The Student Autobiography


The Literacy Narrative in First-Year Writing


The literacy narrative is an ideal genre to get students to read and write at the beginning of EN-101. Many enter our classrooms thinking they’re bad writers, that they know very little that is valued in college, think that they’ll never “know grammar” (see here: for what John Bean has to say about this and also the “politics of grammar” (pp. 69-73)). They’ve been judged, many of them, as poor writers. The literacy narrative can be empowering for many of our students because they come to college thinking they’re empty vessels that need to be filled up. The literacy narrative challenges this assumption because students bring into the classroom all they need to write one: their experiences. They’re already an authority, they’re the authority; the literacy narrative recognizes that they are already writers, even before the first day of class. But the literacy narrative isn’t “just” a personal story, it’s more than “what I did over the summer.” It asks students to do many of the tasks that the academy values: construct a narrative, think in a linear fashion, reflect on learning, discover and articulate what’s important, make convincing generalizations based on the facts, and complicate the familiar. As Mary Soliday has written, “By foregrounding their acquisition and use of language as a strange and not a natural process, authors of literacy narratives have the opportunity to explore the profound cultural force language exerts in their everyday lives” (see complete article here:





Despite the personal nature of autobiographical writing, students do need help getting started. Below, please see some invention activities along with a couple assignments and suggested readings.

An Introduction

Sample Assignment

First-Day Writing Prompts

Writing a Place


About the Author