When writing an autobiography, you are acting as a tour guide to your own life, introducing your reader to people they've never met, places they've never been and events they've never seen, in an attempt to give them a better understanding of your world.

Watch the video, and follow the instructions below.
(A note on time. If you're interested in how cultures experience time differently, check out these links after the session: polychronic/monochronic (Links to an external site.) time, the Aboriginal concept of time (Links to an external site.) and visual concepts of time (Links to an external site.).)

Henri Nyakarundi's Autobiography: My African Dream (Links to an external site.)


1. Thinking about your life, what are the main stages so far? Try to identify between 4-6. Perhaps early childhood, early school years, high school or college, university, leaving home...

2. Remembering that an autobiography isn't like a diary, it's not a record of every event or experience you've had, but a showcase of the highlights. What was the most interesting or challenging event from each of those stages of your life? When you think back on that time, what are the overriding memories and emotions? What were the lessons you learned?

3. Fill out a title and outline for each chapter (see example below). Write them down and arrange in chronological order, from childhood to present day.

4. Pick your moment of in medias res. What is the most interesting or dramatic scene from your life so far, the hook to drag people into your story and make them want to care about how you got there? Write a brief (200 words max.) paragraph throwing people into your story - the opening lines of your autobiography, in first person.

5. Share this opening excerpt with the group.
If we were to break down Nyakarundi's autobiography into a story arc, the chapters might fit something like this.

The opening lines/hook would be:

It didn’t feel real until they put the cuffs on.

Cold metal against warm skin.

I could feel the cop’s eyes on me, weighing me up. Not a smile or a word of comfort, just this stony-assed stare. It hit me then. This was happening. I was under arrest. I was a criminal.

An example of a chapter layout might go something like this:

Title: Growing Pains

Content: Growing up as a refugee in Bujumbura. The political landscape in Burundi. Getting drunk and causing trouble. Parents getting divorced, and moving between mum and dad's houses. Not being good at school.

Main Message or Lesson: Anyone who could leave Africa, left. The West was seen as some sort of paradise everyone should aspire to.

Title: Out of Africa

Content: Arriving in America for the first time. Feeling disillusioned by the reality of America compared to the dream. Learning about racial tension. Starting university and struggling to make friends.

Lesson: America isn't everything it's cracked up to be. It can be lonely and boring, and there's a lot of racial tension.

Title: Fatherhood

Content: Unexpectedly becoming a father. Building up the courage to tell his mum, and his mum's reaction. Being afraid of disappointing his daughter by being an absent father or not being able to provide for her. The breakup of his relationship.

Lesson: Becoming a parent focuses your priorities.


Autobiography video

on to biographies


2021-03-21 11_39_30-Presentation1 - Powe