphic novel and adaptations of prose into film, as well as blogs, first person documentary, and new digital modes of self expression.

Life writing is a heterogeneous genre that encompasses a wide range of themes and includes multiple subgenres: confession, conversion narratives, testimony, language memoir (memoir dealing with multilingualism), ecobiography (narratives dealing with self in relation to place), jockography (life stories dealing with sports), autie-biography (accounts of living with autism), and many more.  This course will provide students with an overview of autobiographical forms, while introducing them to the history of the genre and how it has developed. Particular attention will go toward discussing conceptions of identity and how ideas about narrating the self have changed over time and in different cultural contexts.

By examining texts that come from a diverse array of languages and literary traditions (English, French, Spanish, Dutch, Hebrew, Persian, Arabic, Turkish) we will consider, as Paul John Eakin puts it, “how our lives become stories” and also how the stories we tell about our lives help shape who we are and how we perceive the world.


Required texts:


Sayed Kashua, Dancing Arabs

Marjane Satrapi, The Complete Persepolis

Some materials, including poems and lecture notes, will be available at the course website:


Course Requirements

Students are expected to complete the reading assignments on time, to participate in class discussion, and to hand in brief writing assignments (homework or in-class exercises) on a regular basis. Homework may include summaries of and/or responses to the reading. There will be two tests (no final exam) and one project (that will include a class presentation and a written component).

Final grades will be determined as follows:

  • Tests: 30%
  • Project: 40%
  • Homework and in-class writing: 30%


April 23:  Test #1 + then a Guest speaker. Prof. Selim Kuru. BE SURE TO ATTEND CLASS!

April 30: Guest speaker, Dr. Gabriel Skoog. BE SURE TO TO ATTEND CLASS!

May 16: Guest Speaker, Prof. Eric Ames. BE SURE TO ATTEND CLASS!

May 21: First draft of project due for in-class workshop

May 23: Test #2

June 6: Final draft of project due


Reading Assignments

Unit I: Introduction -  Diaries and Strategies for Reading Life Writing

 March 26 and March 28

Anne Frank , The Diary of a Young Girl  - selections


 Unit II:  Autobiography - Classic Texts, Historical Trajectories

April 2 - Benjamin Franklin

April 4 - St. Augustine, Jean Jacques Rousseau and more


Unit III:  The Memoir Boom (since the 1990s) and Language Memoir

April 9 -  Aharon Appelfeld, Story of a Life


April 11: Choose one (texts available on the page "Language Memoir"):

                Richard Rodriguez, Hunger of Memory

                Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera

                Eva Hoffman, Lost in Translation

                Jumpha Lahiri - In Other Words 


Unit IV – Fictional Autobiography/autobiographical fiction

April 16 - Group reports and Sayed Kashua, Dancing Arabs (Part 1)

April 18 - complete Dancing Arabs + Review for Test #1


Unit V:  Space and Memory

April 23 - Test #1; Orhan Pamuk – Istanbul: Memoir of a City - excerpts

Guest lecture:  Prof.  Selim Kuru (NELC and CLCM)

April 25: Complete Istanbul


Unit VI:  Graphic Novel

April 30 - Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis 

Guest Lecture: Dr. Gabriel Skoog

May 2 - Complete Persepolis


Unit VII:  Blogs and Online Selves

May 7 - Rachel Kolb, “Perception Unearthed”

May 9


Unit VIII: Relational Autobiography and Film

May 14 - Film: Sarah Polley, “Stories We Tell”

May 16 - Guest Lecture: Prof. Eric Ames


Unit IX:

May 21 -Workshop (projects) + Review for Test #2


May 23 - Test #2


Unit X: Poetry and Self-Writing



May 30  - Poetry

               Theodore Roethke - "My Papa's Waltz"

               Emily Dickinson – “I’m nobody, who are you”

               Lawrence Ferlinghetti - "Autobiography"

               Dan Pagis - "Autobiography"

               Li-Young Lee - "For a New Citizen of These United States"

               Maya Angelou - " When I Think about Myself"




 If you would like to request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact Disabled Student Services, 448 Schmitz, 206-543-8924.  If you have a letter from Disabled Student Services indicating you have a disability that requires academic accommodations, please present the letter to the instructor and discuss the accommodations you might need for the class.

In cases of academic misconduct, such as plagiarism or receiving inappropriate assistance on an assignment, offending students will be penalized in accordance with the policy of the College of Arts and Sciences. If you are unsure what constitutes plagiarism or how to properly attribute credit to source materials, consult with the instructor.

At times it may be useful to access the internet during discussion, but please turn off any distracting electronic devices when in class (such as cell phone ringers).

Please keep a copy of all graded work. This is very useful in case the instructor’s record of grades is lost or damaged, or in case the student wishes to discuss a grade.  Protect yourself by keeping a copy.

For additional guidelines on plagiarism, incompletes, grade appeal, concerns about an instructor, equal opportunity, disability accommodations, and sexual harassment, see the page on our course website called UW Policies and Guidelines.



Attendance and class participation are important to the learning process. However, if you have symptoms of contagious illness – such as sniffles, sneezes, a cough, a sore throat, or a fever – please do not come to class. We will figure out a way to cover the material so that your learning and your grades will not suffer. 


It is important that we take care of ourselves inside and outside of class by learning how to care for our body, mind and spirit. Toward that end, there are many different kinds of support services on campus, including the Counseling Center, Hall Health, and the IMA. If you are concerned about yourself or a friend who is struggling, Safecampus, at 1-800-685-7233, is a very helpful resources to learn more about how to access campus-based support services. Please save the number for Safecampus, 1-800-685-7233, into your cell phones."


Suggested Secondary Reading

Sidonie Smith, Reading Autobiography

Paul John Eakin, How Our Lives Become Stories

Ben Yagoda, Memoir: A History

Michael A. Chaney, ed. Graphic Subjects: Critical Essays on Autobiography and Graphic Novels


George C. Rosenwald and Richard L. Ochberg, Storied Lives: The Cultural Politics of Self-Understanding



Grading Scale

97-100  = 4.0

95-96 =  3.9

93-94  = 3.8

92 = 3.7

91 = 3.6

90 = 3.5

89 = 3.4

88 = 3.3

87  = 3.2

86 = 3.1



Catalog Description: 
Offered occasionally by visitors or resident faculty.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
October 17, 2018 - 9:18pm