About the Class
This generative class invites you to explore new ways to “tell the truth, but tell it slant” by exploring the powerful, playful world of autofiction. We’ll examine examples of autofiction and analyses of autofictional texts to develop a working definition of the genre and its techniques, then put those techniques into practice, deliberately blending autobiographical fact with fiction to tell it true. Through weekly readings and discussion, we’ll consider the conventions of autobiography and fiction and what happens when we crisscross the liminal space between the two. Weekly writing prompts will give you the opportunity to experiment with ways to consciously reconstruct, revise, and reimagine life events and to give and receive kind, constructive feedback in a supportive, compassionate community. We’ll also have three optional Zoom classes where you can ask questions, dive deeper into texts, and share your ideas and explorations with each other.
We all have stories to tell. By blurring the boundary between genres, autofiction invites you to tell your story without the constraints of memoir or autobiography and see what new stories can emerge by casting yourself as a character and (re)writing your past.
Week by Week
WEEK 1: What Is Autofiction? — Beginning with a series of excerpts from autofictions, we’ll define autofiction and its conventions. How is it like and unlike fiction, memoir, and other (sub)genres? We’ll discuss the challenges of defining autofiction and its controversies and consider reasons to choose autofiction as a storytelling vehicle. Prompts will invite students to explore their expectations as readers of different genres and their reactions to texts that break those expectations and consider how fiction can sometimes “be a better vehicle for truth than nonfiction” (Dorothy Allison).
WEEK 2: Author (vs.) Avatar — Students will be invited to experiment with the foundational feature of autofiction: author as avatar. We’ll discuss the impact of social media, gaming, and the pandemic on our ability and willingness to turn ourselves into characters by modifying, enhancing, or downright fabricating our identity. Prompts will invite plenty of play as students develop a series of performative “selves.”
WEEK 3: Remembering and Reimagining —Taking the opening line of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five as our motto—“All of this happened, more or less”—we will dive into the neuroscience of memory and then reconstruct memories, allowing ourselves to play in the realm of the imaginary. From Natalie Goldberg’s “detail transplants” to radical re-visions of events, students will be invited to see how fiction opens up new possibilities for telling it true.
WEEK 4: Bearing Witness — Autofiction offers a framework that allows storytellers to transform the raw into the readable and relatable. This week, we’ll look at the ways autofiction creates distance that allows us to bear witness to the deep, the difficult, the transformative. Students will be invited to use autofiction techniques to document moments of personal and/or global significance.
WEEK 5: Crisscrossing Borders: Following and Upending Storytelling Conventions — This week we will dig deeper into the techniques of autofiction, looking at models and experimenting with “enhancers” that challenge traditional contracts between writers and their readers. Students will be invited to apply these techniques to pieces they’ve already drafted or to new pieces and consider their effects.
WEEK 6: Autofiction as Collaboration and Protest — Our final session will include discussion of the many ways autofiction is both an act of collaboration and an act of resistance. Students will be invited to share and discuss their work in a final showcase/celebration of their autofiction adventures. Students will also be given resources for continuing to read, write, and perhaps publish their autofiction work.
Who Should Take This Class
This course is for language artists of any genre interested in exploring the genre-bending and genre-blurring realm of autofiction. It may be especially helpful for anyone wishing to write about difficult personal experiences, especially if a memoir is not a viable option, or for anyone exploring personal or family histories where information about the past is unavailable, unknown, or unclear.
This is an online class, hosted on the online teaching platform Wet Ink. The day before class begins, you will receive an email invitation from Wet Ink. There are no browser requirements, and Wet Ink is mobile-friendly. The Wet Ink platform allows you to log in and complete the coursework on your own time. Coursework for each week will be posted by 6:00 AM EDT each Wednesday beginning September 6.
Three optional 60-minute Zoom sessions will take place alternate Thursdays, September 14 and 28 and October 12, at 8:00 PM Eastern (7:00 PM Central, 6:00 PM Mountain, 5:00 PM Pacific). Sessions will be recorded and made available only to the class.
This class utilizes personal reflection, group discussion, and both individual and collaborative writing exercises to explore the topic of autofiction. You should plan to spend about three hours per week on the class writing and sharing your responses to the readings, discussion questions, creative writing prompts, and posts by your peers. The class is formatted so that you can engage with the material any time throughout the week. At the end of the class, you will receive an email that contains an archive of all your content and interactions.
About the Teacher
Elizabeth Lukács Chesla is the author of You Cannot Forbid the Flower (2023), a hybrid novella based on her father’s experiences in World War II and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The daughter of Hungarian refugees and a mother of three, she earned her MA from Columbia University and spent a decade teaching writing and literature in New York City before moving back home to the Philadelphia suburbs to raise her family. There she wrote books on reading, writing, and critical thinking skills for educational publishers; served as an editor for nonprofit organizations; taught online writing and literature courses for homeschoolers; became a yoga teacher specializing in support for hypermobility and trauma; and co-founded a weekly embodied writing group for women. She leads writing and yoga workshops, develops humanities content for educational publishers, and serves as an editor for emerging authors. Her work has appeared in Quarter After Eight, The Tattooed Buddha, Another Chicago Magazine, and Flare, a flash fiction anthology. Learn more here.
The Transformative Language Arts Network is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization
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