Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

Course Number:
ENG 212
Course Title:
Biography and Autobiography
Credit Hours:
Lecture Hours:
Lecture/Lab Hours:
Lab Hours:
Special Fee:

Course Description

Covers the study of biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, and journals as works of literature. Prerequisites: WR 115 and RD 115 or equivalent placement test scores. Audit available.

Intended Outcomes for the course

Upon completion of the course, students should be able to:

  • Recognize the structures of biography and autobiography as distinct forms of literature.
  • Compare and contrast the ways in which a perceiving, living individual (the "subject") is treated in biography, autobiography, and other literary genres such as poetry, fiction, and journalism.
  • Recognize how an author's own ideology shapes reality in an autobiography or biography, including how it raises questions about truth, factuality, objectivity, and subjectivity.
  • When reading, connect biographical and autobiographical texts to their historical and cultural contexts.
  • Recognize the roles that argument, rhetoric, fiction, photography, aesthetics, and evidence play in the composing process of biography and autobiography.

Course Activities and Design

Class meeting time consists of lecture, group discussion, and various other activities€”small group discussion, in-class writings, and perhaps some guest speakers and viewing and listening to videotape and audio recordings.

Outcome Assessment Strategies

Instructors vary on methods of assessment, but generally instructors employ some combination of quizzes, exams, essays, and reading notebooks. Students who miss more than a week's worth of class may not receive an A; those who miss two weeks' worth of class may not pass the course. The final grade is generally based upon the quality and extent of students' understanding of the course readings and discussions, as demonstrated in writings, discussion in class, and conferences.

Course Content (Themes, Concepts, Issues and Skills)

ENG 212 inevitably encompasses such issues as gender, ethnicity, social equality, racism, and many others. Like most literature courses, ENG 212 ventures into the territory of many other disciplines, such as philosophy, political science, history, American studies, law, literary criticism, psychology, sociology, geography, religion, and ethnic studies. The theoretical means to arriving at some answers are equally disparate: The course typically employs, often invisibly, the techniques of new historicism, semiotics, new criticism, reader-response theory, feminist criticism, Marxist criticism, and genre criticism.


The following items are intended as descriptions of instructors' choices of texts in the past as an aid to choosing texts in the future. This is not intended as a prescribed or recommended list of texts. Some of the many possibilities:

 1. Autobiographies

Franklin, Benjamin. Autobiography.

Goldman, Emma. Living My Life: The Autobiography of Emma Goldman

Genet, Jean. A Thief's Journal.

Hurston, Zora Neal. Dust Tracks on the Road.

Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior.

Levi, Primo. Survival at Auschwitz.

Lipton, Eunice. Alias, Olympia.

Luxemburg, Rosa. Comrade and Lover: Rosa Luxemburg's Letters to Leo Jogiches.

McCall, Nathan. Makes Me Wanna Holler.

Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia.

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden.

 2. Biographies

Berger, John. The Success and Failure of Picasso.

Boswell, James. The Life of Samuel Johnson.

Campbell, James. Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin.

Foucault, Michel, ed. I, Pierre Riviere, Having Slaughtered My Mother, My Brother, and My Sister . . .

Hayman, Ronald. Sartre: A Biography.

Middlebrook, Diane. Ann Sexton: A Biography.

Pichois, Claude. Baudelaire.

Malcolm, Janet. The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

Strachey, Lytton. Eminent Victorians.

Sylvester, Richard S., and Davis P. Harding, eds. Two Early Tudor Lives.

 3. Anthologies

Swann and Krupat, eds. I Tell You Now.

Lyons, Robert. Autobiography: A Reader for Writers.

Instructors new to the course should contact the campus literature chair, Comp/Lit SAC chair, faculty department chair, or administrative support person for further information. Other faculty members who have taught the course are also valuable sources of information.