This colloquium will feature critical, creative, and interdisciplinary work in an exciting and relatively new field called “Life Writing.” The act of identifying and “telling lives,” as the writer Caryl Phillips notes, sheds light on the histories and lives otherwise invisible. This field touches locally and internationally upon interdisciplinary fields and sub-fields: for instance, comparative literature, creative writing, social sciences, anthropology, psychology, history, film-making, photography, documentary, and more.

Cultural negotiations, interpretations, and indeterminacies make the sites of telling a life -- whether in biography, memoir, and life writing, more widely -- continually seductive and unstable. We ask, what are the prevailing assumptions of “possible lives” that a local culture asks us to tell? What are the discourses and limitations, at any given moment, for telling the history, story, poem, or artwork of a “life”? As Jerome Bruner queries, when do we “become the narratives by which we ‘tell about’ our lives”?

Students will work individually and together in the Black Box studio. We will first learn more about the field of life writing through primary texts and the critical readings and writings. We will then explore and open contested sites of “telling” lives. Each student will draw from their entire body of coursework and studies, integrate and deepen their own specializations, and bring to life-writing an individual project and design. Students will also collaborate to bring to life a new and collective original project of Life Writing by the end of the course.

No previous courses in Life Writing or Creative Writing is required.




Initial weekly workshops and assignments will include readings and practices of life writing and creative writing with an eye on selecting, shaping, and drafting original life-stories. Course materials are rooted in practices of multilingual contexts, exploring a wide range of critical and creative works.

In the second part of the course, students will have the opportunity to build their writings and discoveries across initial stories, drafts, and research. By mid-semester, the plan for an original life-story or work of life-writing evolves from the practices and prompts developed throughout the course. Students will continue to build their work through histories and legacies of creative writing, creative nonfiction, and life writing. Students will also have the opportunity to identify and choose strengths of genre and direction by mid-course, and plan for a final portfolio of original work.

The final portfolio will include practices and a selected body of work determined by each writer. In addition, writers in the class, if interested, will have a chance to consider multimedia expressions and productions of their original life-stories, individually or in collaboration, including excerpts and selections from their final portfolios.




Assessment for this course is 100% coursework.




There will be a reader or collection of handouts in initial stages of the course. Readings may include, for example, selections from Robert Skidelsky, Eric Homberger, Patricia Hampl, Catherine N. Parke, G. Thomas Couser, Jamaica Kincaid, Edwidge Danticat, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Jumpa Lahiri, K.S. Maniam, Tash Aw, Tsang Tsui Shan, Chan Wai Kwong, Tobias Wolff, Cynthia Zarin, Ian Frazer, Victoria Glendinning, and more.

Students will also discover their own research and practices for important directions of reading toward the individual or collective life-story.

Such research materials will develop in the class in combination with original and archival work of documentary, interviews, or new directions in narrative journalism. The combinations of approaches will be explored and revisited throughout the course.



Last updated: 20 July 2016