The autobiographical essay is an essential American form, open-ended and endlessly reinvented in a nation whose diverse citizens prize individuality. From the outset students in this course are treated like writers. They will decide on the subject they write about and the approach they take. No subject is too trivial and no approach off limits—it is possible to write about anything in this form that is sturdy and elastic, can narrate and describe, make a point and accommodate much else besides. The test of an autobiographical essay is its ability to engage the reader and communicate the nature of lived experience. Students will read some of their essays in class, will comment on the essays of their classmates and will meet with the instructor in conference at least three times over the semester. Readings will be chosen from essays, poems, memoirs, diaries and letters by James Baldwin, Elizabeth Bishop, Allen Ginsberg, Paul Auster, James Schuyler, Eileen Myles, Patti Smith, Mary Karr, Jim Bouton, Siri Hustvedt, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ned Rorem, Joe Brainard and the wide variety of autobiographical material on the Internet, a veritable autobiography machine.