HUMS 184, Writing and Reading Biography

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1pm-2:15pm

Course Description:

“Since my biographer may be too staid

Or know too little to affirm that Shade

Shaved in his bath, here goes:” –Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire (1962)

In this course (HUMS 184 / ENGL 437 / AMST 184) on the theory and practice of contemporary biography, we study iconic and experimental biographies, novels about biographers at work, and texts both skeptical and critical of biographical insights.  The aim of the course is threefold: to articulate current ideas about biography in relation to the history of the form; to consider how some of the greatest practitioners have arrived at their views about it; and to consider the processes involved in doing imaginative research and narrative writing.  Although the majority of the readings are on biographies of writers or artists, students with interests in doing a final original biographical project on any subject are welcome to take this course.  There will be (COVID depending) some research classes at the Beinecke library and conversations with contemporary biographers.

Led by:

Karin Roffman has published essays on John Ashbery and twentieth- and twenty-first century writers and artists in RaritanModern Fiction StudiesArtforumRain TaxiYale Review and others.  Her first book, From the Modernist Annex: American Women Writers in Museums and Libraries (2010) won the University of Alabama Press’s American Literature Elizabeth Agee Manuscript Prize and subsequent publication. She is currently a Senior Lecturer in Humanities, English and American Studies at Yale University, where she is creating, “John Ashbery’s Nest,” a website and virtual tour of Ashbery’s Hudson house in collaboration with Monica Ong Reed and the Yale Digital Humanities Lab. She has previously taught at West Point and Bard College.