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Assignment for “Unnecessary Burden”

21W.022.01 Writing and Experience: Reading and Writing Autobiography
Louise Harrison Lepera

Experimenting with Visual Autobiography

For this assignment you will continue to develop and refine your skills in generating and drafting life writing into a polished and lively essay. However, this time you will incorporate visual elements: graphic narrative, photographs, maps, drawings, diagrams, and so on.

The first pre-draft exercise will be in writing autobiographically using graphic narrative. We will look at samples of similar work from Liz Prince, Lucy Knisley, Alison Bechdel, and Roz Chast, and read Scott McCloud on how graphic narratives work. We will also be able to see some graphic memoirs by students.

In the second pre-draft you will use maps to help you narrate a memory or experience. You may use the same autobiographical material a sin the first one, or develop something new.

For your first draft of the assignment you may choose to develop either of these pre-drafts or find a third memory/topic and use other visual elements to create a visually interesting, innovative polished memoir. Remember, even though your memoir might not look like previous assignments in the class, the same expectations are in place for logically structured, detailed, lively writing that tells an engaging and meaningful story, careful correctness in grammar, mechanics and citation (where needed), and careful proofreading for typos and other errors.

An important note: the required word count for this assignment is 750-2000 words: your personal word count requirement may vary. It is your responsibility to make sure that in your portfolio at the end of the semester you submit 5,000 words of polished writing (ie. final drafts). If you wrote longer essays for Assignments I and II, or plan to develop them further for your portfolio submission, you have more leeway to increase the use of visual elements in relation to the use of words in this assignment.

As you move through these stages of creating a memoir that combines words and pictures, you will have to think carefully about organizing and structuring your ideas, your relationship with your audience, and how subtle and complex ideas can be communicated. This assignment will also give you a chance to think about how autobiographical writing can be innovative, elegant, and beautiful. You should reflect on what you learn as you create and revise in your letter of reflection, due along with your revised Visual Memoir on Thursday, 5/7.

Wed. 4/8 Due: Visual Memoir Pre-Draft #1: Graphic Memoir: (1-3 pages)

For this pre-draft, choose a memory or life experience that matters to you and think about how you can use graphic memoir techniques to bring it to life and communicate it to you reader.

As you develop your topic, think about the advice from the handout by Dornink and McCloud’s explanation of what is possible with this form. For instance, you can make what is interior or imagined visible. You can use a photograph in with your drawn narrative. You can highlight certain elements or feelings by the way or size you draw them, or by how big that panel is relative to others.

Feel free to get together with classmates to share ideas and give feedback at the drawing stage, but all the drawing should be your own. Remember, you will not be graded in this assignment on the technical quality of your drawing, but on the way you communicate your story.

Mon 4/13 Due: Visual Memoir Pre-draft #2: Mapping Memory (approx 2 pages)
Read through the packet at the Stellar site called “Map Prompts.”
Use any of these ideas as a starting point for your own creative combination of mapping and memoir.


– Use an imaginative map of your dorm to create an unusual and idiosyncratic documentation of your community or events in your life at MIT

– Make a map of your middle school cafeteria that tells a story about friendship groups.

– Draw a word map of MIT that reflects your feelings about different places and routes on campus.


– You might consider whether there is a way to have the map reflect time as well as space.

– For many of us moving around the country or the globe has been a significant part of our lives and our identities, so feel free to make a map on a much larger scale if that is meaningful to you.

– Remember you can use Google Earth or other map apps to get down the basic structures of your map if you prefer not to trust your imagination entirely!

– Feel free to push the limits of what can be explained in map form. In the packet, you’ll see that time, processes, hikes, and space (from the scale of tables in a room to a nation and more) can be mapped, but remember phrenologists (and perhaps modern neuroscientists) have attempted to map the brain, too.