School of English

EN705 The Contemporary Memoir

Why is the memoir such a popular genre in contemporary literature? Are memoirs individualistic, sentimental and voyeuristic (what is often dismissed as “misery literature”) or can they have strong ethical impulses and powerful real-world effects? This course critically examines the significance of the memoir – a first-person account of a part of one’s life, often written by someone not previously known as a writer– in late-twentieth- and early-twenty-first-century literature. Through reading a range of recent memoirs we will examine the themes, techniques and debates that have come to characterise this genre. Drawing on a range of aesthetic, theoretical and cultural perspectives, we will approach these memoirs both as literature – as rich sources for critical analysis and capable of transforming academic criticism – and in terms of their appeal, and sometimes controversial reception, within present-day mass audiences.  We will also expand our discussion of memoirs to consider graphic narrative and film.

Indicative reading list

  • Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (1995)
  • Jean-Dominique Bauby, The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly (1997)
  • James Frey, A Million Little Pieces (2003)
  • Jonathan Caouette, Tarnation (2003) [film]
  • Jackie Kay, Red Dust Road (2010)
  • Sarah Leavitt, Tangles: A Story about Alzheimer’s, My Mother and Me (2010)
  • Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, Three Cups of Tea (2007)
  • Sonali Deraniyagala, Wave: A Memoir of Life after the Tsunami (2013)

School of English, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NX

The University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NZ, T: +44 (0)1227 823054

Last Updated: 07/02/2014