[June 17, 2020]
Syllabus -- Memoir Workshop
LEH 352-XM81 64828 (Hybrid) Fall Semester 2020
Instructor: Justine Blau Monday 6 p.m. – 8:40 p.m.
Room: 3 Credits, 45 hours
Office Hours: Monday 5:00 p.m., 8 p.m. and by appointment
“As every author – and every reader – knows, writing well is the best trip of them all.”
– Gore Vidal
The goal of this class is to help students turn their life experiences into artful stories.
This is a hybrid class; students will be required to post some writing every week on Blackboard and peer review their classmates’ writing. It’s also 50% a literature class and 50% a writing workshop, so you will be reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and many memoir excerpts.
Students will read and analyze memoirs of the modern era encompassing coming of age, adversity, career, relationship and graphic novels. Students will study literary techniques, analyze points of view, learn research methods and develop an understanding of historical context. They will then craft autobiographical writing from their own life stories.
Comprehend the literary techniques and strategies used by writers, including their relationship to historical context, audience, purpose, and cultural/social/political contexts and constraints.
Demonstrate a working knowledge of literary terminology and writing tools such as voice (point-of-view), character development, building narrative suspense, perspective, setting scenes, and transforming memories of conversations into dialogue. Emphasis will be placed on structure, clarity, grammar and revision.
Become proficient at researching online data bases and archives to find historical documents and primary sources.
Develop skill at analyzing, synthesizing and discussing assigned readings of memoirists as well as for the writings of other students. Demonstrate the ability to articulate thoughtful insight into writers’ sensibilities.
CLASS STRUCTURE and REQUIREMENTS
Readings will include Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and excerpts from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Beautiful Struggle, Kids Like Us by Patti Smith, Charles Blow’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones and other memoirs to illustrate specific styles and choices for framework.
Students will turn in a final 15-page memoir, based on writing exercises done in class. (Two of those pages will be an introduction to your writing collection.) This can be several essays or one long piece. Students will do revisions and turn in a final draft by the last class, December 7. Several times a week there will be in-class and online writing exercises; students will revise these pieces, post on Blackboard, and read each other’s work and make constructive comments. To clarify, these writing exercises can be expanded to serve as material for the final memoir, which will be at least 13 pages and two pages of introduction, totaling 15 pages.
We’ll establish a workshop schedule and beginning the third week we’ll begin workshopping memoir pieces. Everyone will have a chance to have at least one essay workshopped. If you must miss a class when your writing is scheduled to be workshopped, please arrange to trade dates for workshopping with another student. Be sure to have contact information for your classmates.
When possible, memoir pieces that are going to be workshopped will be submitted a week before they are due so we can read and edit the writing ahead of time, and save our class time for discussion of the writing. [Bring paper copies for your classmates. Only when classes are in person.]
1. When we begin workshopping, you will have already read classmates’ writing. Attend each class ready to participate.
2. Work on revising your own writing throughout the semester.
3. Read as many memoirs as you can during the semester.
4. You must keep a journal to jot down memories during the semester. As you read memoirs and start your own writing, your memories will be triggered and you’ll want to write down thoughts as they come to you.
As William Knowlton Zinsser said, “Write about small, self-contained incidents that are still vivid in your memory. If you remember them, it's because they contain a larger truth that your readers will recognize in their own lives. Think small and you'll wind up finding the big themes….”
We will strive to be generous, fair, genuine, nonjudgmental, tolerant, humane, and considerate. Students will acquire a vocabulary for responding to other people’s work and will be expected to accept some criticism, necessary to cultivate more sophisticated and controlled writing expertise.
Course Regulations & Requirements
1) You must do all of the work on the syllabus in order to pass the course.
2) Like all other college courses you should expect to put in about three hours of study outside of class for each hour we spend in class.
Texting or opening a computer is strictly not allowed in class. It distracts from other students’ concentration.
Student handbook notes that “Students are expected to attend all class meetings as scheduled, and are responsible for all class work missed as a result of late registration or absence. Excessive absences in any course may result in a lower final grade.” http://www.lehman.edu/undergraduate-bulletin/attendanceandabsences.htm
1) I will take attendance. Please make every effort to be on time.
2) Make sure you have the email or phone number of someone in class so that if you are absent you may obtain any assignments due or changes in schedule.
3) If you have questions, please remember I am accessible and available. If you want to speak to me I will be glad to make an appointment. Feel free to email me.
4) Once class begins, make sure your phone is turned completely off. If you expect an emergency call, let me know before class and mute your phone. There is no reason to be on your computer in this class
Although it should go without saying, plagiarism of any sort will result in a failing grade for the course and submission of all relevant material to the Department of English for your file. Course failure is the minimum penalty; suspension and expulsion may also occur.
Academic Integrity and Plagiarism Policy
CUNY and Lehman have detailed policy on academic honesty. The statement is in the student handbook, available online, http://www.lehman.cuny.edu/student-affairs/documents/student-handbook-02.pdf. We will also discuss this policy in class. Please note: all formal assignments will go through SafeAssign.
Lehman College is committed to providing access to all programs and curricula to all students. Students with disabilities who may need classroom accommodations are encouraged to register with the Office of Student Disability Services. For more information, please contact the Office of Student Disability Services, Shuster Hall, Room 238, phone number, 718-960-8441.
The Academic Center for Excellence (ACE) and the Science Learning Center (SLC) are two of the tutoring centers on campus. The ACE provides appointment based and drop-in tutoring in the humanities, social sciences, and writing as well as general writing and academic skills workshops. The SLS provides drop in tutoring for natural and computer science courses. To obtain more information about the ACE and the SLC, please visit their website at, http://www.lehman.edu/issp. You may call the ACE at 718-960-8175 and the SLC at 718-960-7707.
Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott, ISBN-13: 978-0385480017, Anchor Books $15.95
A journal or notebook that is dedicated exclusively to your writing.
Ten essays 50%
Class participation* 20%
Test on Bird by Bird 10%
15 pages of revised, combined memoir essay(s) 20%
* Participation includes prompt attendance, turning in your writing on time and commenting in a literary way on your classmates’ writing in class and on Blackboard. [For in-person classes, providing enough copies of your own writing for the whole class and ready on the day it is due.]
During the semester the weekly reading assignments may include excerpts from writers such as Charles Blow, Cheryl Strayed, James McBride, Patti Smith, Junot Diaz, Tara Westover, Laura Shaine Cunningham, etc.
Mon. August 31 – Introductions (pair students up). Writing exercise: “I remember”. A few students volunteer to read aloud from “I remember” exercise. Go through syllabus. Discuss class structure. Discussion about how to peer review and to critically analyze. Review MLA Guidelines.
Students fill out Desire Line.
Explain why we are reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.
Homework: Read Bird by Bird up to page 53. Highlight phrases that resonate with you. Revise your “I remember” exercise and post it on Blackboard, in Discussion Board. Also, make comments on the writing of at least two classmates. Include your favorite sentence, anything that was confusing, and what you felt entitled to know that the writer didn’t provide.
Mon. Sept 14 – Writing exercise “A Memorable Meal”. Write about a meal in your life that left an impression on you, a meal that reflects your family’s emotional landscape. Or it could be a meal with friends or a meal on a trip. Include how you felt. Be specific about what you ate, the surroundings, the characters who were with you. You know what your mother or father or friend is like but we don’t. Convey their characteristics by describing how they eat, what they said, what they wore, the tone of the meal, etc.
A few volunteers read aloud from their draft.
Students draft a time-line of their life.
Discuss in class how students are doing with their on-line peer review comments.
Homework: Revise the draft of the essay that you started in class. Revise again. Post your essay on Blackboard. Write literary comments on at least two classmates’ writing. Include your favorite sentence, anything that was confusing, and what you felt entitled to know that the writer didn’t provide.
Also, read pages ______ in Bird by Bird. Fill out life timeline on double pages.
Mon. Sept 21 -- Writing exercise. A few students volunteer to read aloud. Discuss in groups the reading from Bird by Bird. Call on students to make sure they are looking up words they don’t know from Bird by Bird.
Workshop two students’ essays. Discuss psychic distance.
Homework: Read pages____ from Bird by Bird, revise your essay and post on BB. Comment on at least two classmates’ writing on BB. Include your favorite sentence, anything that was confusing, and what you felt entitled to know that the writer didn’t provide.
TUESDAY Sept 29 -- Writing exercise. Landscape prompt: Describe a landscape as seen by an old woman whose disgusting and detestable old husband has just died. Do not mention the husband or death. Peer review. Discuss reading assignment. Call on students to make sure they understand all the vocabulary in the reading. Workshop two students.
Discuss comments students made online about other students’ writing.
Another writing exercise.
Homework: Revise the second essay. Post on BB.
Make comments on two of your classmates’ writing online in your group. Include your favorite sentence, anything that was confusing, and what you felt entitled to know that the writer didn’t provide.
Read pages _______ of Bird by Bird.
Mon. Oct 5 -- Homework read pages ____in Bird by Bird. Combine two or more of your previous essays into one essay. Post on BB.
WEDNESDAY Oct 14 – Begin non-stop writing exercise, 10 minutes.
How did combining two essays go? Discuss.
Discuss in groups the reading. Call on students to make sure they are looking up words they don’t know from the reading.
Workshop two students. Discuss the author of the new reading assignment.
Homework – Revise your essay. Revise again. Post on Blackboard. Read excerpt from _________. Make comments on two of your classmates’ writing online.
Monday Oct 19 – In-class writing assignment [students write non-stop for 10 minutes.] Volunteers read out loud. Peer review of student writing. Discuss reading assignment.
Workshop two students.
Discuss in class some comments students made online about other students’ work or about the reading.
Homework: Students revise writing assignment, post on Discussion Board and peer review. Do reading assignment.
Mon. Oct 26 – Test on Bird by Bird?
In-class writing exercise. A few volunteers read out loud. Workshop two students. Discuss reading assignment in groups.
Discuss ways to research for memoir. Archives, data bases, Google scholar, etc. Meet with librarian Robert Farrell.
Mon. Nov 2 – In-class writing exercise. Volunteers read out loud. Workshop two students. Discuss reading assignment in groups.
Discuss in class the comments students made online about other students’ work.
Homework: Students revise essay and post on Discussion Board. Comment on at least two of your classmates’ writing, including your favorite sentence, anything that was confusing, and what you felt entitled to know that the writer didn’t provide.
Mon Nov 9– Writing exercise. Discuss assigned reading in groups. Discuss in class comments students made online about other students’ work.
Prepare for oral history interview.
Homework: Do an oral history interview of a family member or friend. Include a few questions about the 2020 presidential election. Glean at least two pages of transcript from the interview. Clean up the transcript. Post on BB. Read each other’s oral history interviews. Do assigned reading.
Mon. Nov 16 – Discuss the oral history interviews that students did, including how to weave in material from the oral histories into their final memoirs.
Workshop two students.
Homework: Assigned reading. Weave together two previous essays. Post on BB.
Mon. Nov 16 – Discuss assigned reading in groups. Workshop two or more students.
Discuss two-page introduction to memoir. Writing exercise: write thoughts about what to include in your two page introduction.
Homework: Revise your two page introduction. Revise again. Post on BB. Comment on classmates’ writing.
Mon. Nov 23 – Drafts of memoirs can be handed in for notes. Questions about final memoir. Reading assignment. Workshop up to four students.
Homework: Revise your final memoirs
Mon. November 30 – Workshop up to four students’ writing.
Questions about final memoir.
Mon Dec 7 – Last class – Final memoirs due. Students who want to can read 1-2 pages aloud from revised writing.