Composition Studies As A Creative Art

Composition Studies As A Creative Art

Copyright Date: 1998
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    Composition Studies As A Creative Art
    Book Description:

    Bloom gathers twenty of her most recent essays (some previously unpublished) on critical issues in teaching writing. She addresses matters of philosophy and pedagogy, class and marginality and gender, and textual terror transformed to textual power. Yet the body of her work and this representative collection of it remains centered, coherent, and personal. This work focuses on the creative dynamics that arise from the interrelation of writing, teaching writing, and ways of reading—and the scholarship and administrative issues engendered by it. To regard composition studies as a creative art is to engage in a process of intellectual or aesthetic free play, and then to translate the results of this play into serious work that yet retains the freedom and playfulness of its origins. The book is fueled by a mixture of faith in the fields that compose composition studies, hope that efforts of composition teachers can make a difference, and a sense of community in its broadest meaning. Included are Bloom's well-known essays "Teaching College English as a Woman," "Freshman Composition as a Middle Class Enterprise," and many more recent works, equally provocative and insightful.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-363-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Composition Studies as a Creative Art
    (pp. 1-12)

    This semester my undergraduate writing class meets in a slightly dilapidated 150-year-old farmhouse, a Designated Historic Site, across the road from the central campus’s swath of lush lawns and venerable oaks. Out of the line of devastation from the bulldozers, cranes, and other heavy machinery employed in (re)building the university from the underground up, we are on the flight path of the Canada geese and the blue heron that dwell on the campus pond visible from the front porch. At our first meeting, I suggest that we sit around the large seminar table upstairs, but the students choose the couches...

  5. PART I: Teaching Writing and Teaching Writing Teachers
    • CHAPTER ONE Finding a Family, Finding a Voice: A Writing Teacher Teaches Writing Teachers
      (pp. 15-24)

      A paradigm shift, says thomas kuhn, arises in response to a crisis. Old ways don’t work, old explanations don’t fit, and a crisis makes apparent the need for a new paradigm that fits better. This is the story of how three crises (two new, one of long standing) converged to precipitate a paradigm shift in the way I teach writing teachers to teach writing. In the twinkling of an eye, the class metamorphosed from students in the process of learning about teaching in order to teach writing, to students in the process of becoming writers in order to teach writing....

    • CHAPTER TWO Teaching My Class
      (pp. 25-32)

      I was born to teach. I knew this without a doubt from the moment I learned to read and write. Maybe earlier—I can remember trying to teach my baby sister how to crawl, and my younger brother how to dial the telephone. That my pretty flapper mother had taught eight grades concurrently as a one-room country schoolteacher did not escape my notice, even though she had hated the job because every day she had to chop wood for the school’s potbellied stove and scrub its manure-caked floor and put up with the sass of the pupils bigger than she...

    • CHAPTER THREE Freshman Composition as a Middle-Class Enterprise
      (pp. 33-53)

      I used to go to parties in hopes of meeting new people, but now we live in a small town and everyone knows I’m an English teacher. Therefore I lack, shall we say, je ne sais quoi. No one ever says, “How wonderful that you are introducing my children to the discourse community to which they aspire.” No one ever says, “I myself always looked forward to those sessions on critical thinking.” No one ever says, “I was empowered by the opportunities for crossing boundaries.” Or, “emerging from my gender stereotype.” Or, “the chance to revise.” Or, “finding my own...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Textual Terror, Textual Power: Teaching Literature Through Writing Literature
      (pp. 54-63)

      Revolutionary principles often look like common sense, especially from the familiar comfort of retrospect. In Textual Power, Robert Scholes offers the revolutionary, but highly common-sensical principle that the best way to understand a text is to produce a text in response to it: “Our job is not to produce ‘readings’ for our students, but to give them the tools for producing their own.” He amplifies, “Our job is not to intimidate students with our own superior textual production,” as high priests of literature brilliantly unlocking the “right” readings of poetry before classes of students awed by our interpretations, arcane and...

    • CHAPTER FIVE American Autobiography and the Politics of Genre
      (pp. 64-76)

      Every day, year round, i swim laps at the university pool. seven years ago, when I was new to the campus, all the bodies were blurred, streaked figures in or out of water.

      That the personal is political is never truer than in relation to autobiography. American autobiography, what we write, read, teach, study, and critique, is inseparably intertwined with political concerns. Indeed, autobiography has throughout our national history been a conspicuously political genre. Political concerns strongly influence who writes (or tells) their stories, the themes and masterplots of these stories. Politics influence which works are published and circulated, which...

  6. PART II: Teaching and Writing Creative Nonfiction
    • CHAPTER SIX Teaching College English as a Woman
      (pp. 79-87)

      During my first year of doctoral work I spent all my savings on a lifetime membership in NCTE. Already, in my first year as a TA, I knew I loved to teach. Nothing less than a lifetime commitment to the profession I was preparing to join could express that love.

      It has taken thirty years to find the voice, the place in the profession, to tell the stories that follow. When the events occurred, I would never discuss them, silenced by guilt, shame, anger, and embarrassment. Like discussing childbirth (which for the same reasons I never did either until a...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Creative Nonfiction—Is There Any Other Kind?
      (pp. 88-103)

      Works of nonfiction can be coherent and crafted works of literature,” observes Annie Dillard, in explaining her own work in this “misunderstood genre, literary nonfiction”:

      It’s not simply that they’re carefully written, or vivid and serious and pleasing, like Boswell’s Life of Johnson or St. Exupéry’s wonderful memoir of early aviation, Wind, Sand, and Stars. It’s not even that they may contain elements of fiction, that their action reveals itself in scenes that use visual descriptions and that often use dialogue….It’s that nonfiction accounts may be literary insofar as the parts of their structures cohere internally, insofar as the things...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Reading, Writing, Teaching Essays as Jazz
      (pp. 104-117)

      Essays are the jazz of literature, fluid and flexible in form. Essays mix rhythms, modes, tones; they break rules, blend genres, blur distinctions between author, subject, and discipline. Because essays speak in conspicuous, personal-sounding styles, they’re engaging to students and to “common readers” and writers alike. But the jazz-like elements that make essays accessible to readers, and worth the risk for writers—their play, freedom, seeming spontaneity, their grounding in the realm of “human evidence” rather than the deconstructive ether (see Anderson, “Hearsay Evidence”)—make them problematic for critics and teachers. These interpreters spend too much time and effort defining...

    • CHAPTER NINE Why Don’t We Write What We Teach? And Publish It?
      (pp. 118-129)

      We teachers of writing should write literary nonfiction, assuming that that is what we teach, and we should publish what we write. That’s the thesis of this chapter. That not enough of us do this is the subtext. Writing regularly should be as much a part of the teacher’s activity as meeting class, and as unremarkable. If that were actually the case, I wouldn’t need to write this. Although what I advocate is appropriate for any teachers of writing, freshman English included, it is particularly important that teachers of advanced composition write and publish literary nonfiction. Teachers of advanced courses...

    • CHAPTER TEN Subverting the Academic Masterplot
      (pp. 130-140)

      Teachers’ tales out of school, the stories we love to hear, seem to have two basic masterplots, both with happy endings. Plot One shows the teacher-as-practitioner playing the role of what North calls “television doctor.” In this “miracle-cure scenario” (46) the teacher is confronted with a new, or chronic, problem that defies solution. This mystery malady infects the entire class or individual students, who for unfathomable reasons can’t master the requisite skills or learn the lessons du jour. The tortured teacher, who has previously leapt all problems with a single bound, is stymied. She paces and ponders, buttonholing colleagues with...

  7. PART III: Creative Scholarship and Publication in Composition Studies
    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Coming of Age in the Field That Had No Name
      (pp. 143-157)

      From the moment I heard the call of stories, seduced at the age of six by the siren song of Dr. Seuss, I wanted to tell stories of my own. I would become a Great Writer. So I turned, naturally, to their biographies. If I could figure out how great writers wrote I could learn to do it myself.

      I longed to get locked into the local library—a gracious white-columned Georgian edifice shared by the town of Durham and the University of New Hampshire—where my ambition was to read all the books. If I could be surrounded by...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Anxious Writers in Context
      (pp. 158-170)

      An anxious writer out of context may be neither anxious nor a writer. The fundamental premise of social psychologist Kurt Lewin’s classic Field Theory in Social Science is that behavior is the function of the interaction between the individual and his or her environment rather than a function of one or the other acting alone (see application in M. Bloom). And in “Meaning in Context: Is There Any Other Kind?” Elliott G. Mishler makes a compelling case for researchers in the social and psychological sciences and in education to consider the context of the behavior they study as a necessary...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN “I Write for Myself and Strangers”: Private Diaries as Public Documents
      (pp. 171-185)

      Contrary to popular perception, not all diaries are written—ultimately or exclusively—for private consumption. Very often, in either the process of composition over time, or in the revision and editing that some of the most engaging diaries undergo, these superficially private writings become unmistakably public documents, intended for an external readership. The author of such a work writes, as Gertrude Stein says of her own writing, “for myself and strangers” (Making 289). Indeed, it is the audience hovering at the edge of the page that for the sophisticated diarist facilitates the work’s ultimate focus, providing the impetus either for...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN Making Essay Connections: Editing Readers for Freshman Writers
      (pp. 186-197)

      It is fitting that the rationale for reading should come from an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, America’s patron saint of self-reliance. While Emerson asserts that reading is essential for success in general, contemporary American composition teachers assert that reading well is essential for writing well. The rationale of Donald Hall, himself a distinguished essayist and poet, for the seventh edition of A Writer’s Reader epitomizes the current consensus: “Reading well precedes writing well. Of all the ancestors claimed by a fine piece of prose, the most important is the prose from which the writer learned his craft. Writers learn...

    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN The Importance of External Reviews in Composition Studies
      (pp. 198-206)

      A tenure review, as sam johnson observed of an impending Hanging, wonderfully focuses the mind. During one particularly interesting period in my life, in the course of several moves to accommodate a dual-career marriage, I underwent four tenure reviews in seven years. In recent years, comfortably tenured, I routinely serve as an external evaluator of English Departments and writing programs, as well as an external reviewer of scholarship in numerous cases of tenure and promotion—not to mention grant proposals, fellowship applications, and submissions to journals and presses. In the immortal words of Ann Landers, I’ve “been there, honey.” As...

  8. PART IV: Writing Program Administration as a Creative Enterprise
    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN I Want a Writing Director
      (pp. 209-211)

      I belong to that classification of academics known as writing directors. I am a Writing Director. And, not altogether incidentally, I am an untenured female assistant professor.*

      Not too long ago a male colleague appeared on the scene fresh from a recent tenure review. He has never taught freshman English since leaving graduate school, and now that he is safely tenured he can refuse to do so if ever asked. I thought about his situation while I was grading freshman essays, and I thought about it again while I was preparing the handouts for the writing center tutors. And again...

    • CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Why I (Used to) Hate to Give Grades
      (pp. 212-222)

      When I was but a sprig on the family tree, growing up in the New Hampshire college town where my father, Professor Zimmerman, taught chemistry and chemical engineering, an emblematic cartoon by William Steig appeared in The New Yorker. It depicted a downcast youth glancing surreptitiously at a report card held with distaste by a man in a suit looming bulbously from his armchair. The caption, “B-plus isn’t good enough for a Zimmerman”—yes, that really was the name in the cartoon—so succinctly expressed the family ethos that my parents made dozens of copies. The cartoon became their Christmas...

    • CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Initiation Rites, Initiation Rights.
      (pp. 223-228)
      Thomas E. Recchio

      Last fall, as newcomers to the university of connecticut ourselves, we taught the indoctrination course to some twenty beginning TAs. Many were new to graduate work, most were new to the university, all were new to teaching, and nearly all were unfamiliar with the rhetorical theory on which we were basing the course. Tom, the new Writing Director, had taught English in American and Japanese universities for some fifteen years. Lynn, first holder of the newly endowed Aetna Chair of Writing, had taught twice that time in colleges and universities north and south, east, midwest, and west. Despite our considerable...

    • CHAPTER NINETEEN Making a Difference: Writing Program Administration as a Creative Process
      (pp. 229-237)

      A classic Steinberg cartoon shows a small girl speaking in arabesques of fanciful, gloriously colored butterflies, to which a grey father-figure responds with slashes of dark straight lines. This visual dialogue emblematically depicts the difference between creative and literal approaches to, among other things, life, liberty, and the pursuit of writing program administration.

      For administration of writing programs, as of any other complicated system, represents a balance between the straight lines and the butterflies—bureaucracy and creativity, the preordained, the pragmatic, and the precedent-setting. Some aspects of administration are boring—endless forms to fill out, memos to circulate, meetings to...

    • CHAPTER TWENTY Bloom’s Laws
      (pp. 238-240)

      Long ago and far away, in a moment of weakness (i was actually close to meltdown and didn’t know it) I accepted a new administrative post. Some have greatness thrust upon them, I thought in my delirium, and this was a rare opportunity. So I decided, as any self-respecting (read desperate) academic would, to prepare for this status nouveau by reading up on how to do it. Book after book, article after article on administration passed under my keen eye, written by the reputable and the revered—efficiency experts; analysts of academic politics and procedures; department chairs who had been...

  9. AFTERWORD: Free Play: A Prologue to Work in Progress
    (pp. 241-247)

    I’ve become a pain at parties these days. Like Diogenes with his lantern in search of the bright face of honesty, I wander about, buttonholing the folks we know at these gatherings, academics and other teachers mostly, along with musicians, painters, a fiber artist, and a lot of writers. “How do you know when you’ve got a good idea?” I ask. “How do you know when you’re being really creative?”

    To a person, they recoil in shock. Am I asking them to spill trade secrets? Have I asked them to address the unspeakable? Or merely the unutterable, the ineffable? In...

    (pp. 248-259)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 260-267)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 268-270)