Life Narratives in the Classroom and Beyond

Jasleen Kohli, Ph.D., Languages and Literature, Johnson C. Smith University

We all like to tell stories, especially the stories of our lives. In most cases, we are the best equipped to tell these stories. In the current times, we sometimes even start living the stories we want to chronicle. In my workshop, I would like to discuss a few ways in which we create and share the stories of our lives through narrative, as individuals and as members of communities. While doing so, we will consider questions that relate to the ethics of life narratives such as the concept of truth, experiences, memory and memory retrieval, creation of identity and the privilege of having the agency to tell a story. I believe this approach will provide multiple interdisciplinary perspectives that will be of interest to educators from different fields.

Although autobiography has come to be known as the most popular genre of life narratives, I would like to explore others such as the diary, Bildungsroman, testimonio, oral histories and others. We will read a variety of texts to showcase these genres and observe how different cultures and populations re-create their life narratives through a variety of sociocultural prisms. The selection of texts we will read and analyze will be eclectic and will include (but not be limited to) Latino writers, Latin American texts in translation, narratives from India, Spain and the United States. 

At the same time, I will share ideas on how the practice of creating life narratives can be brought into the classroom setting to simply observe or mark a special time in the lives of students. For Fellows, this is doubly meaningful as it will highlight how students from elementary through high school already employ many forms of life narratives through stories about family events, writing college essays and more. I would also like to discuss opportunities for students as well as Fellows to create diverse communities both within as well as outside the classroom through different forms of observing and creating life narratives.