ASSIGNMENT – Personal Narrative Audio Essay (upper division)

NOTE: I used the assignment below for my Fall 2010 sections of WRTG 3020. This is an archived version of the assignment, which I’ve since transformed into a Digital Storytelling project.


In this unit, we will explore another common source of knowledge about gender and sexuality: personal experience. In order to explore what we can learn about the complicated nature of gender identity and sexual orientation through personal experience, we will read a selection of personal narratives, from Genderqueer: Voices from Beyond the Sexual Binary and other sources, and we will watch several documentaries that explore the lives of those who cross the gender boundaries. We will also use a variety of strategies to explore our own personal experiences, past and present. You might also choose to interview friends, family members, or others to learn more about their experiences.

As we study these personal experiences, we will apply principles of rhetorical analysis from feminist and queer theory, discourse theory, and narrative criticism. These may include Jacques Derrida’s critique of the gender binary, Michel Foucault’s theory of the disciplinary society, and Judith Butler’s insight into gender as performance. The concepts we discuss will help us analyze the readings more closely and also prepare you for your own writing project.

We may also listen to several sample audio essays, including some from Ira Glass’s radio show, This American Life, and the This I Believe series, both of which air onÊNational Public Radio (NPR), as well as some from the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives.


For your Personal Narrative Project, you will work on your own to compose a narrative that draws on personal experience (yours and/or someone else’s) to explore a concept from a gender/queer theorist. For example, you might recall a series of “disciplinary” experiences from grade school that illustrate how you (and perhaps also your friends or siblings) learned to behave according to the norms for your gender. Or you might tell the story of how you or a friend or sibling challenged gender norms and faced consequences as a result. Or you might reflect on the variety of ways you perform your gender on a daily basis. We will discuss suitable topics in class.

Your narrative will be designed for audio delivery rather than text, which will encourage you to consider how messages are shaped by the modality we choose to deliver them in. In addition to making use of the features of written composition, your audio essay will also make use of the features of audio composition, such as using music or ambient sound to establish a mood or theme, convey transitions, illustrate a feeling, and so on. You may also include a photo slideshow with your essay, in which case you will make use of some features of visual composition, such as positioning, fades, transitions, connecting image to content, and so on.


The primary audience for your audio essay is the same as the audience for the main Rhetoric of Gender and Sexuality web site: scholars, activists, and students who are interested in gender and sexuality studies and in the complexities of gender identity and sexual orientation. You may also define a specific secondary audience you might like to reach, in which case you should also consider where you might post your audio file in order to reach that audience.

The purpose of your narrative is to help your target audience better understand what we can learn about gender identity, gender norms, sexual orientation, and so on through individual personal experience, particularly as compared to the kinds of generalizations often made by researchers.

As for genre, a personal essay is by nature reflective and analytical, rather than persuasive, and it makes use of some of the conventions of the genre of creative non-fiction. (more details to come)


We will have a hands-on workshop in class on using Garage Band, Audacity, and/or iMovie (depending on student needs), and you will have time in class to work on editing your audio file. We will also discuss general principles for composing with sound.


You will write a rough draft of your essay in text format, which you’ll share with peer reviewers for feedback. You will then revise the draft and begin the process of recording yourself reading the revision aloud, which will likely prompt you to do more revision. You will submit a draft of the audio (or audio plus images) version for peer and instructor review, and then you will revise and develop the final version.

The final version will be saved as an mp3 version for audio only or in m4v, mov, or flv for audiovisual versions. At a minimum, the text version you read from should be at least 1400 words (with a target of around 2200 words and an upper limit of around 3000). Check the word count on some of the papers you’ve written for other classes to see how that translates in terms of page length. The audio or audiovisual version will probably be around 8 minutes at a minimum, with an ideal of around 12 minutes and an upper limit of around 20 minutes.

You will also post planning and development notes, analyses of the rhetorical choices you make, and a reflection on how your work illustrates that youÕve met the learning goals for the project. You will post these materials to your blog, along with the final audio essay.

The class will vote on all of the audio essays submitted (by 40 students) in order to pick 10 to publish on the main Rhetoric of Gender and Sexuality web site.