Autobiography and Biography
How do writers choose which details to include when they write about a real person?

An autobiography is the story of a person’s life written by that person. Usually it is written in the first-person point of view. Most autobiographies are organized chronologically and reveal the events and ideas that shaped the writer’s life. Birth Childhood School years Young adulthood Adulthood In this excerpt from her autobiography The Story of My Life, Helen Keller tells how she, a blind and deaf child, began to realize what words mean. Because Helen did not understand the difference between “mug” and “water,” her teacher created an experience to help Helen understand the word water. Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten—a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!
—Helen Keller, from The Story of My Life

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Biographies can vary in length. and I am referring to your treatment on that occasion. and many reflect the attitude the author has toward his or her subject. Giblin read documents such as newspaper articles and personal letters to and from Edwin Booth. • • • Describe and evaluate personal preferences regarding nonfiction. Herriot. Mr. The silvery haired old gentleman with the pleasant face didn’t look the type to be easily upset. If you were to write a biography about the person. Unlike an autobiographer—who can write mostly from memory—biographers consult a variety of sources when gathering information about the subject. Bad Brother. I have come to make a complaint. had trouble getting to sleep. Without knocking first. from brief encyclopedia entries to works that span several volumes. from “A Brother’s Crime” Quickwrite Writing a Title Think of a famous person you find interesting. the brother of the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln. A memoir focuses on one period or significant episode in a person’s life. the valet went on: “And—oh. Mr. “Mr. “Mr. who was staying at a friend’s house in Boston.Memoir Like an autobiography. The Seaside. Most biographies are organized chronologically.” he said. his valet burst into his bedroom shortly after seven. I strongly object to your callousness in subjecting my dog to unnecessary suffering. Biography A biography is the account of a person’s life written by someone other than that person. the man exclaimed. Thrusting a newspaper in front of a dazed Edwin. from “A Case of Cruelty” That night Edwin. But he still had no intimation of the shock that was in store for him the next morning. biography. I brought my dog in a few days ago. 1895–1905. but his eyes glared at me angrily. For example.” — James Herriot. Recognize author’s purpose. and memoir. Booth. a memoir is a first-person account of a person’s life written by that person. James Cross Giblin presents a biography about Edwin Booth. and his lips quivered with indignation. The chief difference between the two is that an autobiography is a more complete summation of a person’s life. He was very lame. President Lincoln has been shot!” Before Edwin could absorb that terrible fact. In his book Good Brother. Francois Flameng. “I think you know. what title would you use? Write your title and then explain your choice. Booth—they say your brother John has done it!” —James Cross Giblin. In order to gather information for the biography. LITERARY FOCUS 309 Fine Art Photographic Library/CORBIS .” “Suffering?” What suffering?” I was mystified. James Herriot has written a series of memoirs describing his life as a veterinarian. OB J EC TIVES Understand characteristics of autobiography. Herriot.

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