Module Identifier WR31220  
Module Title WRITING LIVES  
Academic Year 2006/2007  
Co-ordinator Mr Noyes K Grovier  
Semester Intended for use in future years  
Next year offered N/A  
Next semester offered N/A  
Other staff Dr Matthew C Francis  
Pre-Requisite WR10220  
Course delivery Seminars / Tutorials   2 Hours.  
Assessment TypeAssessment Length/DetailsProportion
Semester Assessment10 Hours CREATIVE PORTFOLIO 1: 2500 WORDS  50%
Semester Assessment10 Hours CREATIVE PORTFOLIO 1: 2500 WORDS  50%
Supplementary Assessment RESUBMIT FAILED MATERIAL Resubmit any failed elements and/or make good any missing elements. Where this involves re-submission of work, a new topic must be selected. 

Learning outcomes

On completion of this module, students should be able to

1) demonstrate competency in locating and handling historical and biographical resources such as letters, diaries, journals, and notebooks;

2) demonstrate an awareness of different theories and approaches to constructing autobiography and biography; and discuss intelligently the relationship between fiction and biography

3) reflect an understanding of these concepts in the actual composition of biographical / autobiographical / elegiac pieces.


Weeks 1 and 2
Raw Materials: reading and writing diaries, journals, notebooks and letters

Topics covered:
Accessing historical and biographical sources; analysing letters, diaries, and journals. Students will be asked to keep a journal throughout the course. Indicative bibliography would include selections from a wide range of authors, including excerpts of diaries from Samuel Pepys, letters from John Keats, journal entries from Dorothy Wordsworth and notebook entries from S. T. Coleridge.

Writing tasks for weeks 1 and 2: given a small dossier of extracts from the letters, diaries, and/or journals from a particular historical figure over a short period of days or weeks, students will be asked to write a two-page excerpt for a hypothetical biography incorporating that raw material.

Weeks 3 and 4
Life into Art: reading and writing biography

Topics covered:
Biography as literary form; relationship between biography and fiction. Indicative bibliography would include extracts from Dr Johnson'r Life of Savage, Richard Holmes'r Dr Johnson and Mr Savage, and/or Claire Tomalin'r The Invisible Woman: Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens.

Writing tasks for weeks 2 and 3: given a factual representation of an event from a given life, students will be asked to construct a livelier, novelized version of the incident. Especial focus will be placed on problems of embellishment and verisimilitude.

Weeks 5 and 6
Art into Life: reading and writing autobiography

Topics covered:
Changing ideas about subjectivity; autobiography and race / gender. Indicative bibliography would include extracts from The Autobiography of Frederick Douglas and Wordsworth'r Two-Part Prelude;

Writing tasks for weeks 5 and 6: bearing in mind concepts of autobiographical framing discussed in seminar, students will be asked to retrieve an incident from childhood or adolescence and to present it as an episode from a hypothetical autobiography.   

Weeks 7 and 8
A Constructive Life: the rise of inventive non-fiction and creative biography

Topics covered:
What constitutes a `life??; creating fiction from fact/fact from fiction. Indicative bibliography would include Edward Platt'r Leadville: A Biography of the A40 (Picador, 2000) and Charles Seife'r Zero: the Biography of a Dangerous Idea (Penguin, 2000);

Writing tasks for weeks 7 and 8: swerving from conventional anthropomorphic notions of what constitutes a life, students will be asked creatively to select a unique subject ? an idea perhaps, such as `evolution?, an event, such as `the Battle of Trafalgar?, or a painting, such as `Guernica?, etc. ? about which they will briefly plot, or outline a hypothetical biography.

Weeks 9 and 10
Matters of Life and Death: reading and writing elegies and epitaphs

Topics covered:
Relationship between literature and loss / literature and memory. Indicative bibliography would include leading examples from the genre including Milton'r Lycidas, as well as significant discussions of it, such as Wordsworth'r Essay on Epitaphs.

Writing tasks for weeks 9 and 10: bearing in mind concepts linking death, memory, and literature introduced in seminar, students will be asked to write either a verse elegy or prose obituary/tribute resonating relevant themes discussed.

Brief description

In light of the growing prominence of `life-writing? as a distinct and significant subgenre of creative writing -- not to mention the ever increasing demand by students for greater choice of options devoted to prose -- a module such as the one proposed here which aims to integrate critical theories and techniques of biography and autobiography with weekly writing tasks is likely to be very popular among the creative writing cohort.


This module explores the relationship between life and art in the writing of biography and autobiography. Integrated weekly writing tasks will challenge students to incorporate in their own creative practice relevant concepts discussed in seminar. The module begins by considering practical questions such as the efficient use, analysis, and accessing of biographical resources. At the heart of the module will be a focus on creative strategies and narrative theories employed by leading authors and critics of biography and autobiography. The class will investigate together notions of cultural myth, human identity, celebrity, and imposture.   Weekly tasks include the writing of brief biographical and autobiographical sketches, the plotting of a creative non-fiction project, and the composition of elegies and obituaries. The course'r interest will arise from asking students to think about familiar things in new ways.


This module is at CQFW Level 6