What is Thematic Autobiography?

Thematic Autobiography provides a unique way to tell the story of your life.

While many autobiographies are written chronologically, this approach is non-linear.  Rather than focusing on the order of events, Thematic Autobiography uses written questions on universal subjects such as family, friendship, and money to help the writer's recall of past events.  These questions are not meant to be answered, but serve as prompts. The themes become "story guides" assisting you to unlock memories; to review major life decisions; and to find meaning in the seemingly random events of life

Now Available

Our book, Thematic Autobiography: A Unique Way to Write Your Life Story (2023),  is available for purchase at DorrancePublishing.com.

Thematic Autobiography by S Aminoff & M Wagner

This book contains nearly 100 themes on a variety of subjects that will prompt you to remember and write your stories. For those of you who would like to organize and lead an autobiography group, this book will provide you with the content to do so.


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Why Write Thematically?

In his poem, “Digging,” Seamus Hensley compares the process of writing to the arduous backbreaking work of his father and grandfather, potato farmers who dug deeply into the earth for their treasures. He laments that he "has no spade to follow men like them." Instead, he explores his own inner recesses by writing about them:

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.

Writing thematically allows you to dig with the pen instead of the spade. Themes, comprised of universal subjects and evocative questions, are a reflecting device allowing you to unearth your story.


Thematic Autobiography uses a variety of universal themes and accompanying questions.  These questions will help you reflect and write on  major life choices and decisions.

Here is a sample theme accompanied by writing prompts on the subject of FOOD

"The most dangerous food is wedding cake."   – James Thurber

Sample Prompts

  • What has been the role of food in your life?
  • Did food serve as a reward? Did you console yourself with food?
  • When you were ill, did you eat special foods? Who made them for you?
  • Did you diet? How often? Were diets successful?
  • What kinds of foods are important to you, e.g., home-made, organic, cage- free, store-bought?
  • Does food serve as a way to alter your mood?
  • Is food related to love?
  • What role did /does food play in your family? With your friends?
  • Were mealtimes pleasant or unpleasant? In what ways?
  • What does food symbolize for you?


Each constellation below contains a set of themes that provide a unique way of writing about people, places, facts and feelings.

Click on a constellation to see its themes.


2023 Workshops

January 19-March 30
FRAMEWORK: Career, Family, Friends, Love and Money

May 11-June 22
PERIMETERS: An examination of emotional and physical boundaries.

July 6- 27
BRIDGES: Exploring the ways we build bridges to other people and places throughout life

September 7
CHOOSE A THEME. Writers pick a theme from our book Thematic Autobiography: A Unique Way to Write your Life Story.

October 5-26
HOLES AND WHOLES.  We experience holes in our souls. We find ways to become whole again.


About Us

Susan Aminoff, Ph.D.

Dr. Susan Aminoff served as professor of sociology in the Los Angeles Community College District. A member of the Board of Trustees of Santa Monica College and the Broad Stage for the Performing Arts, she is active in several community organizations and projects in Santa Monica, California. She has also taught classes in “thematic autobiography” in USC’s Emeriti College.

Marlene S. Wagner, Ph.D.

Dr. Marlene S. Wagner facilitated autobiography courses at USC and Vermont College. She has also offered Thematic Autobiography classes in USC’s Emeriti College. After an administrative and fundraising career spanning more than three decades at the University of Southern California, she is enjoying an “encore career” as a facilitator of autobiography workshops.

If you are interested in learning more about Autobiography Matters workshops, please email us at autobiographymatters@gmail.com