Fall 2017

Narrating the Nation

Listed in: English, as ENGL-228


Peter Kimani (Section 01)


The autobiography occupies a unique position as it can be read as a personal tale inscribed in a larger narrative about a community, race, or even nation.  And although an autobiography can be read as history, creative writers are not bound by rigorous research strictures as those imposed in the production of history, which gives them the license to make, unmake or remake history.

This course is focused on writing creative nonfiction, and drawing from a selection of autobiographies from different parts of Africa over the past fifty years, we shall map out continuities and discontinuities in the way authors envision their private memories as extensions of national narratives, and the complexities that come with this “burden of history.”

We shall examine how, if at all, the African autobiography has evolved in both form and content, over this period.  Using the readings as models, students will write a story that illustrates an intersection between their lives and historical contexts.  Student writing will be workshopped.

Readings may include There was a Country by Chinua Achebe, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah, The African Child by Camara Laye, Head Above Water by Buchi Emecheta, The House at Sugar Beach:  In Search of a Lost African Childhood  by Helene Cooper, Boyhood by J.M Coetzee, Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, Down Second Avenue by Es’kia Mphahlele, Aké–The Years of Childhood by Wole Soyinka, and Dreams in a Time of War by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

Admission with consent of the instructor.  Limited to 15 students.  Preregistration is not allowed.  Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course.  Fall semester.  Visiting Writer Kimani.

If Overenrolled: The instructor will choose from among the applicants on the basis of a writing sample. The instructor will choose students with a lively engagement with literary language and a wide variety of life experience.


Artistic Practice, Attention to Issues of Class, Attention to Issues of Gender and Sexuality, Attention to Issues of Race


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017