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This lesson examines the genre of nonfiction. Specifically, you will learn how an autobiography is nonfiction, with examples illustrating the concepts.

What Is Nonfiction?

Everyone has a story.

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Think about your own life. What were the major events? The heartaches? The parties? The people? What happened to make you think, believe, and act the way you do? Would anyone else want to read about what has happened in your life? When authors write about these kinds of real people, places, and events, it’s called nonfiction.Nonfiction contains information that can be proven to be true, which means it must contain facts. However, do not think that all nonfiction must be dry and boring. Some can be classified as literary nonfiction. Literary nonfiction is similar to fiction in that its purpose is to entertain or express feelings and opinions. The difference is that the character, setting, and plot are real and not imaginary.

One example of literary nonfiction is the autobiography. An autobiography is the story of a person’s life as told by that person. The subject of the story is also the author.

Autobiographies can turn out to be just as fascinating as an imagined story. Let’s look at more specific traits of the autobiography.

Characteristics of Autobiography

As already mentioned, the autobiography is the story of one’s life, written by that person. Mostly, autobiographies are written in first-person point of view. This means that the narrator, or person telling the story, is also in the story. You can tell if a story is written in first-person if the narrator uses the personal pronouns I, me, and my.

Autobiographies are usually book-length, since the author usually covers the events of his or her entire life. Here are some examples of book-length autobiographies:

  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
  • My Biography by Benjamin Franklin
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
  • Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Shorter Types of Autobiography

Not all autobiographical work covers the author’s entire life. In fact, there are four types of works that are usually much shorter than a normal book because only a part of the author’s life is discussed. These four short types of autobiography are:

  • Journals: daily written records of personal experiences and observations, usually not very emotional
  • Diaries: daily written records of personal thoughts and feelings, usually full of emotions
  • Letters: written messages addressed to a specific person or organization
  • Memoirs: written about specific events and people, relating the author’s personal experiences within those events and people. Very similar to a book-length autobiography, but usually shorter

Authors may choose to use these shorter types of autobiographical works for many reasons. For example, The Diary of a Young Girl is a true story written by Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl hiding from the Germans during the Holocaust. Anne never intended to publish her diary, but surviving members of her family discovered the documents and created a short book out of her entries.

Because of her innocent intentions, the book turns out to be a very touching and remarkable account of one of mankind’s darkest eras in history.Another example is the memoir Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama. This is a memoir because it focuses on the details of Barack’s life dealing with race and racism from his childhood until he reaches law school.

In it, Obama reflects on his experiences during those times and tries to draw lessons from his own life.

Lesson Summary

The autobiography falls into the nonfiction genre. Nonfiction works are based on real events and people, containing provable facts. An autobiography is the story of one person’s life, written by that person. It is usually told in first-person point of view and covers the author’s entire life.

Some shorter versions of autobiographical works include journals, diaries, letters, and memoirs. Overall, the autobiography is meant to entertain the reader while expressing the author’s feelings and opinions at the same time.

Learning Outcomes

This lesson should help you with the tasks that follow:

  • Define nonfiction
  • Describe autobiography
  • Determine the shorter types of autobiographies

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