Curriculum and Courses

The M.A. in Biography and Memoir requires a total of 30 credits, arranged as follows:

  • Four required core courses (12 credits):
    Forms of Life Writing
    Research and Methodology in Biography and Memoir
    Ethical Problems in Biography and Memoir
    Writing and Style in Biography and Memoir
  • Four or more electives (12-15 credits) from across the Graduate Center's masters and doctoral programs. Options range from English, history, and art history to film studies, urban politics, and psychology.
  • Culminating thesis or capstone project (3 credits) and optional writing workshop (3 credits)

Courses

View our current and past semester courses below. Courses are also accessible via CUNY's Dynamic Course Schedule.

For all registration dates and deadlines, see the GC academic calendar

FALL 2022 M.A. PROGRAM IN BIOGRAPHY AND MEMOIR COURSE OFFERINGS

 

BAM 70100: Forms of Life Writing
3 credits, Wednesdays, 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM, Hybrid
Professor Jason Tougaw
Class number 40981
Room 5382

In this course, we will examine formal experiments in life writing—biography, memoir, and works that combine the genres—as models for our own writing. Any life story is also the story of others. Our readings will emphasize forms of narration that grapple with relations between self and others, with intimacy and distance, with personal experience and cultural history. In the process, we’ll examine interwoven questions about the ethics of life writing; fact, fiction, subjectivity, and truth; memory and imagination; historical context and character development; style and point of view. To complement the longer readings, we’ll read short craft essays and theoretical articles. Students will experiment with writing about a subject of their choice in a variety of forms, including a Wikipedia entry or website, a preface, a footnote, an obituary, a series of social media posts, and a biographical or autobiographical essay.
TOUGAW Fall 22 BAM-70100-Syllabus Forms of Life Writing -F22-3 (1)

    BAM 70400: Ethical Problems in Biography and Memoir
    3 credits, Tuesdays, 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM, Hybrid
    Professor Ava Chin
    Class number 40980
    Room
    3207
    This course explores the range of ethical issues that pertain to memoir and biography, and investigates how writers and authors approach them. Utilizing a variety of texts, including nonfiction graphic novels, we will discuss: truth, falsehood, and representation; authorial point of view; attempts at objectivity and clarifying subjectivity; writing about family, living subjects, and marginalized communities. Students may be exposed to other ethics-related issues, such as libel, confidentiality, and consent.
    CHIN Fall 22 BAM 70400 Ethics in Biography and Memoir syllabus
     

    BAM 70500-01: Race, Gender & the Art of Memoir
    3 credits, Tuesdays, 6:30PM – 8:30PM, Hybrid
    Professor Tanisha Ford
    Class number 40984
    Room 3305

    In recent years, there has been resurgent interest in the genre of memoir. Many of these contemporary texts are written by young(er), people of color. In this course we will read classic memoirs in conversation with more recent publications to explore the intersections of gender and race and the unique ways that writers of creative non-fiction use the genre to explore identity politics, trauma, pleasure, the (recent) past, and worldmaking. Learning how to write in this style is a useful skill for all students—regardless of field, discipline or career path. To that end, students will write and revise several autobiographical essays, with attention to developing voice and tone, pacing, and social/cultural/political texture. Registration open only to M.A. Program in Biography and Memoir students.
    FORD Fall 22 BAM 70500 Race, Gender & The Art of Memoir syllabus

    BAM 70500-03:  The Challenges and Rewards of Group Biography
    Tuesdays, 4:15PM – 6:15PM, Hybrid
    Professor Katherine Culkin
    Class number 40982
    Room 4422

    Exploring the lives of more than one person in a single volume provides challenges and rewards to a biographer. An author must keep track of separate timelines in a single narrative and find ways to balance the life stories of more than one subject, giving each its fair due. But the format also offers dynamic ways to explore relationships and integrate varied perspectives. In this course we will read group biographies that center a wide range of relationships, including those among siblings, parents and children, committed couples, friends, business partners, and creative communities. We will explore the strategies, structures, and research techniques biographers use to create compelling, coherent narratives about multiple lives. For their final projects, students can choose to research and write a portion of a group biography of their own or write a scholarly analysis of a selection of group biographies by others.
    CULKIN Fall 22 BAM 70500 group bio syllabus fall 2022 final

    RECOMMENDED COURSES FROM OTHER PROGRAMS

    FREN 87000.  On Passions, Emotions, Affects: in Theory, History, Texts
    2/3/4 credits, Tuesdays 4:15pm-6:15pm, in person
    Professor Domna Stanton
    (Please note: BAM students must register for the 3 credit option)

    How are passions and emotions different from affects? How do bodies perform passions, feelings, emotions, sensibilities and affects?  What do affects do and how do they do it? How are they shaped by their contexts? Which emotions mobilize spectators/readers into collectives/communities? Are passions both a source and an obstacle to struggles for freedom and justice? How do they include and exclude? What is affect’s relation to reason or rationality?  What is the significance of the “affective turn”?  How is this turn connected to studies of women, to queerness and to work on gender and racial embodiments and sexualities? In addressing these questions, our course will be structured around three areas: First, theories of affect (in Ahmed, Artaud, Berlant, Brinkema,  Butler,  Cvetkovich, Deleuze and Guattari,  Flatley, Massumi, Puar, Sedgwick, Seigworth  & Gregg,  and Williams). Second, a (partial) history of emotions from Aristotle  and theater to Artaud, Racine and Beckett; the Middle Ages (Augustine  and Kempe); early modernism (Montaigne, Equiano, Descartes, Spinoza and Sévigné );  modernism and melancholy (Rousseau, Freud, H. James, Proust, V. Woolf); and trauma and its aftermaths (Caruth, Felman, P. Levi, Lanzman).  Third, the politics and ethics of specific affects: disgust and shame; anger and compassion (Ngai, Probyn, Fisher, Lorde).  In analyzing these writers’s texts, we will consider the ways in which they inscribe emotional content and generate affective responses from readers even when their semantics and narratives do not depict strong emotions. Indeed, do feelings as responses to cultural forms differ from human emotions?
    STANTON Fall 22 French 87000 On Passions syllabus

    Biography and Memoir Courses

    BAM 70300 - Approaches to Life-Writing
    Annalyn Swan - annalyn.swan@gmail.com 

    Wednesdays, 6:30 -8:30 PM
    Room 5382
    Ever since Plutarch brought Alexander the Great blazingly to life in his seminal Lives (2nd century CE), people have loved to read—and write—biographies. Approaches to Life Writing will be an exploration of the art and craft of the genre. What do great biographies have in common—and how do they differ? How are scenes set, facts organized, context provided? How novelistic can a biography be? And is there, finally, such a thing as “truth” in biography or autobiography, or a “definitive” account? From biography as gossipy inside edition (Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson), to biography as irreverent debunking (Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians), to contemporary biography and memoir, we will explore the many ways a writer can tease out the “figure under the carpet,” as Leon Edel, the great biographer of Henry James, put it. For those who wish to do so, this is also a course about practicing the art ourselves. For the final paper, in lieu of a more conventional essay, students will have the opportunity to write an autobiographical chapter, or else research and write a chapter of a biography.
    Swan Spring 22 BAM 70300 Approaches to Life Writing Assignment Schedule
     
    BAM 70200 – Research and Methodology
    Katherine Culkin - Katherine.Culkin@bcc.cuny.edu

    Mondays, 6:30 - 8:30 PM
    Room 6421
    This core course will teach students historical methodologies and basic research skills in the writing of biography or memoir. They will learn how biographers and autobiographers acquire information through interview techniques, oral history collections, research in government and private archives, or sophisticated use of databases and digital humanities sources.
    CULKIN Spring 22 BAM 70200 Research and Methodolgy

     
    BAM 70500 – Global Autobiography
    Harold Veeser - hveeser@ccny.cuny.edu
    Thursdays, 6:30 -8:30 PM
    Room 5417
    Memoir and autobiography as practiced beyond U.S. and European borders often depart from the metropolitan norm. Like novels, memoirs can no longer be seen, myopically, as Western forms. But particular questions arise concerning global self-writing, including the issue of writing in the conqueror’s tongue, the relationship between memoir and less-familiar models for self-representation, and special problems of self-fashioning in a de-colonial situation. The author interview has mediated, to some extent, the shaping of autobiographical subjectivity and thus offers a convenient point of entry. We will read interviews with contemporary South Asian writers including Suneeta Peres da Costa, Sulari Gentill, Tabish Khair, Karthika Naïr, and Sehba Sarwar. Examples of memoir proper will be taken from Nigeria, East Africa, Morocco, Algeria, Cairo, Jerusalem, Goa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Calabria, and Iran. Displaced and hybrid autobiographical narratives also have their place in the syllabus: a Californian whose parents were interned Japanese, a Nigerian redeployed to London, an Egyptian displaced to Amherst, Mass., a Damascene relocated in Ramallah. Attention will be given to interventions by CUNY GC professors such as André Aciman, Ammiel Alcalay, Wayne Koestenbaum, and Nancy Miller. Other theories of autobiography to be discussed are those of Bart Moore-Gilbert, Paul de Man, Jacques Derrida, Sidonie Smith, Michelle Hartman, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Una Chaudhuri, and Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Writing prompts will play a part in most class sessions and Zoom meetings. The final project can be either a critical essay or something more closely resembling memoir and autobiography.
    VEESER  Spring 22 BAM 70500 Global Autobiography and Memoir syllabus

     
    BAM 70500 –  The Essay Film
    Wayne Koestenbaum - wkoestenbaum@gmail.com
    Wednesdays, 4:15 - 6:15 PM
    Instructor permission is required to enroll in this course.
    Room 6417
    In this seminar, we will explore portraits and self-portraits that might be called “essay films.” A perplexing category; a fruitful category; a pretext for flight, for immersion, and for an end to naysaying. Critic Tim Corrigan argues that “although for many the notion of an essay film remains less than self-explanatory, this particular mode of filmmaking has become more and more recognized as not only a distinctive kind of filmmaking but also, I would insist, as the most vibrant and significant kind of filmmaking in the world today.” (Corrigan, The Essay Film: From Montaigne, After Marker, Oxford U. Press, 2011). Some of the films we will study resemble paintings; some resemble monologues, stand-up comedy, intimate encounters, documentaries, surveillance footage, collage. All do the work that is historically the province of the literary genres of autobiography and biography, and the visual media of photography, drawing, and collage. Artists studied may include such unclassifiables as Agnès Varda, Shirley Clarke, Isaac Julien, Werner Herzog, Jonas Mekas, Ja’Tovia Gary, Andy Warhol, Peggy Ahwesh, Tourmaline, Tiona Nekkia McClodden, Su Friedrich, Kalup Linzy, Chantal Akerman, Barbara Hammer, Cheryl Dunye, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Sky Hopinka, William Greaves, Albert and David Maysles, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Suggestions welcome. We will read some theoretical texts: Georg Lukács, Theodor Adorno, André Bazin, Alexandre Astruc, Hito Steyerl, and others. For a final project, students may write a work of biography or autobiography, make a short film, or write a critical essay. Instructor’s permission required to register.
    KOESTENBAUM spring 22 BAM 70500  The Essay Film syllabus


    BAM 72000 – Writing Workshop for Thesis or Capstone Project
    Tuesdays, 4:15-6:15 pm, 3 credits
    Sarah Covington - Sarah.Covington@Qc.cuny.edu
    Room 5114.01

    This is a hands-on research and writing seminar open to BAM students who are beginning to work on their thesis or capstone project. The course is designed to help students organize and analyze their material, formulate a research question and hypothesis, and design methodologies to structure their theses. Students will also be given a platform in which they can share with the professor and other students an outline and timeline, a critical review of the literature and a working bibliography, and an early draft of the project. In addition to sharing writing and research strategies, students will also sharpen their abilities to offer and receive feedback, and to navigate the sometimes-arduous process of revision. The goal is to offer a structure to students as they embark upon their thesis or capstone, and to position them on their way to working with an advisor and successfully bringing their project to completion. Students who enroll in this course are expected to be in their final or penultimate semester of coursework. Please note that this course can only be taken once. Students who hope to graduate in Spring 2022 should also register for BAM 79000: Thesis/Capstone Project Supervision., unless they have already taken it in a previous semester.
    Covington Spring 22 BAM 72000 Writing Workshop for Thesis or Capstone Project syllabus

    RECOMMENDED COURSES FROM OTHER PROGRAMS

    HIST 74300 - Gendered Justice in Europe and the Americas c.1350- 1750
    Wednesdays, 2:00-4:00 pm, 3 credits
    Prof. Sara McDougall 

    Room 9205
    The course will explore the role of gender in the prosecution and punishment of crime in social and cultural context in Europe and the Americas c.1350-1750. We will examine gender and justice as it intersected with race, religion, and status, as found in the Atlantic World, and particularly the French and Iberian metropoles and colonies. Our main body of evidence will be trial records, including litigation, witness testimony, confessions, and sentences. In addition we will engage with a range of other source materials such as law codes, prison records and the writings of incarcerated persons, newspaper reports, true crime narratives, and images of alleged criminals and crime. Training in these subjects welcome but not a requirement, this will be an interdisciplinary inquiry open to graduate and professional students in the humanities and social sciences and related fields.
    McDougall Spring 22 HIST 74300 Gendered Justice Syllabus

    HIST 72800- Twentieth Century American Foundations
    Mondays, 6:30-8:30 pm, 3 credits 
    Prof. Kathleen McCarthy - 
    KMcCarthy@gc.cuny.edu
    Room 6494
    This course is designed to teach students interested in Public History to do historically-based program reviews for institutional decision making, with a focus on grantmaking foundations. It will include scholarly and archival readings keyed to the students’ topics, discussions about their research, and presentations by foundation practioners to provide insights into how the big foundations work and the rationales behind their programs.The course requirement is a 10-15 page paper based on original research in the foundation collections at the Rockefeller Archive Center [RAC] in Pocantico, Hills, NY, which houses the historical records of the Rockefeller, Ford, Russell Sage, Henry Luce, William and Flora Hewlett, Near East and Markle Foundations, and the Commonwealth and Rockefeller Brothers Funds (among many other materials). These materials cover a broad swath of U.S. and global history, from women’s, minority, and other social justice campaigns, to the colonial devolution; scientific, agricultural, and social science research; and public health, the arts and humanities in the United States and around the world. Many of these collections have not previously been used, offering an important opportunity for original research. Information about the Archive Center’s holdings, including finding aids available at https://rockarch.org/.  Prospective students are strongly advised to consult the Archive Center’s online finding aids and to contact reference staff to ensure that the available manuscript collections are sufficiently rich for the topic they plan to study. They will also have an opportunity to apply for a limited number of grants to work with RAC staff  to disseminate their research findings to the general public through digital publishing and/or other RAC projects. Their papers may also be suitable for scholarly publications and presentations afterwards. Instructor permission is required to enroll in this course. 
    MCCARTHY Spring 22 History 72800 American Foundations Syllabus

    ENGL 78000. 20th and 21st-century Women Writers and Intellectuals: Genre, Style, Nation. 
    Thursdays, 4:15PM – 6:15PM, 3 credits
    Prof. Nancy K. Miller (Cross-listed with WSCP 81000)

    Virginia Woolf’s anti-war essay “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid” was published in 1940, months before the author’s death in 1941. Beginning here, and with the death of this author, we will explore the work of British, French, and American women writers who produced memoir, essays, novels, and poetry from the war years through the advent of second-wave feminism and into the 21st century. Cultural figures and icons, these writers also have played important roles in public debate: Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Julia Kristeva, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Maggie Nelson, Claudia Rankine, Adrienne Rich, Jacqueline Rose, Susan Sontag, Simone Weil, and Virginia Woolf. Of critical interest to the seminar will be questions of gender, personality, and authority. Whose first-person matters, when, and how?
    MILLER Spring 22 ENGL 78000.  20th and 21st-Century Women Writers and Intellectuals syllabus

     

    Biography and Memoir Courses

    BAM 70100: Forms of Life Writing
    3 credits, Tuesdays, 4:15PM – 6:15PM, Professor Brenda Wineapple
    Hybrid - For more information about in person dates, write to bwineapple@earthlink.net
    Room 5383

    This course will interrogate various forms of so-called "life writing" (biography/fictional biography/memoir) to investigate the meaning, aims, ethics, pitfalls, and possibilities of the genre as practiced in literature.  We will therefore examine a wide range of topics that various forms of life-writing encounter: the relation between fact and fiction; the significance of politics and historical context; the impact of individual psychology; point of view in narration; the function of imagination; the use or exploitation of marginal figures.  And to the extent that life-writing depends on the creation of character, this course looks closely at how such characters are created from real people: how a living, breathing person seems to arise out of a mass of sometimes contradictory “facts”; how characters are made to change, that is, if they do; how characters can make a story move; and of course how or if forms of life-writing might be liberated from its traditional borders.
    WINEAPPLE Fall 21 BAM 70100 Forms-of-Life-Writing-syllabus
     
    BAM 70400: Ethical Problems in Biography and Memoir
    3 credits, Mondays, 4:15PM – 6:15PM, Professor Ava Chin
    Fully online
    This course explores the range of ethical issues that pertain to memoir and biography, and investigates how writers and authors approach them. Utilizing a variety of texts, including nonfiction graphic novels, we will discuss: truth, falsehood, and representation; authorial point of view; attempts at objectivity and clarifying subjectivity; writing about family, living subjects, and marginalized communities. Students may be exposed to other ethics-related issues, such as libel, confidentiality, and consent.
    CHIN Fall 21 BAM 70400 Ethics Syllabus draft

     
    BAM 70500: Multi-genre creative writing as a path to memoir
    3 credits, Wednesdays, 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM, Professor Bridgett Davis
    Hybrid  
    ​Room 6496

    The best memoirs are at their heart a quest. As the memoirist you are searching to understand how and why key events in your life happened, and you are bringing the reader along on what is a fact-finding yet emotional journey.
        Key to this journey is investigative work: via interviews, combing through personal documents and researching cultural context, you will uncover answers -- even to questions you didn’t know you had. This research must anchor your story to the truth, because memoir is about the truth. But it must equally ignite your imagination, because memoir is also about the art of invention.
        How you serve these two gods comes down to craft. Your goal should be to tell a true story that reads like good fiction, that unfurls in the reader’s mind like a good film. Drawing on my own skill set, I will explore with you how this feat is accomplished: by employing techniques used by novelists, writers of creative nonfiction, journalists and screenwriters. When applied to your own writing and done effectively, the result will be compelling memoir.
    Davis Fall 21 BAM 70500 Multi-Genre Creative Writing As A Path To Memoir draft syllabus

     
    BAM 70500: Case Histories: patient and physician narratives of self and disease 
    3 credits, Wednesdays 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM, Professor Allison Kavey
    Fully online
     Disease is the great equalizer.  We will all be patients eventually.  But who are we to the physicians who encounter our pathological selves, who are we to ourselves, and who are doctors under those white coats?  This class endeavors to use disease as a common ground to discuss case histories as autobiographical and biographical tools.  We will read physician memoirs to better understand how they imagine themselves as people and professionals, and how they relate to their oddly narrative art--the act of writing is embedded in medical practice through case notes.  We will read patient memoirs and think about the nature of pain, the ways in which disease shapes us and how we resist its warping, and think about the person behind the case histories.  In short, this is a course that looks through both sides of the patient-physician mirror to try to grasp some very human truths. 
    Kavey Fall 21 BAM 70500 case histories syllabus          

     

    RECOMMENDED COURSES FROM OTHER PROGRAMS


    ENGL 78000.  Post / Modern Memoir
    4 Credits, Thursdays 4:15PM – 6:15PM, Professor Nancy Miller
    (Please note: BAM students must register for the 4 credit option)
    “I do not know how far I differ from other people,” Virginia Woolf remarks in Moments of Being, thus summarizing the memoirist’s dilemma. In this course we will explore strategies of self-representation in the works of twentieth and twenty-first century writers and artists, for whom questions of identity have led to experiments in form. Readings include works by Lynda Barry, Roland Barthes, Alison Bechdel, Teresa Cha, Nan Goldin, Zora Neale Hurston, Maxine Hong Kingston, Maggie Nelson, Gertrude Stein and Virginia Woolf. 
    Weekly responses, in-class presentations, and a final paper, which may be a creative exercise.
     
    FREN 70500: Writing the Self: From Augustine to Covidity
    4 credits,
    Tuesdays 4:15pm-6:15pm, Professor Domna Stanton
    (Please note: BAM students must register for the 4 credit option)
    Taught in English

    How is the self written, constructed? What forms and shapes does this writing take over time, in different genres? what purposes does it serve, what work does it accomplish for the several selves inscribed in the text and for others (including the self) who will read it? This course will begin by tracing self-writing from the Middle Ages to today, in theoretical texts (Derrida, Butler, Lacan, Lejeune), and primary works, beginning with confession (St Augustine, Rousseau); then early-modern discursive forms of interiority (Gentileschi, Sévigné) that steadily enlarge both the scope of self writing and the figures of the self. We will consider the centuries that women's autogynography and the self-writing of persons of color and other others took to be recognized -- from Kempe, Heloise and Pisan to slave narratives (Equiano, Jacobs, Douglass), and letters, diaries and journals (Woolf, Nin, de Beauvoir). Our readings will culminate with the proliferation of forms in the 20th- and 21st century: from autofiction (Colette, Stein, Eggers) and pictorial modes (Leonard, Bourgeois, Abramovic); Holocaust memorials, trauma narratives (Frank, Levi, Agamben) and testimonials (Manchu); to AIDS memoirs (Arenas, Guibert), the matter of black lives (Cullors, Kendi and Blain), and the global pandemic that engender terror and dying along with possible transformation and rebirth. Finally, given the untraceable lines between the ‘real’ and ‘the fictive,’ we will end by debating whether all writing is self-writing.
     
    ENGL 89000.  Mining the Archives, Reinterpreting the Past. 
    4 Credits, Wednesdays 2:00PM – 4:00PM, Professor David Reynolds
    (Please note: BAM students must register for the 4 credit option)
    Fully online

    During the past two decades, a revolution has occurred in scholarship: troves of archival materials that were once very hard to access and search have been digitized and put online. Rare books; entire runs of newspapers; obscure pamphlets; letters; manuscripts; images—these are some of the rich resources that are now universally available and instantly searchable. The implications for the study of literature, popular culture, history, and biography are immense. With the help of now-available archives, previously unnoticed dimensions of past cultures can be explored. Famous figures or writings of the past can be placed in fresh contexts, and new ones can be unearthed. And it’s not only primary research that has profited from digitalization: so has secondary research. An ever-increasing number of scholarly journals and books are online. This surfeit of online material, however, brings new challenges. How does one sort through the apparently endless digitized archives? How do we take notes without accumulating masses of mere trivia? Most importantly, what are the most effective strategies for using archival research as the basis for writing original essays or book-length monographs? How do we move from the raw material of the archive to the publishable article or book? This course addresses such issues. Students from any field or period concentration will have the opportunity to explore online archives that are especially interesting to them and relevant to their work. If Covid permits, each student will also visit at least one physical archive in order get hands-on exposure to works of interest and to seek out material that has not been digitized. Class readings include articles or book chapters about archival research. Students will periodically report to the class about their progress in the archives and will write a term paper based on their research.
    REYNOLDS FALL 21 Mining the Archives syllabus

    Biography and Memoir Courses

    BAM 70300 - Approaches to Life-Writing
    Mondays, 6:30-8:30 pm, Room 4419, 3 credits
    Annalyn Swan
    Class number 54909
    Ever since Plutarch brought Alexander the Great blazingly to life in his seminal Lives (2nd century CE), people have loved to read—and write—biographies. Approaches to Life Writing will be an exploration of the art and craft of the genre. What do great biographies have in common—and how do they differ? How are scenes set, facts organized, context provided? How novelistic can a biography be? And is there, finally, such a thing as “truth” in biography or autobiography, or a “definitive” account?  From biography as gossipy inside edition (Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson), to biography as irreverent debunking (Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians), to contemporary biography and memoir, we will explore the many ways a writer can tease out the “figure under the carpet,” as Leon Edel, the great biographer of Henry James, put it. For those who wish to do so, this is also a course about practicing the art ourselves. For the final paper, in lieu of a more conventional essay, students will have the opportunity to write an autobiographical chapter, or else research and write a chapter of a biography.
    Swan Spring 21 BAM 70300 Approaches to Life Writing Assignment Schedule

    BAM 70200 – Research and Methodology
    Tuesdays, 6:30 -8:30 PM, 3 credits
    Katherine Culkin
    Class number 54908
    This core course will teach students historical methodologies and basic research skills in the writing of biography or memoir. They will learn how biographers and autobiographers acquire information through interview techniques, oral history collections, research in government and private archives, or sophisticated use of databases and digital humanities sources.

    BAM 70500 - 20th Century Lives on the Road to Peace and Freedom
    Thursdays, 6:30-8:30 pm, 3 credits
    Blanche Wiesen Cook
    Class number 54911
    This biography/memoir seminar will explore the work of writers, visionaries, activists whose contributions we most need now.  This is a participatory class, which will emphasize student interests and enthusiasms.  Below is an introductory list, from which weekly readings and volumes for individual review may be drawn.  Students are encouraged to suggest additional and alternative readings.  Requirements:  Each student will be responsible for an introductory essay-memoir, five book reports a final research paper.
    Cook Spring 21 BAM 70500 20th Century Lives on the Road to Peace and Freedom book list

    BAM 72000 – Writing Workshop for Thesis or Capstone Project
    Thursdays, 4:15-6:15 pm, 3 credits
    Sarah Covington
    Class number 54912
    This is a hands-on research and writing seminar open to  BAM students who are beginning to work on their thesis or capstone project. The course is designed to help students organize and analyze their material, formulate a research question and hypothesis, and design methodologies to structure their theses. Students will also be given a platform in which they can share with the professor and other students an outline and timeline, a critical review of the literature and a working bibliography, and an early draft of the project. In addition to sharing writing and research strategies, students will also sharpen their abilities to offer and receive feedback, and to navigate the sometimes-arduous process of revision. The goal is to offer a structure to students as they embark upon their thesis or capstone, and to position them on their way to working with an advisor and successfully bringing their project to completion. Students who enroll in this course are expected to be in their final or penultimate semester of coursework. Please note that this course can only be taken once. Students who hope to graduate in Spring 2021 ideally should also register for BAM 79000: Thesis/Capstone Project Supervision. They may also take BAM 79000 after this course, but not before.  
    Covington Spring 21 BAM 72000 Writing Workshop for Thesis or Capstone Project syllabus

    Recommended Courses from Other Programs

    ENGL 87500. Memoir/Illness/Graphic/Grief
    Thursdays 4:15PM-6:15PM.
    2/4 credits
     (Please note: BAM students must register for the 4 credit option)
    Nancy K. Miller
    Class number 54655

    “Considering how common illness is,” Virginia Woolf writes in On Being Ill, “how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings,…it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.” Contemporary nonfiction and fiction have long since belied Woolf’s 1926 lament. The theme of illness occupies a prominent place in postwar culture, and the seminar will explore its many variations through a wide range of literary and visual representations of bodily and mental suffering, including cancer, AIDS, depression and mourning. We will also map the social and political contexts of illness, in particular through collective research on the national experience and discourses of Covid-19. What have we learned about healthcare and how does the pandemic reframe our understanding of the sick and the well, and the meaning of recovery? It’s too soon to predict the forms this experiment in collaborative criticism will take. 
    Among the writers and artists: Elizabeth Alexander, Roland Barthes, Simone de Beauvoir, Audre Lorde, Eve Sedgwick, Susan Sontag, Tolstoy, and Woolf; graphic narratives by Bobby Baker, Anne Carson, David B., Miriam Engelberg, Ellen Forney, and David Small. 
    Miller Spring 21 ENGL 87500. Memoir Illness Graphic Grief syllabus

    ENGL 75000. American Renaissance.
    Wednesdays 2:00PM-4:00PM.  
    2/4 credits.  (Please note: BAM students must register for the 4 credit option)

    David Reynolds.
    Known as the American Renaissance, the decades leading up to the Civil War are generally regarded not only as the peak moment in American cultural expression but also as a watershed of themes reaching back to ancient and early-modern periods and looking forward to modernism.  The American Renaissance saw the innovations in philosophy, ecological awareness, and style on the part of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau; the metaphysical depth and cultural breadth represented by the fiction of Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne; the poetic experimentation of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson; the psychological probing and ground-breaking aesthetics of Edgar Allan Poe; and landmark portraits of race and slavery by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Jacobs, and Frederick Douglass. Urban life and class conflict were dramatized in fiction by George Lippard, and gender issues were vivified in writings by Margaret Fuller and Sara Parton. Lincoln’s speeches crystalized the nation’s enduring political themes. In addition to reading central works of American literature—among them Moby-Dick, “Bartleby,” Incidents in the Life of a Slave GirlThe Scarlet Letter,  Leaves of Grass, Walden, Poe’s tales, Emerson’s essays, and Dickinson’s poems--we discuss current approaches to American Studies, criticism, and cultural history. 
    REYNOLDS spring 21 ENG75100 American Renaissance  Syllabus

    Biography and Memoir Courses

    BAM 70100: Forms of Life Writing
    3 credits, Tuesdays, 4:15PM – 6:15PM, Brenda Wineapple
    Class nbr 57213
    This course will interrogate various forms of so-called "life writing" (biography/fictional biography/memoir) to investigate the meaning, aims, ethics, pitfalls, and possibilities of the genre as practiced in literature.  We will therefore examine a wide range of topics that various forms of life-writing encounter: the relation between fact and fiction; the significance of politics and historical context; the impact of individual psychology; point of view in narration; the function of imagination; the use or exploitation of marginal figures.  And to the extent that life-writing depends on the creation of character, this course looks closely at how such characters are created from real people: how a living, breathing person seems to arise out of a mass of sometimes contradictory “facts”; how characters are made to change, that is, if they do; how characters can make a story move; and of course how or if forms of life-writing might be liberated from its traditional borders.
    WINEAPPLE Fall 20 BAM 70100 Forms-of-Life-Writing-syllabus

    BAM 70500: The Ethics of Public Biography: Historicizing ACT UP  (The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power)
    3 credits, Mondays, 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM,  Sarah Schulman
    Class nbr 58422
    1987-1993 were the most effective years of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), New York. Perhaps the most recent American social movement to be effective, its history can be helpful to those of us working for social transformation today. Yet, the most rewarded representations have narrowed the story of ACT UP to a parody, focusing on white male individuals, instead of the diverse and extended community of which ACT UP was an organizational nexus. Using film, primary documents and relying on interviews from the ACT UP Oral History Project www.actuporalhsitory.org , students will examine how false histories get told and contrast these dominant myths with the actual evidence.
    SCHULMAN Fall 20 BAM 70500 The-Ethics-of-Public-Biography syllabus

    BAM 70500: Multi-genre creative writing as a path to memoir
    3 credits, Wednesdays, 4:15PM – 6:15PM,  Bridgett Davis
    Class nbr 57216
    The best memoirs are at their heart a quest. As the memoirist you are searching to understand how and why key events in your life happened, and you are bringing the reader along on what is a fact-finding yet emotional journey.
    Key to this journey is investigative work: via interviews, combing through personal documents and researching cultural context, you will uncover answers -- even to questions you didn’t know you had. This research must anchor your story to the truth, because memoir is about the truth. But it must equally ignite your imagination, because memoir is also about the art of invention.
    How you serve these two gods comes down to craft. Your goal should be to tell a true story that reads like good fiction, that unfurls in the reader’s mind like a good film. Drawing on my own skill set, I will explore with you how this feat is accomplished: by employing techniques used by novelists, writers of creative nonfiction, journalists and screenwriters. When applied to your own writing and done effectively, the result will be compelling memoir.
    Davis Fall 20 BAM 70500 Multi-Genre Creative Writing As A Path To Memoir syllabus

    Recommended Courses from Other Programs

    HIST  72600:  Biography and International History                  
    3 credits, Thursdays, 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM, Manu Bhagavan
    Biography is a popular form of historical writing, often appreciated for its narrative form and accessibility.  Generally, biography follows the life of a particular individual (or of ideas, disease, or material objects) and sees the world unfold from the point of view (or in relation to) their chosen subject of study. This course explores the global history the twentieth century through a series of such narratives.  Each book we read will offer a unique perspective and set of insights onto overlapping events, focusing especially on, but not limited to, the stories of pioneering women who made contributions of international consequence. How do we remember major events of the twentieth century?  Who gets credited for their action and who does not?  Who gets left out entirely?  Why?  And how do our understandings of the past change as we look at it through new eyes?
    Bhagavan Fall 20 BAM 70500 Biograph Intl Hist Syllabus-Fin

    ENGL 89000: Mining the Archives, Reinterpreting the Past
    4 credits, Wednesdays, 11:45AM – 1:45PM, David Reynolds
    (Please note: BAM students must register for the 4 credit option)
    During the past two decades, a revolution has occurred in scholarship: troves of archival materials that were once very hard to access and search have been digitized and put online. Rare books; entire runs of newspapers; obscure pamphlets; letters; manuscripts; images—these are some of the rich resources that are now universally available and instantly searchable. The implications for the study of literature, popular culture, history, and biography are immense. With the help of now-available archives, previously unnoticed dimensions of past cultures can be explored. Famous figures or writings of the past can be placed in fresh contexts, and new ones can be unearthed. And it’s not only primary research that has profited from digitalization: so has secondary research. An ever-increasing number of scholarly journals and books are online. This surfeit of online material, however, brings new challenges. How does one sort through the apparently endless digitized archives? How do we take notes without accumulating masses of mere trivia? Most importantly, what are the most effective strategies for using archival research as the basis for writing original essays or book-length monographs? How do we move from the raw material of the archive to the publishable article or book? This course addresses such issues. Students from any field or period concentration will have the opportunity to explore online archives that are especially interesting to them and relevant to their work. Each student will also visit at least one physical archive in order get hands-on exposure to works of interest and to seek out material that has not been digitized. Class readings include articles or book chapters about archival research. Students will periodically report to the class about their progress in the archives and will write a term paper based on their research. 
    REYNOLDS Fall 20 Eng 89000 Mining the Archives  Syllabus 

    Biography and Memoir Courses

    BAM 70300 - Approaches to Life-Writing
    Mondays, 6:30-8:30 pm, Room 4419, 3 credits, 
     Annalyn Swan  
    Ever since Plutarch brought Alexander the Great blazingly to life in his seminal Lives (2nd century CE), people have loved to read—and write—biographies. Approaches to Life Writing will be an exploration of the art and craft of the genre. What do great biographies have in common—and how do they differ? How are scenes set, facts organized, context provided? How novelistic can a biography be? And is there, finally, such a thing as “truth” in biography or autobiography, or a “definitive” account?  From biography as gossipy inside edition (Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson), to biography as irreverent debunking (Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians), to contemporary biography and memoir, we will explore the many ways a writer can tease out the “figure under the carpet,” as Leon Edel, the great biographer of Henry James, put it.
    For those who wish to do so, this is also a course about practicing the art ourselves. For the final paper, in lieu of a more conventional essay, students will have the opportunity to write an autobiographical chapter, or else research and write a chapter of a biography.
    Swan Spring 20 BAM 70300 Approaches to Life Writing BOOK LIST

    BAM 70400 - Ethical Problems in Biography and Memoir
    Thursdays, 6:30-8:30 pm, Room 6421, 3 credits, Sarah Covington  
    This course will explore the ethical problems that attend life writing or other forms such as oral history, studying how practitioners have dealt with these matters. Utilizing texts which may include case studies, students will discuss and write about such issues as truth and falsehood; withholding or exposing information; respecting the confidentiality or privacy of others; or writing about marginal or vulnerable populations. Students will also be exposed to the other ethics-related issues, such as plagiarism, libel, copyright infringement, the requirements of the Institutional Review Board, fair-use quotation and the consent of vulnerable subjects.
    Covington Spring 20 BAM 70400 Ethical Problems in Biography and Memoir Syllabus

    BAM 70500 - Race, Gender, and the Art of Memoir
    Tuesdays, 4:15-6:15 pm, Room 3307, 3 credits, Tanisha Ford 
    In recent years, there has been resurgent interest in the genre of memoir. Many of these contemporary texts are written by young(er), people of color. In this course we will read classic memoirs in conversation with more recent publications to explore the intersections of gender and race and the unique ways that writers of creative non-fiction use the genre to explore identity politics, trauma, pleasure, the (recent) past, and worldmaking. Learning how to write in this style is a useful skill for all students—regardless of field, discipline or career path. To that end, students will write and revise several autobiographical essays, with attention to developing voice and tone, pacing, and social/cultural/political texture.
    This course is NOT open to non-degree students.
    Registration open only to M.A. Program in Biography and Memoir and PhD Program in History students.
    FORD Spring 20 BAM 70500-Race-Gender-Memoir Syllabus

    Recommended Courses from Other Programs

    ENGL 87500 - Modernism and Memoir
    Thursdays 4:15PM-6:15PM. Room TBA, 4 credits, Prof. Marc Dolan
    Based in an exploration of the consciousness of individual experience, transatlantic Modernism both sprang from autobiography and in turn transformed it, in its own formally fragmented image.  Contemporaneous and current theories of autobiography and memoir will be assigned in tandem with our primary texts, which may include: Andre Gide, If I Die (Si le grain ne meurt) [1926]; Djuna Barnes, Ladies’ Almanack (1928); Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933); Gertrude Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography (1937); Zora Neale Hurston, Tell My Horse (1938); Langston Hughes, The Big Sea (1940); Federico Garcia Lorca, Poet in New York (Poeta en Nueva York) (1940); The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams  (1951); H. D., Tribute to Freud (1956); Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast (1964; 2009); Edward Dahlberg, Because I Was Flesh (1964); and Tillie Olsen, Yonnondio: From the Thirties (1974)

    ENGL 75000.  American Renaissance. Wednesdays 2:00PM-4:00PM. 2/4 credits. David Reynolds.
    Known as the American Renaissance, the decades leading up to the Civil War are generally regarded not only as the peak moment in American cultural expression but also as a watershed of themes reaching back to ancient and early-modern periods and looking forward to modernism.  The American Renaissance saw the innovations in philosophy, ecological awareness, and style on the part of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau; the metaphysical depth and cultural breadth represented by the fiction of Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne; the poetic experimentation of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson; the psychological probing and ground-breaking aesthetics of Edgar Allan Poe; and landmark portraits of race and slavery by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Jacobs, and Frederick Douglass. Urban life and class conflict were dramatized in fiction by George Lippard, and gender issues were vivified in writings by Margaret Fuller and Sara Parton. Lincoln’s speeches crystalized the nation’s enduring political themes. In addition to reading central works of American literature—among them Moby-Dick, “Bartleby,” Incidents in the Life of a Slave GirlThe Scarlet Letter,  Leaves of GrassWalden, Poe’s tales, Emerson’s essays, and Dickinson’s poems--we discuss current approaches to American Studies, criticism, and cultural history 

     

    Biography and Memoir Courses

    BAM 70100 – Forms of Life Writing
    Tuesday, 6:30 -8:30 PM, Room: 6421, Brenda Wineapple
    This course will interrogate various forms of so-called "life writing" (biography/fictional biography/memoir) to investigate the meaning, aims, ethics, pitfalls, and possibilities of the genre as practiced in literature.  We will therefore examine a wide range of topics that various forms of life-writing encounter: the relation between fact and fiction; the significance of politics and historical context; the impact of individual psychology; point of view in narration; the function of imagination; the use or exploitation of marginal figures.  And to the extent that life-writing depends on the creation of character, this course looks closely at how such characters are created from real people: how a living, breathing person seems to arise out of a mass of sometimes contradictory “facts”; how characters are made to change, that is, if they do; how characters can make a story move; and of course how or if forms of life-writing might be liberated from its traditional borders.
    Wineapple Fall 19 BAM 70100 Forms-of-Life-Writing syllabus

    BAM 70200  – Research and Methodology
    Monday, 6:30 -8:30 PM, Room: 3307, 4 credits, Prof. Katherine Culkin
    This core course will teach students historical methodologies and basic research skills in the writing of biography or memoir. They will learn how biographers and autobiographers acquire information through interview techniques, oral history collections, research in government and private archives, or sophisticated use of databases and digital humanities sources. Students will make personal trips to New York area archives and libraries, and will conduct practice oral history interviews with sources.
    Course site - https://bamfall19.commons.gc.cuny.edu/ 
    Culkin Fall 19 BAM-70200  Research and Methodology syllabus

    Recommended Courses from Other Programs

    HIST 75200 - Warriors against Slavery: Lincoln, John Brown, and Frederick Douglass
    Wednesday, 2-4 pm, Room: 3307, David Reynolds
    This course examines three leading antislavery figures of the Civil War era.  The three took action against the slave power’s increasing dominance of the U. S. government--Lincoln through politics, Douglass through authorship and lecturing, and Brown through violence. Douglass’s autobiographies, which span much of the nineteenth century, provide a vivid record of slavery, abolitionism, and Reconstruction.  His speeches and journalism illustrate his unceasing commitment to the cause of African Americans. Equally devoted to that cause was John Brown, of whom Douglass said, “I could live for the slave, but he could die for him.” We will trace Brown’s evolution, from his days as an Underground Railroad operative through his antislavery battles in Kansas to his doomed raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, which he hoped would lead to the fall of slavery but which instead resulted in his martyrdom on the gallows. Lincoln worked within the political system to end slavery. His speeches, debates, and public letters stand as timeless declarations of freedom and equality. His firm leadership of the nation during its most divided time established him as American’s greatest president. Despite their different approaches to slavery, these three antislavery leaders were connected in surprising ways. This course explores both the linkages and dissimilarities between the three. It also considers them against the background of the American Revolution, the Constitution, proslavery and antislavery thought, and cultural phenomena such as religion and popular literature. We will read key primary and secondary texts related to the three, including a definitive biography of each.
    Reynolds  Fall 19 History 75200

    FSCP 81000 - The Biographical Film: Editing a Life
    Thursday, 4:15-7:15 PM, Room C419, Marc Dolan (fozzielogic1530@gmail.com)
    This course will survey a range of examples of one of the most common film genres of the last century: the biographical film.  In our meetings, we will pay special attention to how the preparation and execution of film biographies resemble and depart from that of their print equivalents.
    In our introductory class we will watch a sampling of one-reel biographies from the first few decades of filmmaking, and then move swiftly in our second week to Abel Gance’s wide-screen tricolor epic Napoleon (1927).  (We will probably view the latter film in conjunction with Stanley Kubrick’s notes for his ultimately unproduced film on the same subject.)  Next, we will engage Alexander Korda’s pioneeringly satirical The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) and Roberto Rossellini’s neorealist The Flowers of St. Francis (1950), two films that are oddly resonant with contemporary trends in midcentury print biography, the debunking and Annales strains respectively.  Our early twentieth-century unit will then conclude with Daniel Mann’s sincerely melodramatic I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955), a popular biographical film of its time that had been almost instantly adapted from Lilian Roth’s bestselling 1954 memoir.
    By this point in film history, the biographical genre was so well-established that filmmakers could play with it more.  In the late twentieth-century, biographical film took more turns toward segmented or selective depictions of a subject’s life, as witnessed by David Lean’s grand slice of a life Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Andrei Tarkovsky’s six-piece, meditative Andrei Rublev (1966), and Spike Lee’s stylized and similarly segmented Malcolm X (1992).  Our survey will conclude with two special cases: Todd Haynes’ range of archetypal biography from Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988) to I’m Not There (2007); and Shkehar Kapur and Cate Blanchett’s decade-long collaboration on a single biographical subject in Elizabeth (1998) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007).  Our last weeks of meetings before student presentations will form a transhistorical coda for the course, with classes on parallel film biographies of Cleopatra (from DeMille/Colbert, Mankiewicz/Taylor, Roddam/Varela, and others) and Abraham Lincoln (from Griffith/Huston, Ford/Fonda, Spielberg/Day-Lewis, and others).
    Readings will be assigned from such works as George F. Custen‘s Bio/Pics: How Hollywood Constructed Public History, Dennis P. Bingham’s Whose Lives Are They Anyway?: Biopic as Contemporary Film, Ellen Cheshire’s Bio-Pics: A Life in Pictures, and at least chapter 3 of Rick Altman’s Film/Genre, as well as individually apposite biographical excerpts.  
     Dolan Fall 19 MALS 78500 Biographical Film Syllabus

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    The Writing Center manages a range of non-credit professional development courses designed to help students at the Graduate Center in their careers and professional activities. Regular offerings include courses in academic writing for native and non-native English speakers, advanced spoken English for presentations, and teaching strategies. Additional topics vary by semester.

    Browse Course offerings from the Writing Center