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Women's Autobiography

Date:         Sun, 8 Oct 2000 12:46:26 -0500
From:         Leah Ulansey <leahu  @  EARTHLINK.NET>
Subject:      Women's autobiography course

I'd like to direct this to listmembers who've specialized in or taught
courses in women's autobiography.

I'm teaching a women's autobiography course now. Unfortunately, despite much
student interest in the material, the class size is too large (33 kids) for
a discussion format, unless I break down the class into groups.  I feel as
though this could be an exceptionally good class. So I'm looking for
suggestions about teaching methods or texts that are so good for discussion
that they will work even in a large class.

 The students enjoy doing autobiographical writing themselves, but they are
a bit reluctant or inhibited to read their work out loud to the class.
We've decided to put their essays on reserve for each other in the library,
if they want to share them.

On the first day of class, I had students write down, anonymously on a slip
of paper, "everything you always wanted to know about other women, but were
afraid to ask." Their responses were really interesting: on topics ranging
from auto-eroticism to the sexual politics of female competition to gender
identity, etc. Some students have now suggested that we return to those
questions and use them, and other similar questions, as a basis for a
classroom project in which students will interview each other and write up
the results. I like the sound of this project and love the fact that it's a
student initiative, so I'm trying to work out the details.

So I have two questions: has anyone ever tried something like this in a
women's autobiography course? And are there texts that I could/should be
using that are particularly good for discussions around these classic

Thanks in advance for any and all assistance!


    Leah Ulansey
    leahu  @  earthlink.net
    Dept. of Lang. and Lit.
    Maryland Inst. C. of Art
Date:         Sun, 8 Oct 2000 15:54:25 -0400
From:         Rosa Maria Pegueros <rpe2836u  @  POSTOFFICE.URI.EDU>
Subject:      Re: Women's autobiography course

Hi --

I taught a class on Latin American women's autobiography, biography, memoir
and testimony. I don't have the syllabus at home, however, so I'll send it
to you after the holiday.

33 is a large number of students for this kind of class. I suggest
that you put the students in small groups in which one person per week
is in charge of leading the discussion. Make sure you give them some
guidelines on what this means: that person is in charge of preparing
discussion questions and must be well-prepared enough to move things
along if the discussion lags.  It also means that the pressure to be
prepared, knowing that your turn to lead is coming, should be
incentive enough for all the students to be prepared.

I found that asking them to write autobiographical essays was a good idea
for the following reasons: It made them think about point of view,
audience, privacy issues and the structure of different genres of
biographical writing, Their essays were rather cut and dry.  Only a couple
of them were any good. Of course, that was at the beginning of the
semester.  I wondered what it would have been like if I'd had them do it
later. My main interest was to make sure that they understood the risks and
difficulties inherent in these genres. As a historian, I think my focus is
different from that of a literature professor.

Anyway, I'll send that to you in a day or two.


Dra. Rosa Maria Pegueros            e-mail: <pegueros  @  uri.edu>
Assistant Professor                phone: (401) 874-4092
Mailing address:                fax:      (401) 874-2595
Department of History
80 Upper College Road, Ste.3
Kingston, RI 02881-0817
    My favorite word in English is, "Youneverknow."
        --Joaquin Andujar
Date:         Mon, 9 Oct 2000 09:25:10 -0500
From:         Amy Wink <Winkamy  @  ESUMAIL.EMPORIA.EDU>
Subject:      Re: Women's autobiography course


One of the things I've done in my women's autobiography classes--and other
non-speaking classes, is to  make teams of students responsible for
leading class discussion. Students sign up with a partner (or 2) and
create a list of discussion questions they will hand out to the class and
use to facilitate class discussion. Some of these questions come from
journal entries the students have done, or from previous class discussions.
This way, each student gets a chance to be an expert on one writer and
also meet other students at the same time, and, most importantly, have a
piece of paper in her hands that has what she wants to say written down!

Good luck,


Amy L. Wink
404E Plumb Hall
Department of English
Emporia State University
Emporia, KS 66801
(316) 341-5546
WinkAmy  @  emporia.edu
Date:         Tue, 10 Oct 2000 23:47:30 -0500
From:         Julie K Daniels <danie029  @  TC.UMN.EDU>
Subject:      Re: Women's autobiography course (fwd)

To respond to Leah Ulanesy's question about teaching techniques in large

I, too, use techniques like the ones Amy describes below, with students
preparing something in advance for other students.  I call these prepared
documents "Prep Pages," and they can be discussion questions, as mentioned
below, or they can be anything else, depending upon what students want to
present to class.  They're always due the class period BEFORE the students
will present, and if a lot of groups are presenting, reading the Prep
Pages becomes the reading for that class (as opposed to a separate

I stress creativity in these presentations, especially in large classes,
so I've had students provide Prep Pages that list the lyrics to songs that
they're playing for class, summaries of movies that they will provide
clips for, scripts for a short scene they act out, maps of other
countries, actual wedding invitations, etc., etc., etc.

One particularly powerful group presentation in a memoir class was from
three male undergraduates who had never done *any* research into their
families of origin, and they found out that their grandmothers had
compiled a sort of "family book" that had lots of information about their
roots.  These three students provided personal examples and then gave
their classmates a few websites to go to and advice about how to ask their
own grandparents about family history in their Prep Pages.


Julie K. Daniels
Department of Rhetoric
Department of Women's Studies
University of Minnesota
danie029  @  tc.umn.edu
Date:         Wed, 18 Oct 2000 14:40:03 +0000
From:         Jane Olmsted <Jane.Olmsted  @  WKU.EDU>
Subject:      Re: Women's autobiography course (fwd)

Sorry this is coming so long after the original query about activities
in a women's autobiography course.....I wanted to share what my class
did last time I taught our Women's Biography and Autobiography course.

Inspired by Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson's "Getting a Life: Everyday
Uses of Autobiography," I asked students to present on some "other"
form of autobiography in a 15-minute oral presentation, towards the
end of the semester. I provided a list of possibilities, and they also
came up with their own. The presentations were so much fun, such a
release for all of us, after a semester of "heavy" reading.

Here s what they did:
*One group presented a skit of four passengers on an airplane, one of whom 
  moved from one to the other, spilling her guts.
*One group interviewed hairdressers to have them talk about why people talk
  personally to them during haircuts; they got some fabulous footage on
*One group did photographic autobiographies (self-portraits).
*One group presented on personal ads.

We did this in addition to their "final," which was a memoir. The
class was unanimous about hearing something from everybody, so they
were each given about 8-10 minutes (if I remember right) to present
whatever part of their narrative they wanted. We had about 22
students, and everyone got to read. The effect was stunning. All of us
were moved to tears and laughter, depending. One person read very
little, saying she wanted to skip all the hard parts, and that was an
option . . no one was forced to read, but all ended up doing so, and I
heard again and again how powerful a way it was, to end with their own
stories, after a semester of reading and analyzing and theorizing
about it all.

It s a great course to teach, full of opportunities for meaningful writing
and analysis and for sharing and creative thinking.


jane.olsmted  @  wku.edu
Western Kentucky University
Date:         Thu, 26 Oct 2000 09:35:49 -0500
From:         Sharon Hileman <shileman  @  SULROSS.EDU>
Subject:      Re: NWSA panel: women's autobiography

[included because of related content]

Dear Jane,

I would be interested in participating on this panel since I have a
long-standing interest in autobiography and will be teaching a
graduate course in forms of autobiography and life-writing this
spring.  I have taught a course in multicultural autobiography (read
many women's works including Harriet Jacobs, Zora Neale Hurston,
Leslie Marmon Silko, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Carolina Maria de
Jesus).  I have also incorporated women's life-writing into women's
literature courses--recently taught Dakota: A Spiritual Geography,
Jamaica Kincaid's The Autobiography of My Mother, and Frida Kahlo's
journal.  What interests me is the blurring and combining of genres
in many of these works--incorporating the visual (Kahlo), the
fictional (Kincaid), the collective (Silko), the mythological
(Kingston), and the photographic (Silko and Pat Mora).  I have used
many of these works as models for students' own life-writing and
believe that female students in particular can develop "writing
selves" by reading other women's life-writing.  I have also used
material from The Intimate Critique to show students how to develop
autobiographical literary criticism.  I would be happy to develop an
abstract for a presentation if you think these general ideas
correspond to your ideas for the NWSA panel.

Please let me hear from you,
Dr. Sharon Hileman
Chair, Department of Languages and Literature
Sul Ross State University
Alpine, TX 79832
915 837-8015
shileman  @  sulross.edu

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jane Olmsted" <Jane.Olmsted  @  WKU.EDU>
Sent: Wednesday, October 25, 2000 8:01 AM
Subject: NWSA panel: women's autobiography

> Seeking Abstracts for NWSA Panel
> Pedagogies for Women s Autobiography

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