An autobiography is a literary genre that is a self-written account of a person’s life. It is often written by well-recognized or well-renowned people to inform readers of their thoughts and experiences, but anyone can write it.

Autobiographies can take many forms based on different types of writing – they can be based thematically, religiously, or written purely for personal reasons, for example.

The term ‘autobiography’ was first used in 1797 by William Taylor in the English periodical (magazine) The Monthly Review. However, it was used negatively and seen as formal and arrogant.

The word means self (auto), life (bio), and writing (graph).

But, they are the story of a person’s life written from the point of view of that person.

Memoirs and diaries are autobiographies but do not follow the same structure.

Who wrote the first autobiography?

Around the year 400A.D., Augustine, a Catholic Saint who was once Bishop of Hippo Regius, wrote what is considered one of the earliest autobiographies, which he called ‘Confessions.’

In it, he gives his account of his journey from apparent moral destitution to a return to Christianity and his spiritual roots. For many centuries and still today, it is considered a highly influential publication for the Western church.

What are the key features of an autobiography?

Autobiographies are written in the first person from the author’s point of view, using first-person pronouns such as I, me, and my.

They recount the events of the author’s life in chronological order, although they may sometimes use flashbacks for added effect. To describe these events, they will also use time connectives, such as:

  • While
  • Earlier
  • Yesterday
  • Last year
  • Before

Autobiographies are usually very personal because the writer is connected to the events they are writing about. They include personal thoughts, feelings, and opinions about the possibilities and often describe how the events in their childhood or early life influenced them as a person. They also use literary devices such as adjectives, similes, and metaphors to describe these events.

Dates, times, individuals, and specific places are also used to describe the events in an autobiography. Again, it helps to make the writing a more accurate reflection of the person’s life as it indeed was.

Autobiographies usually end with the writer talking about what their hopes and plans for the future are. They reflect on what happened in the past and how this has influenced the person they are.

What is the difference between an autobiography and a biography?

The main difference between an autobiography and a biography is that the same person writes an autobiography that the text is about. In contrast, a biography is an individual’s history written by someone else.

Autobiographies are more personal and are based on the person’s thoughts, feelings, and memories. Biographies are written from an outside perspective in the third person. They recount a more objective view of the person’s life, although the author may include their opinions too.

You can identify an autobiography from a biography by whether the writer uses I, me, my (first-person pronouns) or she, he, or they (third-person pronouns).

Autobiographies for Children’s Literature

Many famous autobiographies have been written in the past. Here is a selection that does great reading for primary school children:

  • Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
  • I am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World
  • Rosa Parks: My Story
  • Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl
  • Jacky Daydream by Jacqueline Wilson
  • My Life with the Chimpanzees by Jane Goodall
  • Reaching for the Moon: The Autobiography of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson
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