Contact & Permalinks
Welcome to our Class!
hours minutes seconds
Your Autoethnography Essay is Due!
Monday, December 5: Rough Draft Due Today!!
It’s the end of the semester! We’ll have readings of your final autoethnographies on Wednesday and Monday. Final assignment is due Monday, December12 to Brightspace.
Monday, November 28: Putting it All Together
Homework: Conduct/transcribe your interviews and start compiling your auto ethnography!
(Tombro) When trying to incorporate your research into a final paper, it is important to realize that you will not be using all of it. As in our essays earlier in the semester, you will be drawing on important pieces of it to make your larger arguments (parts of the observation, pieces of the interview, etc.). You should not try to use all of the information you gathered in the final paper. Any kind of personal and qualitative writing is about making choices and creating narratives and subtext while maintaining your own voice as a participant-observer.
The most important thing to do is to find common threads in your research, identify your main themes and use the information you have gathered, combined with your own narrative understanding or experience, to create your final piece.
Your final paper will end up being roughly six to ten pages long, given the amount of data you have collected. It is important to ask questions as you go through this final drafting process, so please feel free to contact me at any point about concerns and ideas.
When transcribing interviews, please include only your questions and the full responses that will appear as quotes or paraphrases in your final paper. Since transcribing is time-consuming, this will be the most efficient use of your time. I ask you to attach these documents as well as the observations you completed to the final paper.
You will be asked to present your findings and read a brief piece of your project on the last day of class.
Samples of Completed Autoethnography Projects:
Monday, November 21: Reverse Interview
Homework for Wednesday: Read “Postcards of the Night Sky,” by Kelle Groom, Agni p. 89 and write a response here.
Today’s assignment is to pair up and interview each other, in answering your own questions. You will transcribe your partner’s answers to his or her own questions and vice versa. Turn in the transcription to BrightSpace, and make sure you give a copy to your partner!
Wednesday, November 16: Preparing to Interview & Description of Autoethnography Assignment
Homework for Mon. November 23: Ten Interview Questions Assignment (post final questions here. This doc contains questions from last semester for inspiration!). Also, review the Autoethnography assignment parameters below.
People aren’t going to say what you want to hear.
For variety of response, choose interviewees with different positions of power within the subculture.
Sometimes the people you know make the worst interviewees.
“The purpose of the interview is to help you gain insight into the perspective of another member of your subculture. This can be valuable on a number of levels and for a number of reasons. It can help you understand the subculture more as an outsider, offer additional information you can use to examine your own positionality, and provide interesting narrative content for the final project.”
Autoethnography Project Guidelines (Tombro)
Length: 6 pg (double-spaced) minimim
Due Date: Monday, December 5
The autoethnography is an extended research project that allows you to investigate a subculture you have chosen to be part of or will choose to be part of and critically assess this subculture from both outsider and insider perspectives. To do this, you will be relying on your own experiences as well as assessing the experiences of other members of the subculture.
Based on our discussions and class projects related to culture and identity, you will be focusing now on a larger investigation of one subculture.
Your project will include information you collect in observations, interviews and interactions with your subculture. I expect you to draw on personal experiences, history, friendships, emotions and responses to both your participation in the subculture and your research into it. This is not different from your previous assignments; it is an extension of the work you have been doing all semester.
In your final project, I would like to see evidence of critical thinking about what makes your subculture a subculture and what you think your place is in it. The final format of the project is largely up to you. The only requirements are listed below.
Your final autoethnography essay should be a minimum of six pages but can be as long as you need it to be, although more than ten is not advisable.
You must conduct at least two formal interviews and include a written copy of each with your final essay. Additional informal interviews are recommended. Also, you must do at least one observation, and two or more in the space are recommended. Within the text, I would like to see you use artifact description as we worked on it in class.
I encourage you to approach this final project as creatively or traditionally as you would like, but always critically. In addition to the written project, you will be required to do a presentation of your project for your classmates on the last day of class. Your reading should last three to five minutes.
Consider these questions as you write: What have you learned about your subculture from this process? If you could share anything about your subculture to explain it to an outsider, what would it be? How would you like your final project to look and read? Based on your research, have you changed your mind about any aspects of your subculture? If so, which and why? What do you think the value of a project like this is or can be?
Wednesday, November 9: Conferences next week!
We’re conferencing next week, so no class! Sign up for a slot with me here.
These will be on Zoom. See link to the left.
Monday, November 2
We’re Zooming today (last day).
Homework for Monday: A second draft of your Space or Event essay is due to BrightSpace before class. You can submit it to the same place as the first draft. And we’ll finally talk about the Borsuk essay!
For your Autoethnography essay, you will have to interview two people from your chosen subculture. Imagine one of these people: what questions do you want to ask them? Write these in the form of a “list poem,” where each line starts with the words, “I want to know…”
Here’s an example of a list poem answering a question: “23 Reasons Why Mexicanos Can Still be Found in a Walmart,” by Alessandra Narvaez Varela
Instructions: Read your partner’s essay on the shared doc, making comments in the margins as you read. When finished, copy the peer review questions into the body of an email, answer them, and send it to your partner and to me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, October 26: More Rituals & Stuff
Today we’re Zooming due to Covid (blech):
We’ll talk about the Borsuk essay on Monday. Don’t let me forget!
Today’s in-class assignment (from the Tombro book): Make a list of all of the rituals in which you have participated over the past year. From the list, choose two rituals to examine in detail. When you are breaking down the aspects of the two chosen rituals, consider the following: the reasons for participation, who else was involved in the ritual, your understanding of the different aspects of the ritual. Are there parts of the ritual you had a problem with? Thought were silly? Thought were really satisfying and important? Was there anything beautiful? Particularly complicated?
Essay #6 Show & Tell Assignment
One page, single-spaced.
Due Monday, October 31, in class and on BrightSpace
Inspirational poem: “Ode to my Socks” by Pablo Neruda
For this assignment, identify an object that you believe is representative of your subculture. For class, prepare a story behind the object that you will present orally. Make sure to choose something that will allow you to explore a specific idea tied to your subculture. If possible, please bring a physical object to class and try to avoid photographs or images on a mobile device or computer.
Monday, October 24: Rituals
Homework for Wednesday: read “Bidders of the Din,” by Eric Borsuk, Virginia Quarterly, p.38, and write a response here.
Before I start writing, I always play gonggi, Korean jacks. This is a game I was obsessed with as a girl in Korea. I was an only child, and when I got home, my mom and I would munch on snacks and tell each other about our day while throwing and catching the bright-colored stones in our set. After immigrating to the U.S. when I was a preteen, my parents worked 16-hour days in a grocery store in downtown Baltimore, and I rarely saw them. I stopped playing gonggi completely, didn’t even think about it.
About eight years ago, I was writing the way I always do—in my writing nook, a tiny, windowless cupboard with a sloped ceiling so low, I have to sit on the floor—when I got stuck, having the worst writer’s block on how to begin a new scene. I’d been working on an essay about our one-room house in Seoul, and as I stared at the blank screen, I had a vivid memory of being in that same sitting position across from my mom, throwing gonggi stones, and I desperately needed to play, right then. I went outside and got five small pebbles, brought it back to my writing nook, and played. I hadn’t played in over 30 years, but muscle memory kicked in. As I threw and caught the pebbles, a familiar rhythm emerged, and after a few minutes, it came to me—exactly how I should begin the next scene. I put the pebbles aside and wrote. Whenever I got stuck, I picked up the pebbles and played again. The next day, I got on eBay and bought a colorful plastic set like the one I had in Korea and started playing at the beginning of every writing session and whenever I get stuck. I don’t know what it is—the mindlessness that accompanies the repetitiveness of throwing and catching, the fine motor activity activating some part of my brain, or maybe the memories of Korea and my intense connection with my mom—but whatever it is, I now depend on it to write, and I carry a travel set with my laptop wherever I go. (I once tried to play on an airplane tray. It didn’t end well.)
Freewrite Assignment: Rituals & Routines
For ten minutes, freewrite on the following questions: What are rituals and routines? What is the difference between them, and what can we learn by examining them?
Wednesday, October 19: Approaching your Subject
“The past is not static, or ever truly complete; as we age we see from new positions, shifting angles. A therapist friend of mine likes to use the metaphor of the kind of spiral stair that winds up inside a lighthouse. As one moves up that stair, the core at the center doesn’t change, but one continually sees it from another vantage point; if the past is a core of who we are, then our movement in time always brings us into a new relation to that core.” Mark Doty, “Return to Sender: Memory, Betrayal, and Memoir,” The Writer’s Chronicle, Nov. 2005
Podcast: Thick Glass, from EarHustle
Homework: Writing Assignment #4: The Space or Event Essay
One page, single-spaced
Due Monday, October 24, to BrightSpace, before class
Unlike the memory essay, the space or event essay will require you to write about something you will be experiencing for the first time as you write. This does not mean you cannot employ elements of memory as you investigate and discuss your topic. What it means is that you will be writing in “real time,” experiencing something with the intention of writing about it.
Until this point, many of our pieces have relied strictly on memories. Going into a new environment or experience with the intention of writing about it will change the way you experience and record the event. I am asking you to enter the moment or space with a writer’s eye, using powers of observation to both participate in and find the significance of a space or event you enter purely for reasons of creating this essay.
If you are choosing a space, choose one you have easy access to and will be able to visit readily. If you are choosing an event, make sure it is happening within the confines of the essay dates. Keep in mind that an event need not be something large. It can be something small, a gathering, a visit, or it can be a concert or a lecture. Any of these ideas and other choices will be relevant if written about in a thoughtful and prepared way.
In this essay, whether based on a new experience on not, the space or event should be a main character. Space or event can be important for structuring a narrative, and objects and surroundings can communicate a lot about the experience to the reader. Focus should be on the power of these elements to act as characters in the narrative alongside descriptions of the self and other people. Space and event are not necessarily separate. Your piece may focus on both; do not feel the need to separate these concepts artificially.
Monday, October 17: The Grammar Hammer (mechanics halftime)
Homework: finish your packet!!
Wednesday, October 12: Unusual Forms of Creative Non-Fiction
Homework: finish up your two subculture ideas and be ready to present them to the class on Monday.
This is a cool cheat sheet for switching up your style.
You might consider putting together a “braided essay“
Exercise: pick one of your subculture ideas and write three short paragraphs using a different format.
Monday, October 10: The Autoethnography Project
Homework for Wednesday: Read “Honest like a Bear Attack,” by Claire Magneson, Creative Non-Fiction, p. 67, and write a response here.
Housekeeping: Second round of conferences, for those who didn’t meet with me last week: sign up here.
An example of a subculture (mountain climbing): Jon Krakauer, from Into Thin Air.
Autoethnography Topic Due: Monday, October 17, to Bright Space
A subculture is a smaller cultural group—a group that can be distinguished from a larger societal group based on a host of factors. Subcultures can be almost anything that we are currently involved in; there are subcultures we choose to be a part of and subcultures we are part of without any consent. They can be based on hobbies, religion, location, friends, family, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual preference—just about anything that creates identity.
For our largest project for the class, you will be asked to select a subculture that you have currently chosen to be a part of or one that you will choose to connect yourself to and to investigate this subculture in a larger research paper called an autoethnography.
For this immediate assignment, I would like you to identify two subcultures that you are currently a part of and that you would find interesting to research. For each of the subcultures you identify, I would like you to give a brief description (three to four lines or more if necessary) that gives an overview of what the subculture is and your position in the subculture (how long you’ve been a part of it and how you feel about it).
From these two options, you will be choosing a topic for your research paper. We will be sharing these ideas with the entire class. Please be as specific as possible. Your topics must fulfill the following criteria:
- You must be able to do background and preliminary research on your topics. In other words, written and visual material must be readily available for analysis.
- Topics must be local and accessible.
- There must be a place, field site, or event space for the topic that you will be able to visit at least twice during the semester.
- There must be at least two people you can interview who have different roles relevant to the topic.
- Topics must be new and cannot overlap with research topics in any other course work.
Monday, October 3: Settings & Rooms
Sign up for a conference with me this week here. We will discuss your writing from a mechanics (i.e. grammar, syntax, etc.) POV. Make sure your work is uploaded to BrightSpace before conference time.
This Reedsy page has some succinct notes on creating setting in a piece of fiction writing, but its tenets hold true for autoethnography, as well.
Let’s do two exercises:
- Describing this Room (Tombro). Take ten minutes to create an in-class narrative about your current classroom space, without talking about the people in the room. Objects, colors, anything observed with the five senses—except people—are all valid.
- Describing a Room Not Your Own. (Tombro) Describe a room that is not your own but that is occupied by a character you have created. At no point should you mention anything directly about the character you have created. Instead, try to convey who lives in this room by describing in detail the objects contained in the room and the room itself. Make sure to use your five senses to flesh out this description.
- Homework: Refine your place and upload to BS.
Wednesday, September 28: Peer Review Day
Homework: Read “Night Taxi from the Blue City,” Myronn Hardy, Prairie Schooner, p. 32 and write a response here.
Wednesday, September 21
Freewrite (10 min.) Write about the first time you held someone’s hand
“Boys: An Inventory”:
–Significance of title?
–Did you learn anything new from this piece?
–Would you read other work by this author?
Video: “On Keeping a Notebook,” Joan Didion
Memory Essay Assigned: Due 9/26 : (2 pages, single-spaced)
A memory is not necessarily something that happened a long time ago. Rather, a memory is something that is past, something that is reflected upon. It can be something that happened last week or a moment from your childhood, but for our purposes, it is something that has happened before this assignment was given.
For this assignment, choose a memory that has multiple levels of meaning for you. It is important not just to create a narrative about one particular thing but to think about the complexities of the memory and why you find it worthy of exploring in an essay. Subtext and intention are crucial.
You should re-create details as accurately as possible, even talking to friends or family members who might help you remember aspects of a memory. All good writers of memoir research their own histories. This is because memory is fallible and other people might be able to shed important light on our experiences.
Focus especially on re-creating characters, yourself included, who were involved in the memory. Use dialogue to let these characters speak, and choose details to convey the nature of relationships.
Monday, September 19: Discuss & Share
Homework for Wednesday: Read “Boys: An Inventory,” Prairie Schooner, p. 36 and write a response here.
Discuss “From a Well, Actually”
Share one of your four pieces from last week, and discuss what point of view they think each is written from and why.
This exercise, much like the deep observation assignment, is all about stereotypes and judgment. Where did you draw your assumptions about what it might be like to see the world through the eyes of someone with a different gender identity or different amount of wealth? Ideas can come from personal experience, what you see in the media and the kinds of expectations you have from life. Usually a pattern of similarities emerges in writing from the same perspectives but styles of approach differ greatly, depending on the group. You can learn a lot about how your own life experiences affect the way you perceive others and what it might be like to experience things in others’ positions. Recognizing your own prejudices and assumptions is essential to being open to other peoples’ points of view.
Share “Self as Character” essay (due today!)
Wednesday, September 14: Memory & Points of View
Homework for Monday, 9/19:
- Self as Character essay (BS).
- Also, read “From a Well, Actually,” by Paul Crenshaw, Prairie Schooner, p. 144, and write a response here.
Short Assignment: Freewrite for ten minutes: Briefly describe a memory that is important to you. Try to avoid explaining why the memory is important and focus on showing the importance of the memory. Use your five senses, and include dialogue, if possible.
Discuss “The Digital Body.”
(Make sure to turn in “Deep Observation” on BS!)
Longer Assignment: Go to a place outside the classroom. If you do not have access to any outdoor space, which would be the best choice for this assignment, simply choose a space where you will be able to sit comfortably and observe other people. Sometimes a cafeteria or a study lounge will work for these purposes. Once you are comfortably situated in the space, use a notebook with four separate pages to freewrite from at least four different perspectives about the space around you. The intention behind this exercise is to look at the same space and group of people but to adjust your viewpoint. You are not allowed at any time in the writing to mention directly what perspective you are writing from and what your viewpoint is or to use any word given in the prompt. Instead, you must use your five senses and try to imagine writing about the environment as if you were a different person. You can write based on mood: angry, sad, pensive, joyous. You can imagine a life situation: just fell in love or broke up with someone, just got a new job or lost a job, just returned from overseas or are eager to travel. You can write from almost any perspective imaginable, influenced by factors like socioeconomic status, gender, age, work title, and countless others.
Monday, September 12: Ethnographic Writing–You as the Subject
Homework for Weds., 9/14: Read “The Digital Body,” by Jen Corrigan, Prairie Schooner, p. 60, and write a response here.
Homework for Mon., 9/19: Self as Character essay due (see below for instructions)
- What is ethnography?
“Ethnography is a genre of writing common in the social sciences, especially anthropology. A comprehensive study of a culture, an ethnography informs its reader through narrative immersion, often using sensory detail and storytelling techniques alongside objective description and traditional interview style.” Thompson Writing Program, Duke U. (Here’s their great handout!)
Auto-ethnography: You are a topic of interest! You are a character!
2. Some Basics to Consider Before Starting:
Do you keep a journal? Consider keeping one for this class.
The “Who cares?” factor: The importance of audience. You need to have one. Also, your audience must include you.
3. Let’s read some auto-ethnographic writing
Jamaica Kincaid reads her poem, “Girl“
4. Universal Discussion Questions
Why would somebody want to read this piece (the “Who cares?” factor)?
• Can you clearly identify the author’s intention for the piece?
What else would you like to know?
• Does the author portray herself as a round character? How does she do this?
• Do you trust the author of this piece? Why or why not?
• How clearly does the author establish a sense of setting/space in this piece?
• How clearly does the author establish characters other than the self in this piece?
• Did you learn anything new from reading this piece? If so, what?
• Would you read more writing from this author? Why or why not?
5. A device is something we will practice with in many of the writing assignments—a tool that allows you to tell a story in a logical way when you might not otherwise have been able to tell it organically in the structure of your narrative. The following are short descriptions of devices used to define character in a piece of writing:
Neziah uses her history with eyeglasses to define her character.
Emma chooses defining moments from a series of ages, presented chronologically, to define his character.
Zachary describes his struggles with low self-esteem to establish his character.
Justine examines her history of relationships with others and her tendency to cry to examine her character.
Hannah uses humor to examine her body and define her character.
Jeffrey shows himself as an overworked student in order to define his character.
Joomi uses her height as a frame to examine her character.
Short exercise: write a one sentence description of a device that you can use to explain yourself as a character.
Self-as-Character Assignment (one page, single-spaced), by Melissa Tombro
We all love a good character, someone who is complex yet relatable, full of all of the human foibles we are aware of, who may act differently from what we could ever anticipate.
This is by far the hardest assignment of the semester and also your first major assignment. Unless you have been honing your persona in writing for many years, you will have a hard time with this piece.
For this assignment, you will need to write a self-portrait. There are many ways you can do this. You can identify a structural element that allows you to move through personality traits, use interesting qualities or amusing actions to form a story or create narrative story lines that let us see you at your best and worst. So much of writing this piece is about making choices.
However you approach this piece, make sure to focus on yourself in an interesting way. In other words, for better or worse, make yourself a character we want to hear and care about.
This work will be shared with classmates during class discussion.
Wednesday, September 7
Homework: Read “Self-Assessment,” by Matt Tompkins, Prairie Schooner, p. 85, and write a 250-word response here.
Today in class: Observation Exercise, from Teaching Autoethnography: Personal Writing in the Classroom, Melissa Tombro.
Spend at least twenty minutes in a public space, observing one person you have never seen or met before. The person need not be someone who strikes you as interesting. In fact, somebody who appears to be less than interesting to you is often the best choice for this assignment.
This is a difficult assignment for a number of reasons. It is hard to find someone who will be still and accessible for twenty minutes; if the person moves, move with him or her. The subject also might become aware of being observed. This is not a problem; simply talk to the person if he or she inquires, or move on to another observation if it seems at all bothersome to the person being observed. Your goal is not to make someone uncomfortable but to pause and consider your environment and those who inhabit it.
Using your five senses, take notes on everything around you and everything about the person, focusing on the subject’s appearance, how she carries herself, her actions and interactions, the way she interacts with her environment, any speech you might overhear, the feeling, look, smell and feel of the space your subject inhabits.
After you have finished taking notes, as close to the observation time as possible, construct a narrative description of this person and his or her life based on the details you have recorded.
This is an assignment you may enjoy doing more than once. If you are riding public transportation or have free time in a public space, you can practice your observational skills and storytelling abilities by basing pieces on this real-life observational note taking.
This is a fiction-writing assignment based on real observation and will be shared during class discussion.
Wednesday, August 31: The 5 R’s and the Importance of Deep Observation
- Journal of the Month–Now!
- Review first freewrite: personal writing vs. academic writing:
Q: What have you been taught about the differences between personal and academic writing?
Q: Is there a specific answer that explains the difference?
Q: Can you put the personal in the academic? (Yes!)
2. Review the “5 Rs” of Nonfiction Writing:
“‘Immersion journalists’ immerse or involve themselves in the lives of the people about whom they are writing in ways that will provide readers with a rare and special intimacy.”
“[C]reative nonfiction, is a concept that offers great flexibility and freedom, while adhering to the basic tenets of nonfiction writing and/or reporting. In creative nonfiction, writers can be poetic and journalistic simultaneously. Creative nonfiction writers are encouraged to utilize fictional (literary) techniques in their prose – from scene to dialogue to description to point-of-view – and be cinematic at the same time. Creative nonfiction writers write about themselves and/or capture real people and real life in ways that can and have changed the world. What is most important and enjoyable about creative nonfiction is that it not only allows, but encourages the writer to become a part of the story or essay being written. The personal involvement creates a special magic that alleviates the suffering and anxiety of the writing experience; it provides many outlets for satisfaction and self-discovery, flexibility and freedom.”
Vanity Fair (print only in library)
3. “Real Life”–You’re busy students, but you do have lives worthy of thinking and writing about. Why not write about what you know?
“Research”–Oh yeah. You don’t know everything about what you know. What’s still out there to learn? What have you missed, or misunderstood?
“Reflection”–Your thoughts are vital parts of your writing but must include an interest in what your reader might want (or not want) to read.
“Reading”–We’ll do a lot of it in this class, don’t worry. We need to see what some of the best nonfiction writers do, and how they do it.
“Riting”–That too :). Get ready.
Introductions: The Yellow Card!
This semester, we will be investigating your personal writing, and helping you discover the personae living inside of you!
Exercise: Freewrite Assignment, from Teaching Autoethnography: Personal Writing in the Classroom, Melissa Tombro
What is personal writing? What is academic writing?
Over the course of the semester, I will be asking you to create responses through something called freewriting.
Freewriting is also known as stream-of-consciousness writing—essentially writing whatever comes to mind on a particular subject. The theory behind freewriting is to allow your mind to make connections among given topics and your own thoughts and experiences. It is not meant to be an edited piece of formal writing, but rather an exploration of your responses to a particular topic.
Throughout this course, it will be necessary to make connections with one another and focus on communicating clearly and effectively with classmates. This first exercise will help you get to know your fellow students, consider the focus for the class, and also to get acclimated to sharing your writing with your peers.
For this exercise, I would like you to write about the terms personal writing and academic writing and what they mean to you. You will be writing continuously for twelve minutes.
The goal of a freewrite is to keep your pen or pencil to the paper for the entire length of time I give you to write. It is natural for the mind to wander. Often in life we are thinking of many things at the same time: class, how hungry we are, what time it is. When you feel as if you have run out of things to say or you find you can no longer focus on the topic, don’t stop writing! Simply continue to write about what is distracting you and carefully make your way back to the topic. These pieces are not collected or graded, so do not edit yourself. Write whatever comes to mind in response to the prompt. Be prepared to read this writing out loud for the class. We will define the two terms as a group based on your contributions.
First thing, subscribe to this website so you’ll know when I update it: