Late yesterday, we received the shocking news that Kate (Katharine J.) Ronald passed away. Whether you are a former student or colleague of Kate’s at Miami U of Ohio or the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, or whether you enjoyed her grand and generous mentoring in other ways, we invite you to pay tribute with us to a woman whose absence will be keenly felt but whose work will continue to forward our field. As former Roger and Joyce L. Howe Professor of English, and former Director of the Howe Writing Initiative at Miami of Ohio, Kate married her interests in rhetorical history with WAC and critical thinking in meaningful ways. She was co-editor with Joy Ritchie of Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetorics and Teaching Rhetorica: Theory, Pedagogy, Practice. With Hepzibah Roskelly, she co-edited Farther Along: Transforming Dichotomies in Rhetoric and Composition and co-authored Reason to Believe: Romanticism, Pragmatism, and the Teaching of Writing. She also contributed dozens of articles and book chapters that helped raised the profile of women’s historical and theoretical contributions to rhetorical studies and to pragmatics. For years she was a regular feature at the biennial Feminisms and Rhetorics (FemRhet) conference, making her rounds between panels to offer emerging scholars her immense support, often building their confidence at moments when they needed it the most. At the 2011 FemRhet conference at Minnesota State University, she keynoted with Rebecca Dingo and Eileen Schell, deferring in her characteristically humble way to the other scholars for their work in transnational feminist studies.
Kate modeled a feminist ethic through how she produced her scholarship—collaboratively and generously—and what she produced—texts that valued equally theory and practice. She’s likely best known for Reason to Believe and the foundational Available Means, the best-selling book in the U of Pittsburgh Press’ Series Composition, Literacy, and Culture. Her scholarship also shows her gifts and skills as a teacher and mentor. The peer mentorship and respect Kate modeled is palpable in Lisa Shaver’s Peitho piece, “The Making of Available Means,” as Kate and Joy discuss their professional alliance and deep friendship that sparked the anthology and the sinew between the creation and teaching of the text. Kate did no less than help shape our field, and she did so in ways both charismatic and unassuming. No wonder she will be sorely missed, and how grateful we are for all she shared with us.
We invite all who knew Kate to share their memories and tributes by commenting on this blog post. We begin with a tribute from Charlotte Hogg, Coalition Advisory Board member and co-editor of the recently published Persuasive Acts (U of Pittsburgh P, 2020), an anthology that builds on the foundation Kate helped to lay in Available Means.
Tribute to Kate Ronald by Charlotte Hogg
When I was an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I took Advanced Composition from Kate Ronald, who insisted we call her Kate. I still recall so much from this class, in particular how this riveting teacher put our writing front and center and insisted we do the same. I remember her talking about how she would read while blow-drying her curly hair—sharing productivity pro-tips years before it was the thing to do. To this day I use an adaptation of an assignment she had in that class. Even then, before I knew that rhet/comp was a field, I knew I wanted to be like her. I visited her office wondering what to do with my life; she told me about the field of rhetoric and composition, made a list of programs for me to apply to (this was before one could look them up online), and I did exactly as she advised. We didn’t really keep in contact over the years except for a few serendipitous occasions, and yet she continued to be a touchstone along my career. She happened to be on my panel at my first national conference (the inaugural Feminisms and Rhetorics in 1997). When drafting an article, I found just what I needed in one of her lesser-known pieces. My admiration culminated in co-editing (with Shari Stenberg) Persuasive Acts, a follow up to Available Means, and dedicating the text to Kate and Joy Ritchie. When I would run into Kate at a conference, I was reminded how she modeled what to me is the perfect academic: unpretentious but whip smart, generous with guidance without taking over, and witty as hell. She’ll remain unmatched in these qualities but still made me—and I’m sure countless others—strive to achieve them ourselves, which is what made her such an exemplar.