As I was reading Tompkins’ chapter on biographical writing, I spent a great deal of time thinking about autobiographies. As an English major, I have taken three separate African American literature courses; all of which are based on autobiographies. The course that I am currently enrolled in looks at autobiographical texts as far back as the 1800s and as current as 2010. This class in particular has helped me realize how important it is to read autobiographies in order to develop an understanding of my own life. At the same time, I have a much greater understanding of how to portray information in various ways, and how to strengthen my arguments in essays. Across this huge timeline of texts that I am reading this semester, I have learned about what style of writing is usually included and how it is important to follow in an autobiography. (Arguably, this also follows to any other kind of biographical writing.) The importance of including only the vital facts in an autobiography also plays on the necessity for an author to appear credible and truthful. There is a fine line in this style of writing. Readers are easily impressionable; they recognize when authors are not being entirely truthful. This being said, I consider the importance in any essay to appear truthful. In an essay on the definition of literacy (which I just completed in my 600 level class), it was very important for me to include only the most important facts that surrounded my own opinion of literacy. If my word choice suggested I was unsure as to what I was saying, then my reader most certainly would not accept my definition as a possibility.
As I mention the importance of including facts and portraying ideas in a certain way, I am also reminded of the other Tompkins chapter for this week on persuasive writing. Persuasive writing is a very similar topic in that when you are trying to convince a reader of something specific, you must be sure of what you say. At the same time, you must also present truthful ideas in a concise manner. I think about the difficulties I had growing up when it came to persuasive writing, and I do not understand how no one else saw the connection between biographical writing and persuasive writing. To someone who did not understand how to write persuasively, constantly reading persuasive texts did absolutely nothing for me. I did not understand the structure. I remember one teacher in particular who offered no help as to how to write a persuasive essay in middle school. When she handed back my essay, it had comments on it like, “Argument is not strong enough,” and “Why didn’t you do this instead?” I was so frustrated that she could not offer me this kind of attention before the assignment was due. As a student, if I had been presented with biographies and autobiographies and was asked questions about how much I believed the author and what information I thought was missing, then I may have been able to understand persuasive writing more effectively. At the same time, I think that I would have been more invested in the process of persuasive writing because I would have been able to develop the kind of audience my writing was trying to convince. Tompkins says that persuasive writing uses “a ‘hook’,” has “a clear position,” and “concludes with a summary of [the] argument” (Tompkins, 2012, p. 252). All of these things can be apparent in biographical writing as well, more so in autobiographies than other styles.
To come back to my experiences at Nazareth, I think about how little time I spent engaging in any sort of biographical texts before Nazareth. I think that I am confused as to why teachers do not include this writing and reading genre in their classrooms more often. I remember, at a young age, completing “About Me” books, and other writing pieces similar. My question is why does this style of writing stop as we grow up? Do our personal lives become less important when we can write about “real stuff”? (My quotes around “real stuff,” of course, refer to what people outside of a school consider important.) We learn so much about how word choice, text structure, intended audience, and many other things impact our writing when we write about ourselves. All of these things are also important when we compose any other type of writing piece. Knowing that a great deal can be learned from the biographical genre is one piece of the puzzle. The other piece is recognizing how much students love to read about their favorite people. Giving students a chance to read about their favorite football player or singer makes reading interesting and personal for them. At the same time, composing biographical pieces is just as interesting to students. When it comes to writing about themselves, they are proud and happy to share anything they can think of. When it comes to writing about others, they are excited to conduct interviews or do research on someone they know in order to gain the coolest information. Building on students’ strengths and interests is what makes writing high quality. The more a student takes pride in his or her work, the more teachers are able to sit back and watch them succeed.