Inspiring Collegiality: A Roundtable on Intergenerational Mentoring
Author(s): Lynée Lewis Gaillet, Sarah Bramblett, Don Gammill Jr., Tiffany Gray, Cantice Greene, Letizia Guglielmo, Mary Lamb, Renee Love, Alice Johnston Myatt, Kristen Ruccio, Matthew Sansbury, Lara Smith-Sitton, and Nathan Wagner
Sarah Bramblett teaches English at Kennesaw State University, blending historic best-practices into a pedagogy that engages students as they write academic papers cognizant of internal and external audiences. She earned her doctorate in Rhetoric and Composition from Georgia State University, where she received the Provost’s Dissertation Fellowship Award to analyze the bridge between reason and imagination as they have been taught and applied to the teaching of rhetoric since the eighteenth century.
Lynée Lewis Gaillet, Distinguished University Professor of English at Georgia State University, researches mentoring practices, writing program administration, composition/rhetoric history and pedagogy, feminist praxis, publishing matters, and archival research methods. Her book projects include Scottish Rhetoric and Its Influence, Stories of Mentoring, The Present State of Scholarship in the History of Rhetoric, Scholarly Publication in a Changing Academic Landscape, Publishing in Community, Primary Research and Writing, On Archival Research, Writing Center and Writing Program Collaborations and Remembering Differently: Re-figuring Women’s Rhetorical Work. She is a Past President of The Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition.
Don Gammill, Jr. is a lecturer in the English department at Kennesaw State University just outside Atlanta. Subsequent to his private-sector career in human resources and the healthcare industry, he taught first-year writing at several local colleges and then earned his Ph.D. (English Rhetoric & Composition) at Georgia State University where he taught writing, rhetoric, and editing courses for seven years while also serving as an editorial assistant, research assistant, writing center tutor, and teaching assistant mentor. He researches rhetorical practices and influences involving public perceptions of morality, especially as related to the intersecting of religion and culture.
Tiffany Gray is a graduate student at Georgia State University in the English Department with an emphasis in Rhetoric and Composition. Her research interests include women’s rhetoric, the history of rhetoric, archival studies, and 19th-century Mormon women’s rhetoric. Gray’s most recent publications include “Claremont Graduate University’s Mormon Women’s Oral History Collection” in Peitho (Volume 25, Issue 2, Winter 2023) and a review on T. Kinney’s Legitimization of Mormon Feminist Rhetors, forthcoming in the American Journal for the History of Rhetoric.
Cantice Greene is a professor of English at Clayton State University, a predominately Black institution on the southeastern tip of the Atlanta metro area. She often infuses her religious identity in her teaching and writing as she endeavors to build coalition between herself and others in the secular university. Her service to the university includes support of Christian faculty and students through advising and program development. Her teaching ranges in subjects from co-requisite learning support for English composition to graduate courses in professional writing.
Letizia Guglielmo is Professor of English and Interdisciplinary Studies at Kennesaw State University. Her writing and research explore feminist rhetorics and pedagogy, gender and pop culture, and student and faculty professional development. Her work has appeared in a variety of journals and edited collections. Book projects include Immigrant Scholars in Rhetoric, Composition, and Communication: Memoirs of a First Generation, Misogyny in American Culture: Causes, Trends, Solutions, Scholarly Publication in a Changing Academic Landscape, Contingent Faculty Publishing in Community: Case Studies for Successful Collaborations, and MTV and Teen Pregnancy: Critical Essays on 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom.
Mary R. Lamb is professor and chair of English at Clayton State University. In 2015, she co-wrote a grant for a Peer Academic Mentoring Program, which won the 2022 Regents’ Momentum Year Award for Excellence in Teaching and Curricular Innovation for the University System of Georgia. In 2014, she was awarded the Clayton State University Tommy Clonts’ University Professorship for teaching, scholarship, and dedication to improving public education. Publications include Blurred Lines: Digital Reading and Writing in Composition Studies, ed., 2019 and Contested(ed) Writing: Re-conceptualizing Literacy Competitions, ed., 2013. She recently completed the Executive Leadership Institute at the USG.
Renee Love is an English Professor and veteran college administrator at Lander University. Her scholarship is diverse and explores themes such as helping students navigate the transition to college, a subject included in her co-edited collection (2017) Writing Pathways to Student Success (with Lillie Craton and Sean Barnette) to “Teaching the Post-Pandemic Student.” She is also interested in writing projects that combine composition studies with public scholarship and creative non-fiction. Renee is a frequent columnist in South Carolina publications where she writes about life lessons in the human journey and civic engagement.
Alice Johnston Myatt is an Associate Professor of Writing and Rhetoric in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Mississippi. In addition to teaching a variety of composition and rhetoric courses for the department, her research focuses on the intersections of writing studies, writing centers, and related fields, with special emphasis on professional writing and collaboration. Her publications include an edited collection, journal articles, and book chapters. She earned her Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition from Georgia State University.
Kristen Ruccio is the Director of First-Year Writing at Arkansas State University. Her scholarship focuses on disability studies, writing program administration, and first-year composition praxis. She is committed to mentorship as a teacher-scholar-administrator. In her spare time, a very small item, she loves to explore her new home state of Arkansas and to create new vegan recipes.
Matthew Sansbury is an Assistant Professor of English and Director of First-Year Writing & The Writers’ Studio at Clayton State University. He has published work in Computers and Composition Online and Kairos—PraxisWiki as well as the collections Threshold Conscripts: Rhetoric and Composition TAships and The Rhetoric of Participation: Interrogating Commonplaces in and Beyond the Classroom. A former research fellow for the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives, he teaches courses in cultural rhetorics, digital writing, and multimodal composition at Clayton State and serves as Conference Program Editor for the College English Association.
Lara Smith-Sitton is Associate Professor of English at Kennesaw State University. She served as the Director of Community Engagement for six years, where much of her work focused on high impact practices and community engagement. Recent publications include Green Card Voices: Immigration Stories from an Atlanta High School (2018, 2019) and articles in Reflections; Community Literacy Journal; The Journal for Global Initiatives: Policy, Pedagogy, and Perspective; and Double Helix. Currently, her work largely focuses on returning citizen education initiatives in the State of Georgia with a team of cross-disciplinary scholars and teachers.
Nathan Wagner is a Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of North Georgia. He earned his Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition from Georgia State University where he worked in collaboration with influential mentors. His work has been published in Rhetorica, Philosophy & Rhetoric, Rhetoric Review, and Composition Forum, and he is the coauthor of Composing in Four Acts: Readings for Writers, published with Fountainhead Press.
Abstract: This group of thirteen colleagues, all with ties to Georgia State University, enjoys a reciprocal mentoring friendship, showing Wendy Bishop’s legacy.autoethnography, composition, creative writing, Mentoring, personal writing, teaching
Lynée Lewis Gaillet—Introduction
For the 2008 collection Stories of Mentoring: Theory and Praxis (2008), Michelle Eble and I sought narratives, histories, and testimonials that defined acts of mentoring in layered and nuanced ways. At that time, mentoring still smacked of top-down, required apprenticeships. Most workplaces mechanically bought into the idea that mentoring was “good” for business but didn’t materially invest in nor explore possibilities inherent in the act. Mentoring usually followed prescribed procedures and habits that relied upon randomly matching new employees and graduate students with (overtired, overworked) reliable/experienced employees. Of course, tales of rich, organic mentoring nonetheless abound, but access to that kind of life-changing influence has been sporadic and serendipitous depending upon location; sociocultural and economic factors; gender, race and embodiment; and so on. We received scores of submissions that explored, critiqued, and suggested a wide swath of concomitant mentoring issues. Of the seventy-eight included contributors, eight voices penned the encomium “Wendy Bishop’s Legacy: A Tradition of Mentoring, A Call to Collaboration.” Collectively, Anna Leahy, Stephanie Vanderslice, Kelli Custer, Jennifer Wells, Carol Ellis, Meredith Kate Brown, Dorinda Fox, and Amy Hodges Hamilton provided a sketch of Bishop’s influence—most of them knew her as a teacher/mentor; one never met her. Herein, we 1) update Leahy and her coauthors’ claim that “Wendy Bishop is still teaching us, as a field and as individuals, how to become effective teachers and mentors” (81), and 2) reify Bishop’s assertion in Teaching Lives that mentoring is important “[b]ecause I relearn my life as my students explore theirs” (320).
The idea of intergenerational mentoring, currently explored in Composition Studies (and elsewhere), depends upon an “ethic of hospitality … to facilitate respectful, productive relations among generational groups, which recognize and enact interdependence but allow for a wide range of stances and strategies of interaction in action and scholarly discourse” (Phelps 106). Likewise, contributors to Stories of Mentoring sought to complicate ideas of mentoring, to find synonyms for the sometimes contentious term. However, as Jenn Fishman and Andrea Lunsford explain, difficulties in understanding and fostering mentorship “concern more than nomenclature” and necessitate viewing this concept as a cooperative act. In describing the “rabbit hole of mentorship,” they contend that “mentoring is simply another word for control” (20) and alternately propose “collegiality,” a term that invites the “reciprocal process of learning and teaching ourselves and others how to work most cooperatively and productively together” (31). This give-and-take idea of partnership resonates with Bishop’s nod to benefits for the mentor (relearning) and newer ideas of “accompaniment,” defined by John Brereton and Cinthia Gannett as mentoring that addresses “gaps and tensions … as a means of respecting critical differences in view, while sharing some portion of our lifelong journeys” (120).
In 1988, Winifred Bryan Horner took me under her wing, initially in the traditional role of apprentice/research assistant but over the next twenty-six years as a colleague, whereby “personal commitment to a large research project” and “areas of shared interest” strengthened our relationship (Fishman and Lunsford 31). Our long-time academic friendship illustrates the value of intergenerational mentoring: our collaborations (and the roles we played) morphed in ways that supported me as an emerging researcher-teacher and much later sustained Dr. Horner’s work. The smart, caring, and hopeful voices below adopt an intergenerational mentoring lens to honor the magnitude of Wendy Bishop’s work. As Leahy learned from Bishop, “teachers, scholars, and writers, can benefit from working together—and the final product, too, might be more complex as a result” (68). By participating in multidirectional mentoring networks that they enlarge and enact, my coauthors and I recall Vanderslice’s characterization of Bishop’s sphere of influence: “As we each read from our part of the [Stories of Mentoring] essay [at 4Cs] it was striking to be in that room and hear the ripple effect Bishop’s mentoring had had … Hearing those stories confirmed for me … how powerful mentoring can be and we made a pact that day to mentor others in our field, a pact we have honored” (“There’s an Essay” 2-3).
Wendy Bishop reminds us that “[t]rying to work toward emotional, spiritual, familial, intellectual, professional, political, and the big ETC. of truths is not just part of, but is the process of writing … It is the golden mean, too, of a version of academic life that many of us might choose” (“Suddenly Sexy” 265). This journey is enhanced in life- and career-changing ways through recursive mentoring and collegiality, collaboration, and accompaniment characterized as fluid, liminal, and asynchronous.
Letizia Guglielmo—Widening the Gaze: Feminist Rhetorical Mentoring and Students’ Scholarly Voices
In “Students’ Stories and the Variable Gaze of Composition Research” (1993), Wendy Bishop claims, “How students are included in composition research is for me a continuing issue” (212). Published thirty years ago, before I was even a first-year writing student, before I had any intention of pursuing graduate work in rhetoric and composition, before I would complete a master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation focused on composition teaching and learning, and long before my university created an office of undergraduate research that supported collaboration with undergraduate student researchers, Bishop challenged us not to privilege our own gaze as teacher-scholars. “When teachers become researchers and students’ stories, interpretations, and contributions count,” she explained, “then knowledge making and professionalization come into better balance” (“Students’” 210).
I encountered Bishop’s piece first as a graduate student and later, while working on a co-authored book with my mentor, Lynée. Our goal was to draw a diverse group of teacher-scholars into writing and scholarship, and our work was firmly grounded in envisioning mentorship and coauthorship as part of that process: our own and our readers’. Bishop’s call for attention to research methods within the field and to the absence of authentic student voices in our studies of writing and writing process, including “questions of gender, race, and class … [and] current structures of institutional power,” created space and provided a feminist intervention for decades of future writing research. In recognizing that “[t]his kind of research will change composition studies” (“Students’” 210), Bishop created space for the kind of transformations Cheryl Glenn more recently described as those that “keep the discipline rolling” (173). My feminist teaching and mentoring means actively creating space for students and their authentic voices in our disciplinary work. I do that work most actively through undergraduate research projects that allow us to write, reflect, and theorize collaboratively on the published page, that value personal and lived experience, and that disrupt expectations of who can contribute to knowledge-making in the field.
Tiffany Gray—Continuous Learning
“ … I believe learner and learning method should be suited to each other, should be individualized as much as possible. That means I’ll be a continuous learner in a continuously changing learning environment.” –Wendy Bishop, “On Teaching with Technology”
Influential women in my life have always reinforced the idea that we never stop being learners. As an older student returning to the classroom, I find wisdom in their words and an echo of Wendy Bishop’s sentiments that learning never ends. Bishop’s ideas go further, though, to indicate that learning requires not only a tailoring to meet learners’ abilities, but also the application of individualized learning methods: the more individualized the learning experience, the greater opportunity for developing individuals as continuous learners. For older students like me who find themselves working with younger scholars, Bishop’s notions about being a continuous learner apply to both mentees and the younger mentors they work with. Just as an older student brings with them life experience that applies to their relationality as a learner, younger scholars possess an expertise in academic understanding that encourages inquiry. From my own personal experience, a successful older mentee/younger mentor relationship came by way of a younger professor who, during a course I was taking, offered multiple types of project options that allowed older students to apply course material broadly to their lived experience by not limiting the work to academic applications only. However, lived experience does not always coalesce with academia, and as a result, opportunities for increased learning between older students and younger professors can only exist if both are willing to learn from one another. Through collaborative learning, older students and younger scholars can share their knowledge bases with one another and find commonality in the pursuit of learning. In doing so, a symbiotic relationship forms between the older student and the younger teacher, where distinct identifiers no longer exist as each serves in both capacities simultaneously. Thus, in line with Wendy Bishop’s assertions, “continuous learners” recognize that learning never stops. All can learn and all can learn from one another.
Mary Lamb—On Textual and Human Mentors
The process of learning is often subconscious and hidden until we’re on the verge of a new stage. I remember shocking my dissertation advisor when I shared a draft, the first of many, but this one was finally good—and she asked how I “broke through.” I replied confidently, “I learned to plagiarize.” I saw her horror, so I tried again: “I mean I learned to read the genre and I understand how they are writing and I found my voice in the scholarship.” This type of mentor stands silently while we imitate, copy, and mimic various styles while grappling for our own. First, our moves are tentative (waiting for our mentor to respond with praise or criticism), but along the way, we engage in our own voice and style because we become invested.
Other times, we actively collaborate with human coauthors on individual works, a process Bishop describes in talking about collaborating with Hans Ostrom: “I’d say in every text I write there’s now at least one move that I could point to as a definite ‘Hans-influence’—could I edit that out? Sure. Would I? Rarely” (Acts 158). She continues, “I can now assign myself to write like Hans in order to get out of a drafting problem spot, and that’s wonderfully freeing. I can import what I imagine to be your to hell with the audience approach and break through some useless propriety that is holding me back from trying out ideas in a draft” (Acts 159).
Bishop’s scholarship honed strategies that prompted growth, from hint sheets at the back of The Subject is Reading to her “try this” sections in Acts of Revision. As I examine my worn copy, I find handwritten sticky notes: “Sept. 10 Revision,” and another says, “Sept. 10 HW Try pp. 19-24 strategies—bring new draft for Wed.” I don’t remember the year or course, but I do remember my fear and hope for student growth as I shared these activities.
This is the essence of mentoring: offer a glimpse of what is possible. Lynée mentored me by offering space for growth and strategies to try. In turn, this is how I mentor others. Echoing Bishop’s invitational strategies, Lynée would ask, “What if you…?” or say, “Try this,” and then the arrow pointed to an open space where I honed my own strategies and authored my life choices.
Cantice Greene—Emotion and Writing: Wendy Bishop and the Mentorship Loop
When I was studying for specialist exams in feminism and therapeutic writing, Lynée suggested I read Wendy Bishop’s scholarship. I immediately connected with Bishop’s philosophy about the fitness of expressive pedagogy in an academic writing classroom. My dissertation credited Bishop for her keen awareness of the emotional impact of teaching writing. Bishop’s teaching philosophies and scholarship have informed the way I teach and what I teach. When I first started, her voice in scholarship was the reassuring one I needed to teach composition focused on the personal essay.
I felt a kindred spirit with Bishop when she defended an instructor’s choice to teach expressive pedagogy by comparing its emotional weight to social-constructivist pedagogy. Bishop explained their mutual tendency to spark traumatic recall: “[S]ocial constructivist classrooms may ask students to consider political, social, or ethical topics (date rape, discrimination, gender bias in the workplace) which may in turn elicit curative and/or disturbing narratives, discussions, or memories for students…” (Teaching Lives 150). She aptly drew attention to the emotional burden I’d felt as a black woman asked (often by white instructors) to write about social and political topics all throughout my college writing experience. I see the connection here to mentoring. Mentoring is relating—it is the relationship that forms when we see ourselves in our students’ place or from their perspective.
Now that I’ve returned to the classroom to study creative writing, I think of Bishop’s extensive scholarship on creative writing pedagogy in English training programs. I’ve often made the closest connections with students when inviting them to join me at a local writing conference, whether academic or creative. A few years ago, three students were delighted to present their work at a local conference when I suggested it. One of those students, a slightly older nontraditional student, remains my closest student connection. We comforted each other through COVID-19, as she graduated in 2020. More recently, I was surprised to see two of my students in attendance at a local writing conference that I advertised in class and on my door. While these shy students hadn’t told me beforehand that they planned to attend, we ate lunch together, and our informal conversations led to our collaboration for an upcoming undergraduate research workshop. More importantly, we took pictures together and shared mobile numbers. At the conference, we made an important step in breaking down any walls of separation that stifled our communication.
In the Journal of Creative Writing Studies, Stephanie Vanderslice recalls the ways Bishop impacted her: “All this mentoring slowly transfers knowledge and encourages innovation from one generation to the next” (3). We crave this innovation—at least I do. I think this may be why we continue to remember Wendy Bishop’s important place in our disciplinary history.
Kristen Ruccio—Mentorship Finds Us
I tried to limit myself to one quote by Wendy Bishop to anchor my contribution, but that quickly became an impossible task because so much of her work influenced me and my mentors. Still, where I find her influence most is in the ways that I always try to work to build my communities while also making a space for my own way, just as Bishop did…although I certainly do not have her legendary energy! Her legacy of mentorship, formal and informal, has impacted my life as both a student and as a professor. I came to my first/current tenure-track job, like many of us, having moved away from my friends and family and feeling adrift, scared, and excited. And I was primed to look for mentorship because I was part of the mentorship program at Georgia State University’s English Ph.D. program. I had two wonderful mentees, both of whom I am still friends with today. I thought I would have to search to find someone to connect with here at A-State. Instead, I literally stumbled into my mentor when I nervously walked into the pre-semester workshop for composition faculty. Helen Duclos, a then-80-year-old woman, was funny, brash, and had an institutional memory like nothing I have ever seen. Sure, I came here knowing how to teach composition, but Helen taught me so much about all the unpublished truths of any large organization. We have a policy of dropping students who do not attend class during the first 10 days, and Helen warned me, “It’s nothing but trouble. Always email them first—don’t just drop them.” She was correct; I dropped a student without emailing, and it was a huge mess for me and for the student. Another time, she told me not to trust turning in my grades via the LMS. I thought maybe she was just a little tech-phobic. Nope, I got a call at 11 a.m. the day grades were due at noon wanting to know where my grades were! She knew all the tips and tricks to survive. And I can never repay her for all that institutional knowledge or how it helped me navigate a surprise promotion to WPA in my third year. Helen retired when the first wave of COVID hit, but I will share the gift of her mentorship as I work with other teachers.
Don Gammill, Jr.— Defying Genre and Generational Divides
In The Subject is Writing, Wendy Bishop spotlights how the fluid blending of creative and practical writing practices yields products that don’t always fit intended genres: “[W]e shouldn’t assume that there is only one way to categorize or that those categories should (or could) hold fast for all people, in all cultures, in all historical times” (197). I must admit, this concept was somewhat foreign to me when I left corporate communications for the academic world at 35. I mainly viewed writing as creating products to fit classifications, but I knew there was more to it. After two years of adjunct teaching, I enrolled in the English Ph.D. program at Georgia State, and my perspective expanded as I encountered Kenneth Burke’s contention that words are heuristics that influence our thinking. He asks, “Do we simply use words, or do they not also use us?” (6). I think Bishop practicalizes and builds on this idea, declaring that readers do indeed “depend on the conventions they have learned” to interpret texts, but that a suspension of their judgement is needed “to understand each new work they encounter” (The Subject is Writing 198).
At GSU, Lynée’s mentorship helped me conceptualize how to co-create interpretation like this. She pushed me to be creative and defy systematic barriers in my research, writing, and teaching. It was suddenly okay to blur genre lines if the contribution to discourse was better for it: a commonplaces book could replace a term paper as a final deliverable, a 1940’s radio broadcast could work in tandem with an 1880’s newspaper article to help tell the same story, and a linguistics paper delivered at a philology conference could still be worked into the emerging foundation of my scholarship in rhetoric and composition. This shifted my paradigm to one that more appropriately valued the negotiated nature of writing and written genres. Today, I similarly urge my students to leverage their individual creativity and view themselves as co-creators and co-definers along with their audiences. Their consistent success credits the ever-strong intergenerational momentum for the disruptive-but-(re)constructive writing pedagogy Dr. Bishop exhorted. I believe she would be quite pleased.
Sarah Bramblett—Intergenerational Mentorship Inspires Interconnectivity
The history of rhetoric and composition is both brief, existing at the collegiate level as a discipline for a relatively short period of time, and long—theories rely on Aristotle and rhetorics that have existed at every level of human communication. Within both histories, composition and creative writing have been pitted against each other but occasionally are championed for the ways in which they interconnect. In binaries such as romanticism vs. enlightenment rhetoric, writing out of inspired imagination vs. formulaic process, and expressivism vs. current-traditional rhetoric, scholars demonstrate value in connecting the extremes. Wendy Bishop, through ethnographic methodology, argued for the overlap between creative writing and composition studies. As Patrick Bizzaro observes, Bishop embodied “the writer-teacher-who-writes (and teaches writing out of that writing)” (258).
Hopeful intergenerational mentorship also inspires intradisciplinary conversations that champion the overlap between binaries in a natural manner. Mentors who are aware of the field’s borders invite mentees, who might be fresh in their disciplinary opinions, to write and think in ways that encourage depth and disciplinary excellence. Mentees, excited about ideas they can’t yet label, re-inspire a mentor’s own studies.
Thanks to excellent mentorship, I was able to find the myths that exist in the swinging of generational pendulums, specifically focusing on romanticism vs. enlightenment rhetoric and the lingering effects this binary created. Because my mentors had been mentored well, the extremes were not the only options when establishing academic relevance. I was able to avoid the traps that so many of the myths can lead to, traps like “expressivism is not a valid form of teaching writing” or “formulaic process has no place in writing studies.”
While the connections fostered by intergenerational mentorship may not manifest as directly as a composition scholar mentoring a creative writer nor as subtly as trends influencing conversations, connections between willing and open mentors and mentees create teachers and thinkers who converse creatively about writing, teaching, research, and historic places—or writer-teachers-who-write and mentor out of their mentorship. As a result, intergenerational mentorship becomes key for a discipline that fits thousands of years of history into such a narrow window of recent academic relevance, as Bishop demonstrated well.
Alice Johnston Myatt—Paying It Forward
Wendy Bishop was ahead of my scholarly time. Her legacy, however, lives in her many mentor texts for tutoring, teaching, and writing. For example, her 1993 book The Subject Is Writing was part of a collection on the shelf I had as a graduate student, and it guided my early teaching as a GTA. In that book, I found the advice to let students pursue their own passions and interests whenever possible. I put that advice into practice the first semester I taught, and that practice has become an integral part of my teaching. All writing projects I assign include an exploration of personal interests and a proposal for the project that describes what the student wants to explore and write about. The ideas and issues they select inspire students to invest in better writing, and in turn, the work they produce is rewarding to read and assess. Later, as I became interested in independent writing programs, Bishop’s 2002 “A Rose by Every Other Name: The Excellent Problem of Independent Writing Programs” had a direct influence on my work in this area. My academic home is a stand-alone department of writing and rhetoric, and Bishop’s candid exploration of the complexities of growing and maintaining such programs helped me understand and traverse the landscape of our department while supporting its development.
Another mentor text connects to my work in writing centers. Bishop’s essay “Is There a Creative Writer in the House?” is especially helpful for my work with writing centers and teaching at a university where most of our graduate teaching assistants come from a robust MFA program. Her succinct observation that “[g]reater engagement usually equals greater investment” (44) became a mantra for me in tutoring and in teaching. In his introduction to the second edition of A Tutor’s Guide, Ben Rafoth pays homage to Bishop’s enduring and multi-faceted legacy. After describing her notable contributions to the field and her work as a writing center tutor at the University of Alaska, he writes: “She was a keynote speaker at writing center conferences and was a friend to hundreds of tutors, students, writers, and teachers” (x). In short, she valued the work of writing tutors. First as a tutor and then as a writing center administrator, I encouraged students to embrace and integrate creativity in their writing in ways that made sense to them. For example, I quickly realized that allowing more narrative content in assignments enlivened their writing for them and for me.
Bishop’s work intersects with my own. I love mentoring and find it essential to my work: both being mentored and in turn, paying it forward by mentoring others. I appreciate the lessons learned from Wendy Bishop, scholar extraordinaire.
Lara Smith-Sitton—Pedagogical Autoethnography and Creativity
The graduate program I teach in requires students to declare two concentrations from three possible areas: rhetoric and composition, creative writing, or applied writing. Most students identify as “creative writers” with aims to produce fiction, memoir, screenplays, or poetry. When I started teaching in a program with such a diversity of writing interests, Wendy Bishop’s questions in Keywords in Creative Writing shaped the focus of my approach: “What makes creative writing so different from other writing done in other classes across the curriculum? And what exactly is creativity?” (Bishop and Starkey 71). Given my background in rhetoric and composition, after the pandemic I returned to Bishop’s work in Something Old, Something New to consider how I might strengthen and change my pedagogical practices in order to increase student engagement and build richer connections among the community of writers returning to the classroom.
Weaving together research, scholarship, and creative projects, Bishop explores how understanding our private and professional identities can lead to re-envisioning our pedagogies (Something Old 134). With this in mind, I augmented Bishop’s ethnographic approach studying college writing instructors with Bochner and Ellis’s autoethnographic methods and methodologies. Autoethnography “allows a person to lean into uncertainty rather than struggle against it. The shape of autoethnography is not the exclamation point (!) but the question mark (?)” (15). As I had more questions than answers, this approach allowed for deeper clarity about the role of a writing instructor in a multi-disciplinary program. Like Bishop, I believe that “all writing—even the one-minute, uncorrected email—involves some kind of creativity, some thinking, some imagination” (Bishop and Sharkey 71). I see writing as a tool that “attempts to explain why and how humans do what they do” (72). My courses have assignments rooted in these ideas—students are now seeing the interconnectedness of writing, regardless of the genre, and the significance of each writing concentration: expansion of a three-part final project now includes a research paper; deliverables incorporate research (short story, conference abstract, grant proposal, etc.); and an autoethnographic essay calls students to articulate their writing practices. The assignment modifications emphasize the value of learning from other writers. In small groups, students reflect upon their individual composing experiences as well as their observations about the practices of other writers. By using an autoethnographic approach, these meaningful conversations help students better understand the writing requirements for reaching their professional goals.
Wendy Bishop’s work inspires me because she realized the power of intertextuality, one of the hallmarks of postmodernism. She resisted the narrowness of writing and teaching hierarchies and embraced the diversity of “both,” advocating for blending multiple voices and styles of writing, the scholarly with the creative, the personal with the ethnographic, the teacher’s voice with the student’s. Alice Rosman argues that “Wendy Bishop attempts to make sense of the artificial boundaries that exist between creative writing and composition” by “mixing writing genres within her own works” and “bring[ing] the voices and experiences of other teachers and students into her scholarly writing” (3-4). Bishop realized writers and teachers did not have to prioritize one discipline (literature or composition, academic or creative, personal or ethnographic, etc.) at the expense of another. In what I can only describe as a radical insight, she understood that we need not choose the traditional emphasis of literature consumption over writing production or insist on only academic writing when we could also teach students to write creatively.
In departments I have called home, administrators often have a “live and let live” teaching philosophy, where writing instructors have autonomy to select assignments for their classes. Still, a perusal of any writing teacher’s reading list reveals a teacher’s stance on prioritizing literature and composition or academic writing over creative writing. Bishop was a pioneer in writing instruction because she understood that combining compositional strategies enriches both teachers’ and students’ writing experiences. She writes “after unbraiding and uncomposing my selves within the academy in order to learn specialized skills and certain discourses … I decided intentionally to rebraid and recompose my self through teaching creative and compositional strategies together” (Teaching Lives 219).
I agree. Bishop’s practice of blending composition and creative practices is an essential component of my work as a writing teacher and as a creative writer, and this approach helps me and my students develop a sense of agency regarding our writing projects, too (not to mention a sense of enjoyment).
Nathan Wagner—The Process of Mentoring Relationships
Bishop identifies “neighborliness” and “becoming” as key components in her feminist mentoring model. These practical concepts, she tells us, foster positive development for most any context: Bishop argues that successful mentors enable graduate students to become successful academics by instilling neighborly values, such as remaining open to new ideas and new holistic beliefs, exploring critical ideologies, and explicating and reimagining one’s own process of becoming a member of a department and university (Learning 349).
Neighbors appear within an established framework; in the instance of an English department, the framework is institutional, and the faculty, staff, and graduate students arrive at this intersectional site and become neighbors. Neighborliness indicates proximity, a nearness that provides the opportunity for contact between a mentor and a mentee; reciprocity, a willingness to give and receive, an openness to alternative practices, styles, and ideas; and neighborliness forms the conditions for cultivating (becoming) community.
In my experience as a graduate student mentee and a faculty mentor, I have found the mentoring relationship most fruitful when both mentor and mentee are open to the possibilities of each other’s positions and commitments. We arrive in our respective English department “neighborhoods” with unique perspectives and histories; we develop our own narratives as our careers progress. I arrived at my doctoral program committed to studying literature, but after meeting some of my neighbors in rhetoric and composition, I switched concentrations and afterward developed publishing, presentation, and course design projects with these same neighbors. When I help lead collaborative mentoring sessions beyond graduate school, my colleagues and I prioritize conversation and open curiosity about one another’s innovative teaching strategies. Subsequently, not only am I given occasion to share my own work with others, but I am also able to develop my own pedagogy within this framework of neighborly reciprocity.
These instances of “becoming” have shaped the trajectories of my career. If we (faculty, graduate students, mentors, mentees) attune our mentoring practices to inhabit neighborliness and becoming, we will continue learning and growing through this collaborative process, developing our scholarly, pedagogical, and administrative potential beyond what we could have achieved or even dreamed singularly.
Matthew Sansbury—Mentoring is a Wellspring of Hope
Throughout my academic experiences, mentors have helped in person and across texts, often echoing one another while offering professional hospitality. Wendy Bishop is one of those voices because her work helps me enact sustainable practices for rhetorical feminism. “My students teach me. The ideas they give me help,” she says, providing an example of intergenerational mentoring that flips the traditional power dynamic (Starkey et al. 104). Bishop’s work has mentored me to find the pleasure in writing and to challenge undemocratic power structures since graduate school, and I continue this tradition today with my own mentees. In my cultural rhetorics courses, for example, we deploy multiculturalism as a lens to share our embodied experiences, ultimately challenging stereotypes and biases through engaged writing.
During these trying times of conflicting crises, Bishop’s approach to writing pedagogy and administration is sustenance. In “‘Take Risks Yourself’: An Interview with Wendy Bishop and Gerald Locklin,” Bishop argues that “you’ve got to set up the classroom to be a place where students are encouraged to take risks. Write with your students. Take risks yourself … That’s what I learned from teaching composition: a lot of different ways to think about how to create the pleasure in writing” (Starkey et al. 106). My mentors modeled these notions as well, so I adopted a pedagogy of compassion, working alongside students to take risks and seek joy through writing. This style of intergenerational mentoring extends into this very text—wherein I write with a mentor whose hospitable pedagogy once reified these ideas of writing with and learning from students.
As a feminist writer, teacher-researcher, and administrator, I seek to answer Bishop’s call: “Studying power structures made me think that maybe things can be changed … I believe the system should be more democratic, more supportive” (Starkey et al. 109). Despite an ever-uncertain future, I look to Bishop’s work, remembering to cherish writing while working to change the system: I dare to hope.
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—. “On Teaching with Technology.” Interviewed by Sonja Bagby, Kairos, vol. 7, no. 3, 2002. kairos.technorhetoric.net/7.3/binder.html?interviews/wbtitle.htm
—. Something Old, Something New: College Writing Teachers and Classroom Change. Southern Illinois University Press, 1990.
—. “Students’ Stories and the Variable Gaze of Composition Research.” Writing Ourselves into the Story: Unheard Voices from Composition Studies, edited by Sheryl Fontaine and Susan Hunter, Southern Illinois UP, pp. 197-214.
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Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Generation(al) Matters: Story, Lens, and Tone.” Composition Studies, vol. 50, no. 1, 2022, pp. 106–126.
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Starkey, David, Wendy Bishop, and Gerald Locklin. “‘Take Risks Yourself’: An Interview with Wendy Bishop and Gerald Locklin.” Writing on the Edge, vol. 7, no. 1, 1996, pp. 100–110.
Vanderslice, Stephanie. “’There’s An Essay In That’: Wendy Bishop and the Origins of Our Field.” Journal of Creative Writing Studies, vol. 1, nos. 1-2, 2016, pp. 1-5.