The Politics of Latino/a Autobiography (Syllabus)



This graduate seminar explores one particular genre of Latino/a literary production, the autobiography. We will read a variety of different renditions of the Latino/a autobiographical text, ranging from traditional autobiography and memoirs, to autobiographical fiction, to the hybrid autofiction. Through these readings, we will engage in some of the most exciting debates in both Latino/a and broader literary studies today: the interplay of writing and identity formation; the political and ethical obligations of minority literature; how much we allow an author’s biographical background to influence how we interpret a text; the phenomenon of literary celebrity; and the relationship of class, gender, and genre.


Primary Texts

Piri Thomas. Down These Mean Streets. (1967)

Oscar Zeta Acosta. The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo. (1972)

Gloria Anzaldúa. Borderlands/La Frontera. (1987)

Judith Ortíz Cofer. Silent Dancing. (1990)

Cristina Garcia. Dreaming in Cuban. (1992)

Esmeralda Santiago. When I Was Puerto Rican. (1993)

Abraham Rodriguez. Spidertown. (1991)

Julia Alvarez. Yo! (1997)

Reinaldo Arenas. Before Night Falls. (1993)

Irene Vilar. The Ladies Gallery. (1996)


Secondary Texts

Lisa Sánchez González. Excerpts from Borica Literature. (2001)

Raphael Dalleo and Elena Machado Sáez. Excerpts from The Latino/a Canon and the Emergence of Post-Sixties Literature. (2007)

Juan Bruce-Novoa. “Fear and Loathing on the Buffalo Trail.” (1979)

Juan Flores. “Life Off the Hyphen.” (2000)

Katherine Gatto. “Mambo, Merengue, Salsa: The Dynamics of Self-Construction in Latina Autobiographical Narrative.” (2000)

Lourdes Torres. “The Construction of Self in U.S. Latina Autobiographies.” (1998)

Isabel Alvarez-Borland. “Displacements and Autobiography in Cuban-American Fiction.” (1994)

Rafael Ocasio. “Autobiographical Writing and ‘Out of the Closet’ Literature by Gay Latino Writers.” (1999)


Unit I. Autobiography and Politics

Week 1                                    Introduction to the course.

                                                 Excerpts from Jesús Colón, A Puerto Rican in New York and Other Sketches. (Handout)

Week 2                                    Piri Thomas, Down These Mean Streets.

                                                 Lisa Sánchez González, “The Boricua Novel: Civil Rights and ‘New School’ Nuyorican Narratives.” (Chapter 4 of Boricua Literature)

Week 3                                    Oscar Zeta Acosta, The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo.

                                                 Juan Bruce-Novoa, “Fear and Loathing on the Buffalo Trail.”


Unit II. Latina Autofiction

Week 4                                    Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera.

                                                 Lourdes Torres, “The Construction of Self in U.S. Latina Autobiographies.”

Week 5                                    Judith Ortíz Cofer, Silent Dancing.

                                                 Katherine Gatto, “Mambo, Merengue, Salsa: The Dynamics of Self-Construction in Latina Autobiographical Narrative.”

Week 6                                    Cristina Garcia, Dreaming in Cuban.

                                                 Isabel Alvarez-Borland, “Displacements and Autobiography in Cuban-American Fiction.”

                                                 Dalleo and Machado Sáez. “Latino/a Identity and Consumer Citizenship in Cristina Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban.” (Chapter 4 of The Latino/a Canon.)


Unit III. Autobiography and Politics?

Week 7                                    Esmeralda Santiago, When I Was Puerto Rican.

                                                 Lisa Sánchez González, “‘I Like to be in America’ [sic]: Three Women’s Texts.” (Chapter 5 of Boricua Literature)

Week 8                                    Abraham Rodriguez, Spidertown.

                                                 Juan Flores, “Life Off the Hyphen: Latino Literature and Nuyorican Traditions.”

Week 9                                    Peer review of position paper (Draft of Position Paper Due In Class)

Week 10                                  Round-table discussion (Revised Position Paper Due In Class)

                                                 Dalleo and Machado Sáez, “Sell Outs? Politics and the Market in Post-Sixties Latino/a Literature” and “Mercado Dreams: The End(s) of Sixties Nostalgia in Contemporary Ghetto Fiction.” (Introduction and Chapter 2 of The Latino/a Canon.)


Unit IV. New Directions in Latino/a Autobiography           

Week 11                                  Julia Alvarez, Yo!

                                                 Dalleo and Machado Sáez. “Writing in a Minor Key: Postcolonial and Post-Civil Rights Histories in the Novels of Julia Alvarez.” (Chapter 5 of The Latino/a Canon.)

Week 12                                  Reinaldo Arenas, Before Night Falls.

                                                 Rafael Ocasio, “Autobiographical Writing and ‘Out of the Closet’ Literature by Gay Latino Writers.”

Week 13                                  Irene Vilar, The Ladies Gallery.

                                                 Proposal for Final Essay Due In Class

Week 14                                  Peer review of final essay

Week 15                                  Round-table discussion


Students will be required to post six response papers (300 to 500 words) to the course web site ( during the semester. I will post questions and issues for your consideration each Wednesday by noon; if you choose to respond that week, your response should be posted by Sunday at noon to be eligible to receive full credit. There will be nine opportunities to post a response (you will have the opportunity to respond each week a reading is assigned). While your response papers are free to reference issues that have come up in class or in the theoretical readings, your response should focus on discussing that week’s primary text.


During weeks 10 and 15, we will hold round-table discussions in class. In the first round-table, students will take up the positions of some of the critics we have read (Sánchez González, Torres, Alvarez-Borland, Gatto, Flores). For this round-table, each student will write a position paper (4-5 page) which provides an overview of the problems posed by the critics, and goes into detail about your own positioning in relation to those questions. Students will present their arguments in class, and then will be grouped together based on which critic most closely resembles their position. These groups will participate in a debate about autobiography in Latino/a writing.


A proposal will be submitted at the beginning of class in week 13. Each student will meet with me individually in week 14 to discuss his or her proposal and to map out a plan for the final paper.


The final essay (8-10 pages) will apply the theoretical position that you take in the position paper to a primary text from the class. The final round-table will allow students to present their arguments to the class and debate with one another how their final papers assess the issues raised in the first round-table.


Grading will be determined by:

Attendance and Participation     10%

Participation in Round-Tables    10%

Position Paper                           20%

Response Papers                      20%

Proposal and Conference          5%

Final Essay                                35%



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