WOST 391H U.S.: Women's Lives in Contexts: Reading and Creating Political Autobiography
Arlene Avakian
FALL 2003
email: avakian@wost.umass.edu
Tu-Th 1:00-2:15
OFFICE HOURS: Thursday 2:30-3:30 and by appointment 208 Bartlett

The class will explore the ways in which lives are embedded within their social, political and cultural contexts; how those contexts change over time; the ways in which people construct their lives within and against these contexts; and how people represent their lives. We will have a particular focus on the ways in which gender, race, class, ethnicity and sexual orientation impact on lives and the ways these social forces interact with each other. Examining their own lives in their contexts, students will create autobiographical work which could take a variety of forms; e.g. written, oral, visual or dramatic.
Course Requirements
1. Students are expected to come to class having carefully read the material assigned for that day and prepared to engage in serious discussion.

2. The successful progression of this course depends on students keeping up with the work. A written project plan is required. The plans will not be graded with a letter grade, unless they are late (without permission from me) or not done seriously. In that case, they will be factored into the grade as an F. While most of the autobiographical work will be done individually, students will also be engaged with each other's work. Some class time will be devoted to sharing your work with a partner or in a small groups, in addition to large class discussions. If you do not complete assignments on time both your own work and the class discussions will suffer. Doing the writing assignments on time will help you do your work within a collective context that is designed to keep you on track by giving you valuable feedback from your classmates. Also, if you keep up with the assignments you will be much more likely to have sufficient time to complete your final project. You may keep a journal if you think it will be helpful to you, and I would be happy to read it if you are interested in feedback. A journal is, however, totally optional.

3. A 5- 7 page analytical paper counting for 20% of the grade. DUE ON 10/9.

4. The major work for the course is autobiographical that puts your life into its social contexts. The first project is a racial identity paper counting for 30% of the grade. You will share a draft of this paper with one or two classmates, and have an opportunity to revise it. This paper mayor may not become part of the final autobiographical project. FINAL DRAFT IS DUE ON 10/28 The final autobiographical project must explore your social positionality from at least three social formations, e.g. gender, race, class, sexuality. We will work both individually and collectively to be sure that the project is doable in the course of the semester. The form of the final work need not be written, however students who choose to do something other than writing need to have their project approved by me. Written work should be a minimum of 25 pages. This autobiographical project counts for 50% of the grade and is DUE ON 12/11. All written work must be typed, double spaced with a font no larger that 12.

ALL LATE WORK WILL BE GRADED DOWN UNLESS YOU CONSULT WITH ME.

REQUIRED BOOKS:
Anne Braden, The WallBetween. 1999. University of Tennessee Press. Wesley Brown & Amy Ling,
Visions of America: PersonalNarrativesfrom the Promised Land.
1993. New York Persea Books
Mary Crow Dog with Richard Erdoes, Lakota Woman. 1990. New York: Harper Perennial
Joan Nestle, A Restricted Country. 2003. San Francisco: Cleis Press
Margaret Randall, This is About Incest. 1987. Ithaca, NY: Firebrand
Rebecca Walker, Black, White, and Jewish. 2001. NY: Riverhead

BOOKS ARE FOR SALE AT:
FOOD FOR THOUGHT BOOKS--EAST PLEASANT STREET/AMHERST

REQUIRED COURSE READER IS FOR SALE AT:
COLLECTIVE COPY-- 71 SOUTH PLEASANT STREET/AMHERST


Course Calendar
Section 1: What is an Autobiography?
What is political about it?
What forms do autobiography and politics take?
Who writes autobiography?
For whom?
What purpose does it serve?
Who cares or how to deal with the "so what" factor?

9/4
Introduction to the Course-- Which story? Which truth? Video: Betty Tells Her Story

9/9
AUTOBIOGRAPHY AS THE CONSTRUCTION OF LIVES
READING:
Julia Watson and Sidone Smith "De/colonizing the Subject: The Politics of Gender in Women's Autobiography"(reader)

9/11
WOMEN FINDING THEIR VOICES/WRITING AND HEALING
VIDEO: Tell Me Something I Can't Forget
READING:
Paule Marshall, "The Making of a Writer" Visions of America (VOA)

WRITING ASSIGNMENT: Analyze one of the autobiographical works we have read or viewed using Watson and Smith's framework. Be sure to clearly articulate your understanding of Watson and Smith's thesis of the relationship between colonized people and autobiographical voice, and then discuss the ways the work did or did not conform to this analysis. The paper should be 5- 7 pages. DUE: 10/9

9/16
TELLING SECRETS/INCEST
READING:
Margaret Randall, This is About Incest
___________, "Some of You Say Both of Us are Wrong" (Reader)

9/18
TELLING SECRETS/COLLECTIVE SHAME AND RECOVERY
VIDEO:Family Gathering

Reading: Monica Stone, "Pearl Harbor Econoes in Seattle"(VOA)
Van Buren, "Family Gathering..."(Reader)

9/23
FORMS OF AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL WORK I
READING:
Joan Nestle, " The Killing Air," A Restricted Country,(RC)
Margaret Randall & Ruth Hubbard, "Letters,"(Reader)
Kate Rushin, "Family Tree" (Reader)

9/25
FORMS OF AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL WORK II
READING:
May Stevens, "My Work and My Working Class Father" (Reader)
Jane Lazarre, "The Richmond Museum of the Confederacy" and "Color Blind: The Whiteness of Whiteness" (Reader)
Rebecca Walker, Black, White, and Jewish, pp. 9-41

9/30
FORMS OF AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL WORK III
READING:
Judith Ortiz Cofer, "The Story of My Body" (Reader)
Banu Subramaniam, "Snow Brown & the Seven Detergents. .." (Handout)
Dorothy Alison, from Two Or Three Things I Know for Sure (Reader)
Cheri Register, "Prologue: The Blue Workshirt" (Reader)
Caridad Souza, Missing Body" (Reader)
VIDEO: Margaret Cho, "1 Am The One That I Want"

SECTION II-- AUTOBIOGRAPHY AS HISTORY

10/2
AUTOBIOGRAPHY AS WITNESS I:
REVISION OF NEGLECTED AND DISTORTED HISTORY:
READING:
Nestle, "Voices From Lesbian Herstory" & "The Bathroom Line" (RC)

10/7
AUTOBIOGRAPHY AS WITNESS II:

10/9
RECLAMATION OF HISTORY AND CULTURE:
Mary Crow Dog, Lakota Woman (First half by 10/7 , second half by 10/9)

SECTION III: EMBEDDED LIVES SOCIALIZATIONS AND RESISTANCES

10/11
THE INTERSECTIONS I
READING:
June Jordan, "Report From the Bahamas" (VOA)
Joan Nestle, "This Huge Light of Yours" (RC)
Leslie Feinberg, My Path to Consciousness (Reader)

PAPER 1 DUE

10/16- THE INTERSECTIONS II

10/18 READING: Rebecca Walker, Black, White and Jewish (pp. 45-187 by 10/16 and 191- 320 by 10/18)

WRITING ASSIGNMENT: Write a plan for your autobiographical project, including a clear articulation of the aspect of your life that you are going to be working on, and responses to the following:

  • What is the purpose or significance of your story to yourself? to others? What you want to accomplish by telling this story?
  • How is it political? In what ways will your story illuminate your position with respect to gender, race, class, sexual orientation and their interaction? How does telling this story place you within or expose your contexts? You need not address all social formations, but you should involve at least three and discuss how they are interrelated.
  • Who is your audience?
  • What form(s) are you going to use to tell your story? Remember, writing a linear autobiographical narrative is only one option. You may use various writing genres, visual art forms, computerized forms, and others I have not thought of.

It is very important that you give serious thought to this plan. If you need help, please make an appointment to see me. I will comment on your plan and you might want to meet with me to discuss my comments. Please do not hesitate to talk with me if you are confused or disagree with my comments. Autobiographical work does not have the same kind of road map as academic papers and it is therefore essential that you be clear about what you are doing, why you are doing it and how you intend to get to where you want to go. You will also share this plan with your classmates. Bring THREE COPIES of your plan to class on 10/23. After sharing your plan with a classmate, you might want to make revisions. FINAL VERSION OF THIS ASSIGNMENT IS DUE ON 10/28.

10/23
GROUP DISCUSSION OF PROJECT PLANS

Be sure to bring your plan to class with you. You will be sharing them with a member of the class. Bring THREE copies of your plan. Remember, the work of this class is to share your written plan, so do not come to class without a written one. You may want to make revisions after this discussion and you will have a week to do so since the final version is not due unti110/28.

10/25
EXPOSING WHITENESS
READING:
Minnie Bruce Pratt, "Identity: Skin, Blood, Heart" (handout) Julia Alverez, "A White Women of Color" WRITING ASSIGNMENT: Write a draft of an essay on your racial identity for next week. You will share this writing with a classmate or two and have an opportunity to rewrite it before handing it in. You must have this writing with you to participate when we do this sharing in class.
BRING THREE COPIES OF YOUR PAPER TO CLASS. DRAFT VERSION DUE 11/6--FINAL VERSION OF PAPER DUE 11/13

10/30
POLITICS AND RACIAL IDENTITY

11/4
READING: Anne Braden, The Wall Between (first half 10/30 pp. xi-152; second half 11/4 pp. 153-306. Epilogue recommended.

11/6
GROUP DISCUSSION OF RACIAL IDENTITY PAPERS AND RACE AND ETHNICITY
READING:
Liza Foil Matta, "Beyond Survival. .." and "Another Way to Grow up Puerto Rican (Reader)
Audre Lorde, Zanli (Handout)

COME TO CLASS WITH THREE COPIES OF YOUR RACIAL IDENTITY PAPER TO SHARE WITH CLASSMATES

II/II
HOLIDAY-NO CLASS

11/13
ETHNICITIES AND RACISM
READING: Barbara Gizzuti Harrison, "Going Home: Brooklyn Revisited" (VOA)
Robert Blauner, "Colonized and Immigrant Minorities" (Reader)
Gish Jen, "An Ethnic Trump" (Reader)

11/18
CULTURES AND GENDER- IMMIGRANTS
READING:
Eva Hoffman, "Lost in Translation" (VOA)
Judith Ortiz Cofer, "Silent Dancing" (VOA)
Lori Tsang, "Postcards from Home" (Reader)
VIDEO: Xich-Lo

11/20
CULTURES AND GENDER II -ETHNICITIES
READING:
Arlene A vakian, Chapter 1-5, Lion Woman's Legacy. ..(Reader)
Adrienne Rich, "Split at the Root: An Essay on Jewish Identity" (VOA)
Mary Gordon, "I Can't Stand Your Books" (VOA)
Sonia Pilcer, "2G" (VOA)

11/25
DEVELOPING A GENDER CONSCIOUSNESS I
READING:
Leslie Cagen, "Something New Emerges: The Growth of a Socialist Feminist: (Reader)

THANKSGIVING RECESSS: 11/26-12/2
THANKSGIVING IS A NATIONAL DAY OF MOURNING FOR INDIGENOUS PEOPLE
YOU CAN JOIN THEIR COMMEMORATION OF THIS DAY AT PLYMOUTH, MA

12/2
DEVELOPING A GENDER CONSCIOUSNESS II
READING:
Maxine Hong Kingston, "The Woman Warrior" (VOA)
Joan Nestle, "Two Women" (RC)
June Jordan, "A Poem About My Rights" and "Many Rivers to Cross, December 1981" (Reader)

12/4
SOCIAL CLASS I --ETHNICITY/GENDER
READING:
Vivian Gomick, "To Begin With" (VOA)
Aurora Levins Morales, "Class Poem" (Reader)
Joan Nestle, "A Restricted Country" (RC)
Paula Martinac, "Fast, Free Delivery" (Reader)

12/9
SOCIAL CLASS II --RACE/GENDER
READING:
Julia Alvarez, "OfMaids and Other Muses" (Reader)
Jill Nelson, Chapters 1,2,5,6. Pp. 3-14; 29-39. (Reader)

12/11
LESBIANISM --HETEROSEXISM AS CONTEXT AND EROTICISM
READING:
Joan Nestle, "Preface," "I Am," "Liberties Not Taken," "My History with Censorship," "Lesbians and Prostitutes," "When the Lions Write History , "
Amber Hollighbaugh, "Femme Fables" (Reader)
Leslie Feinberg, "The Journey Begins" (Reader)
Joan Nestle, "Esther's Story," "Lesbian Memories I & II," "Mara's Room," "Stone Butch, Drag Butch, Baby Butch," "A Gift of Taking," "A Change of Life," "A Different Place," "The Three," "Lesbian Memories 3," "Margaret" (RC)
, "On Rereading Esther's Story" (Reader)

12/11 FINAL PAPER/PROJECT DUE!