Milne Open Textbooks

Teaching Autoethnography: Personal Writing in the Classroom


Publication Date: April 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-942341-28-4

OCLC: 953999340

Affiliation: SUNY Fashion Institute of Technology

Teaching Autoethnography: Personal Writing in the Classroom is dedicated to the practice of immersive ethnographic and autoethnographic writing that encourages authors to participate in the communities about which they write. This book draws not only on critical qualitative inquiry methods such as interview and observation, but also on theories and sensibilities from creative writing and performance studies, which encourage self-reflection and narrative composition. Concepts from qualitative inquiry studies, which examine everyday life, are combined with approaches to the creation of character and scene to help writers develop engaging narratives that examine chosen subcultures and the author’s position in relation to her research subjects. The book brings together a brief history of first-person qualitative research and writing from the past forty years, examining the evolution of nonfiction and qualitative approaches in relation to the personal essay. A selection of recent student writing in the genre as well as reflective student essays on the experience of conducting research in the classroom is presented in the context of exercises for coursework and beyond. Also explored in detail are guidelines for interviewing and identifying subjects and techniques for creating informed sketches and images that engage the reader. This book provides approaches anyone can use to explore their communities and write about them first-hand. The methods presented can be used for a single assignment in a larger course or to guide an entire semester through many levels and varieties of informed personal writing.

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1. Understanding our Students’ Relationship to “I”

2. Getting Started in the Classroom

3. Writing Essays for Class: The First Steps

4. Workshop and Peer Review Process

5. Memory/Character Essays

6. Writing about Spaces and Events

7. The Autoethnography Project

8. Choosing Topics for the Autoethnography

9. The Interview Process

10. Conducting Observations

11. Putting It All Together

12. Challenges of Personal Writing

13. Concluding Thoughts

14. Sample Class Schedule

15. Additional Readings on Autoethnography

Deep Observation Assignment: Eleven Examples


Rattling Thoughts

Southern Belle

The Battle

The Woman with the Purple Mat

Steven Bertram

The Man

Colors, Lines, and Shapes

Angelic Atmosphere



Self-as-Character Assignment: Eight Examples




Unfortunate Truths


What I Never Thought

Past Midnight

Five Feet Mighty

Memory Assignment: Six Examples

The Curse

Memory of the Maine

A Memory of Mr. Oko

Inhale, Exhale

An Honest Living


Memory/Character Essay: Thirteen Examples

How to Survive

A Living Contradiction

Georgia on My Mind

To the Center

Growing Through Dirt


I Told You So

Genetic Disposition

Shomer Nagia

Brooklyn, Madness, Lust, Death, and the Apocalypse


The Job That You Want


The Space or Event Essay: Thirteen Examples


Daringly Different

Two Places, One Home

See the World


November First

Get a Grip

Room in the Back

Aging Not so Gracefully

There and Back Again: A Comic-Con Tale


Family Ties


The Autoethnography: Ten Examples

On Anarchism in New York

Allies, Advocates, Activists

Unicorny, the Only Way a Coder Will Define Rails

Friendship Is Magic

Gin and Tonic: A Look into the Subculture of Taxidermists

Don’t Judge the Bible by Its Cover: An Honest Story with a Cliché Title

Autoethnography on Manhattan Drag


Steel Paradise: The Hardcore Metal Aesthetic

YouTube: Science Isn’t Just for Geeks Anymore

Melissa Tombro

Dr. Melissa Tombro is an Associate Professor of English at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. She is the recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching for her work on a wide range of courses from Creative Nonfiction to Theatre Arts. Her research interests include autoethnography, ethnography, personal writing, creative writing and performance studies.

Outside of FIT she runs volunteer writing workshops for at-risk and underserved populations through the New York Writers Coalition. In her writing, teaching and volunteer work, she encourages other writers to use self-reflection and community engagement as a way to create meaningful, informed, and inspiring prose.