Biography writing

Course Dates: 30/04/19 - 02/07/19
Time: 15:00 - 17:00
Location: KS - Keeley Street
Tutor: Robert Fraser

What makes a great biography? Learn to experiment with your own life writing as you uncover the techniques and methods of this exciting genre with a professional biographer.

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Biography writing


What is the course about?

This course will help you develop a critical awareness of this genre of writing, to think about what makes a good biography, why we read it and what it might tell us about its subjects and our interest in them. Classes are designed for anyone who enjoys learning more about writers' lives, and about how we describe, explore and write about the experiences of other people. You'll develop confidence in using this knowledge to attempt your own experiments in life writing.

The Tutor
Professor Robert Fraser has published a number of biographies of modern British poets, as well as critical works on authors as diverse as Marcel Proust and the anthropologist Sir James Frazer. He has also written memoir, much journalism and performed plays on the lives of Dr. Johnson, Byron and D.H. Lawrence. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and is currently Professor Emeritus of the Open University.

City Lit reserves the right to change course tutors from those advertised in this outline. In line with our refund policy we are unable to grant a refund on the grounds of a change of tutor.

What will we cover?

- Definitions of biography, autobiography and memoir
- History of English biography
- Ethics of biography
- Biographical techniques and method
- The use of sources, memory and recollection in life writing
- The uses of biography and its limitations as a way of understanding writers.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

- Think critically and intelligently about what biographies are for and why we read them
- Understand the leading features of a very important genre of writing and how biographies are put together
- Feel more confident about making your own experiments in life writing.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

The course requires no specific qualifications other than a keen interest in literature and in reading and writing. It would not suit anyone who does not have a good level of spoken and written English.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

Teaching will be by tutor-led discussion, small group discussion, and each session will include a writing exercise. Short homework writing exercises and optional reading lists will be given each week.

All writing courses at City Lit will involve an element of workshop. This means that students will produce work which will be discussed in an open and constructive environment with the tutor and other students. The college operates a policy of constructive criticism, and all feedback on another student’s work by the tutor and other students should be delivered in that spirit.

For classes longer than one day regular reading and writing exercises will be set for completion at home to set deadlines.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

Please bring writing materials. If you'd like to prepare yourself, the best single introduction is Hermione Lee's 'Biography, A Very Short Introduction' (Oxford University Press) but there are no set text books. Weekly handouts will be provided.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

All students are invited to join us at City Lit Talks Back, our monthly performance night for City Lit writers. Everyone is welcome, admission is free and there's no need to book in advance. Visit for more details or if you're interested in reading your work. Students are also encouraged to submit to Between the Lines, our annual anthology. Learn more at For the latest news, courses and events, stay in touch with the Department on Facebook and Twitter.

General information and advice on courses at City Lit is available from the Student Centre and Library on Monday to Friday from 12:00 – 19:00.
See the course guide for term dates and further details


Customer Reviews 2 item(s)

Write a review
The teacher is an outstanding tutor and the biography writing course was one of the best things I have ever done in my life for myself. It provided me with a place to start and although my main project I had in mind was writing memoirs this course provided me with insights into the importance of research, how to do it, thinking critically and the encouragement to write my own pieces. The tutor is extremely knowledgeable and supportive and I will always be thankful to him and the class mates for helping me embark on my journey of following my passion for writing. I would highly recommend this course.
Course Rating
Review by futurenovelist / (Posted on 11/06/2016)
A very thorough grounding in biography. Homework was hard but rewarding if done properly. Excellent course.
Course Rating
Review by jj / (Posted on 13/04/2015)

Book your place

Course Code: HW261

Tue, day, 30 Apr - 02 Jul '19

Duration: 10 sessions (over 10 weeks)

Full fee: £189.00
Senior fee: £189.00
Concession: £76.00

Or call to enrol: 020 7831 7831

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