Since I am preparing to teach memoir to college students, I’m anticipating a question: How write about a life when it does not yet contain a long timeline with twists and turns in it?
There are many solutions to this problem:
- Memoir thrives on the short view anyway. It is not the chronicle of a long life but a slice in time as seen from the present. So even older children can write it.
- Young people are closer to their childhoods, that time of life closest to wonder. They have better access to the feelings of the child. That’s an advantage.
- Older people can help young people. Young people can learn more about how to live their own lives by paying serious attention to the old.
Which is where today’s syllabus takes us — to a class that brings the old and young together around the creation of stories. Thanks to Professor Vi Dutcher for sharing this creative idea.
Senior Seminar: Orality and the Written Memoir
ENG: 49091-600 Kent State University, Stark Campus, Fall 2004
Instructor: Dr. Dutcher
When you walk into your memories, you are opening a door to the past; the road within has many branches, and the route is different every time.
–Xinran in The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices
“I have always trusted this voice.”
–Eudora Welty in “Listening”
In this course you will both read and write memoirs. Although you will write a short personal memoir, the course is focused upon the memoirs you will write for residents of St. Luke Lutheran Community. These memoirs will undergo several drafts with critiques from your writing group and me. Your work will change substantially from first to last draft as you learn to make clear why your story is significant to your partners, to “show” rather than “tell” the stories, to eliminate interesting details that are not relevant to the “spine” of your story, and to keep your readers, the descendants of your partners at St. Luke’s, firmly in mind. Journal assignments and class discussion will often ask you to reflect upon problems with the interviews, with your classmate partners, and with those in your writing group. You, a competent writer, will become a better writer this semester. You will also develop sharper critical thinking and problem-solving skills. And you will receive the added bonus of a new understanding of history: it will become real to you like never before.
Upon successful completion of this course, you will
• Develop writing skills by writing personal memoirs, life stories, and
• Develop critical thinking skills as you discover and use the conventions of
memoirs and critique each other’s work.
• Integrate theory and practice by comparing theories of memoir and aging with personal experience gained from working with residents at St. Luke Lutheran
• Learn to interact successfully with classmates and seniors by recognizing
and solving problems through reflection and discussion.
Residents of St. Luke Lutheran Community (www.stlukefoundation.org) will
• Enhance and preserve memory through telling the stories of their lives.
• Preserve stories of the past (and of their past) for their children and
Allison, Dorothy. Two or Three Things I Know for Sure. New York: Plume, 1996.
Dyer, Joyce. Gum-Dipped: A Daughter Remembers Rubber Town
Ellis, Neenah. If I Live to Be 100.
Gates, Jr., Henry Louis. Colored People
Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki. Farewell to Manzanar
Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. New York: Oxford UP, 1988.
Zinsser, William, ed. Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir. 2nd ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.
Handouts provided by instructor
Course Requirements and Course Grade:
Grading Procedures: Final class grade will be based on:
- 9/08 Assignment #1: Discovering the conventions of writing memoir 5%
- 9/22 Assignment #2: Writing a personal memoir 10%
- 10/06 Assignment #3: Attitudes toward aging 5%
- 10/25 Assignment #4: A brief life history of your client at St. Lukes 10%
- 11/08 Assignment #5: Memoir #1 10%
- 11/17 Assignment #6: Memoir #2 10%
- 11/24 Assignment #7: Memoir #3 10%
- 12/06 Assignment # 8: Revised Life History 10%
- Final Exam : Reflective Essay 10%
- 6 reflective journal entries 10%
- Participation: Participation in interviews* and group work** 10%
*The service-learning component of this advanced writing course will require you to meet with and interview a resident of St. Luke Lutheran Community at least five times during the semester. (You will be paired with another student for the interviews.) Assignment #4-8 will be based on the interviews. The first interview will be conducted at St. Luke’s during a regularly-scheduled class period; subsequent interviews will be scheduled weekly at the resident’s and your convenience. It is vital that you be on time for the interviews you schedule. Cassette tape recorders and blank cassette tapes may be checked out at the library. You are responsible for lost and stolen equipment. Please note: You are responsible for submitting corrected final drafts of these assignments in a form that has been approved by the client and is copy-ready.
** You will be placed in a writing group for each assignment. Since much of the success of the revision process depends on feedback from students in your writing group, you must attend all classes and have drafts ready on time. To receive a grade, all assignments must be on time, neatly typed (double-spaced), and should include pre-writing, all drafts, and copies of feedback from me and from your writing group.
- All papers must be written according to MLA requirements and handed directly to the instructor on the informed due date. Late papers are not accepted.
- The usage of cellular phones and pagers is not permitted in class.
- Unexcused absences: Your final grade may be lowered by one full letter grade if you miss more than two classes without documented excused absence evidence. More than three unexcused absences may result in an F for the course. Use your two allowed unexcused absences for transportation problems, court appointments, day care glitches, short illnesses, appointments, etc.
- Excused absences: Absences will be excused only with written proof of medical, emergencies, death in the family, or participation in an approved university activity which prevents attendance on the day in question. The written verification of absence must be provided by another person as witness or authority and presented to the instructor prior to the absence.
- Lateness and/or missing a portion of our class session is strongly discouraged and is disruptive to the class session.
- To plagiarize means to present as one’s own a material portion of the ideas or words of another without full and proper credit to the source of the ideas, words, or work. Cheating and plagiarism constitute fraudulent misrepresentation for which no credit can be given and for which appropriate sanctions are warranted and will be applied. This policy applies to all students of the University.
7. Students with Disabilities: In accordance with University policy, if you have a documented disability and require accommodations to obtain equal access in this course, please contact the instructor at the beginning of the semester or when given an assignment for which an accommodation is required. Students with disabilities must verify their eligibility through Kelly Kulick. Her office is in Student Services, and her extension is 53287. After the middle of September, the Office of Student Disability Services will be relocated in the new Campus Center on campus. The new Office number for the Office of Student Disability Services will be # 47. The new phone number will be 330-244-5047.
- The Writing Center is an excellent resource for writers at any level or at any
stage in the writing process. Take advantage of the free individual tutoring that you receive there. I would be happy to see that you’ve consulted with them, but I do not require you to do so. You may choose to keep any visits confidential.
- Since this course is conducted in workshop format, student writing is considered a
part of the public domain and may be used anonymously for teaching purposes. Please notify me if any of your essays contain writing of a personal nature that you do not wish to see duplicated or read aloud.
FYI: The last date to withdraw from this course without a grade of “W” is September 11, 2004. The last date to withdraw from this course is November 6, 2004.
(Subject to change to meet class needs)
Note: I strongly urge you to fully read each book before we begin discussing it in class. It’s best to be able to talk about works of literature as a whole instead of in pieces. As a result, I will not be limiting my comments on the first day of a novel, for example, to only the first 50 pages or so. Rather, we will be discussing each text as a whole.
Monday, 8/30 Intro to course. HOMEWORK: Read Two Or Three Things I Know For Sure by Dorothy Allison; first chapter in Zinsser
Wednesday, 9/01 Uncovering Your Most Vivid Childhood Memories; Discussion of Allison and Zinsser (first chapter). HOMEWORK: Assignment # 1; Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl pp. vii-172; Continue reading Inventing the Truth.
Monday, 9/06—NO CLASS—LABOR DAY
Wednesday, 9/08 Introduction to Inventing the Truth; Due: Assignment # 1 HOMEWORK: Continue reading Inventing the Truth and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
Monday, 9/13 Uncovering your most vivid childhood memories; Discussion of Jacobs. HOMEWORK: Continue reading Inventing the Truth and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Write a first-draft of your memoir, taking into account the response of your writing group and the pre-writing exercises you were given in class today.
Wednesday, 9/15 Writing Groups: Bring two copies of your draft, one to read to your writing group and one to turn in to me. HOMEWORK: Revise your draft, taking into account the feedback from your writing group and the revision strategies you were given in class today. Continue reading Inventing the Truth and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl pp. 173-end; we will begin discussing the essays Monday, September 27.
Monday, 9/20 Conclude discussion of Jacobs. Writing Groups: Be ready to read a revised version of your memoir. HOMEWORK: Revise again, taking into account feedback from your writing group and my comments. Make a clean copy of your finished draft to turn in on Wednesday. Structure a journal entry reflecting on your experience with this assignment. Continue reading Inventing the Truth.
[attend Lani Silver Lecture Tuesday, September 21, 2004 7:00 p.m. MH Auditorium]
Wednesday, 9/22 Establishing a “timeline” for the lives of the people you will interview and deciding on appropriate interview questions. Due: Assignment # 2 (Be sure to turn in all drafts of your memoir, the responses of your writing group, my comments, and the pre-writing you have done.) HOMEWORK: Complete Inventing the Truth.
Monday, 9/27 Grammar/Mechanics Review; begin discussion of Inventing the Truth; Journal Entry # 1 due
Wednesday, 9/29 Inventing the Truth discussion; Approaches to writing about people. HOMEWORK: Read Gum-Dipped: A Daughter Remembers Rubber Town
Monday, 10/04 Discussion of Gum-Dipped; Attitudes toward aging; how to conduct an oral interview. HOMEWORK: Write a 1 ½ – 2 pg. exploration of the origins of your attitudes toward aging. (This assignment could take the form of a memoir.)
Wednesday, 10/06 Conclude discussion of Gum-Dipped; Practice conducting oral interviews; Due: Assignment # 3
Monday, 10/11 Oral Interview # 1 (Class will meet at St. Luke Lutheran Community, 220 Applegrove St. NE. HOMEWORK: Before you leave the interview, schedule a 2nd meeting with your client by October 20. Turn the date and time in to me before you leave St. Luke’s. Structure a journal entry reflecting on problems you encountered in your first interview and possible solutions. Begin reading If I Live to Be 100 by Neenah Ellis.
Wednesday, 10/13 Ellis, pp. 3-45. HOMEWORK: With your writing partner, complete and make two copies of a draft of a brief (5-6 pp.) “life history” of the person you interviewed last week. (Use today’s handout for suggestions.)
Monday, 10/18 Ellis, pp. 49-100; Writing Groups: Bring two copies of your draft, one to read to your writing group and one to turn in to me; Journal Entry # 2 due. HOMEWORK: Revise your draft.
Wednesday, 10/20 Writing Groups; Bring your 2nd draft to class. Be prepared to read it to your group. DON’T FORGET TO GO TO YOUR INTERVIEW THIS WEEK AND TO SCHEDULE ANOTHER INTERVIEW SOMETIME BEFORE NOV. 1. At this week’s interview, show the draft of the “life history” to your “client” and make any necessary deletions, corrections, additions. Tape the first “stories” you will turn into memoirs. Use the handout you have been given to write a journal entry reflecting on any problems you encountered with this assignment and how you solved them.
Monday, 10/25 Ellis, pp. 103-43; Due: Final Draft of the “life history,” the schedule for your next interview, and Journal Entry # 3. HOMEWORK: Using your notes and the taped interview with your client at St. Luke’s, draft memoir # 1 (be sure to discuss what story you will tell with your partner) and make two copies.
Wednesday, 10/27 Writing Groups: Bring two copies of the draft of your memoir, one to read to your writing group and one to turn in to me. HOMEWORK: Revise your draft. DON’T FORGET TO GO TO YOUR INTERVIEW to check for the accuracy of your memoir and to gather material for your next memoir. If you have not already done so, schedule another interview sometime before Nov. 15.
Monday, 11/01 Ellis, pp. 147 to end; Bring your 2nd draft to class and be prepared to read it to your group. HOMEWORK: Final Draft of Memoir # 1; Read two literacy narratives (handouts)
Wednesday, 11/03 Literacy Narrative discussion; Writing Groups: Bring two copies of your first draft to class, one to read to your group and one to turn in to me. HOMEWORK: Revise your draft.
Monday, 11/08 Due: Memoir # 1. HOMEWORK: Write a journal entry reflecting on ways your memoirs thus far do or do not follow the conventions of memoir writing. Write a draft of Memoir # 2. Make two copies.
Wednesday, 11/10 Writing Groups: Bring two copies of your first draft to class, one to read to your group and one to turn in to me. HOMEWORK: Revise your draft; Read Farewell to Manzanar.
Monday, 11/15 Due: Journal # 4; Writing Groups: Bring your revised draft to read to the group. DON’T FORGET TO GO TO YOUR INTERVIEW THIS WEEK to check for the accuracy of your memoir and to gather material for your next memoir. Schedule another interview for sometime before Nov. 24.
Wednesday, 11/17 Farewell to Manzanar discussion; Due: Memoir # 2. HOMEWORK: Draft Memoir # 3, and make two copies
Monday, 11/22 Writing Groups: Bring your revised draft of Memoir # 3 to read to the group. DON’T FORGET TO GO TO YOUR INTERVIEW. Check the accuracy of your memoir. HOMEWORK: Complete the final draft of your memoir.
Wednesday, 11/24 Due: Memoir # 3 HOMEWORK: Write a journal entry reflecting on the changes you made from your first drafts to your final drafts. Read Colored People
Monday, 11/29 Due: Journal Entry # 5; Work on revision of Life History
Wednesday, 12/01 Colored People discussion; Writing Groups: Bring your revised draft to read to the group. HOMEWORK: Complete your final draft. Write a journal entry reflecting on ways future classes could make interviews with seniors more productive. Select your favorite memoir to share with the class.
Monday, 12/06 Favorite memoirs; Due: Journal Entry # 6 and Revised Life History. HOMEWORK: Prepare copy-ready drafts of the life history and memoirs you will present to your partner at St. Luke’s.
Wednesday, 12/08 Reflection. Due: Copy-ready material for binding. HOMEWORK: Take-home final.
Exam: 6:00 p.m., Monday, December 13, 2004 Presentation of Memoirs to residents at St. Luke Lutheran Community