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Ann McCutchan

 Ann McCutchan is the author of six books of memoir, essay, and biography. Her newest book, The Life She Wished to Live: A Biography of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Author of The Yearling, was released by W.W. Norton in May, 2021, garnering exceptional reviews in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications.  

Ann began professional life as a clarinetist, often collaborating with composers and other artists on new, experimental works. A random job as a music critic kickstarted a calling to write. She holds music performance degrees from Florida State University and the University of Michigan, followed by an MFA in creative writing from the University of Houston, and a post-doc in the Knight Writing Program at Cornell. From 2001-2005, she taught in UW’s Music and English departments, and was the founding director of UW’s MFA in Creative Writing program. From 2005-2014 she taught creative writing the University of North Texas, receiving the Kesterson Award for Outstanding Graduate Teaching, and serving as Editor-in-Chief of American Literary Review. Since 2015, Ann has been a full-time writer of books and music libretti. She has been awarded fellowships and residencies from the Rockefeller Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, the Ucross Foundation, the Jentel Foundation, and others. Ann lives in Laramie and enjoys hiking with her brilliant Australian Shepherd, Cora.

Photo credit: Susan Moldenhauer


Honors College Clay Fellow: Featured Course

American Biographies: History and Story

Biography is one of the most popular genres of nonfiction writing – a quick search on Amazon reveals more than 100,000 titles, in various formats, beginning at the pre-school level.  Readers are attracted to biographies for powerful reasons. First, they offer stories of real individuals in the context of particular times, places, events and conditions.  Just so, a reader may comprehend history within the sphere of one person’s life. However, biographical writing is not necessarily historical writing.  Built around a central character (or perhaps a group), a biography is often novelistic – an engaging account of how an individual became themselves, and made a particular impact on the world. From biographies, we may learn important life lessons.

In this course, we will read and respond to four very different American biographies, considering various questions.  Why was a particular life worth writing about?  What materials did the author use to compose the biography, and how might they have affected the life story and its telling?  What were the relationships between author and subject, author and other sources? What is the form of the biography, and can we imagine other forms? What are the differences between biography and memoir?

In addition, students will read and write a paper on a biography they select OR write a short biography or memoir of a person they choose.

Texts: Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, by Caroline Fraser; Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography, by Walter Isaacson; The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot; Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII, by Chester Nez and Judith Schiess Avila.

Ann McCutchan in front of a wooden building
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