HIST 3910-01/WGST 3910 Writing Women’s Lives/HIST 4900


Dr. Thersea Earenfight

This course, cross-listed with WGST 4800 and HIST 4900, is a study of how contemporary authors write biographies that focus on women, gender, and sexuality. This course is inspired by a statement by English literature professor Caroline Heilbrun, who observed that “power consists to a large extent in deciding what stories will be told.” Our subjects will include a range of subjects, both well known and not-yet-well-known—Black civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, a medieval French author, and a Black American family told through a keepsake. But the power of the author is more than "what stories": it is deciding what genre to use (fiction, non-fiction), what sources to use (letters, objects, diaries, ephemera), and whether to give voice to the subject or not. And it is informed by a host of questions: Why this woman and not another? How do we discuss the intimate and personal aspects of a woman's life? How do we write about gender and sexuality? Do we focus on the public or the private, or both? What are the ethics of writing biography? We will take up these questions, and more, by focusing on a few subjects we will focus on how their lives are. Finally, we will look at how biography differs from memoir in terms of what is revealed and what is kept private.