LITERARY FOCUS

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

Autobiography
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

30 8

UNIT 2

NONFICTION

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

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