Dialoguing with Wendy

I don’t remember how I first learned of Wendy Bishop’s death in 2003, whether it was “star[ing] blankly at [a] computer [screen] or s[itting] silently with a phone pressed to [my ear] at the news,” as Melissa Goldthwaite writes her in essay here. But like Melissa, I, too, was “speechless.” When Susan Hunter, the editor of one of Wendy’s favorite journals, Dialogue, asked me the following year to guest edit what was supposed to be the final issue in tribute to Wendy, I readily agreed. I had known Wendy since 1990, and as I moved through my own academic career, I always felt Wendy as a friendly presence. Even as I grappled with the vicissitudes of the academic landscape, particularly in the borderlands of English Studies, especially as a “writer-teacher-writer,” I always felt at home with Wendy and her work. It wasn’t that I always agreed with what she said or did, but much of the time, I found her articulating thoughts, ideas, feelings, and stories that affirmed what I was experiencing yet not quite formulating in the precise, penetrating, and personal, yet scholarly ways that she did.

When Melissa invited me to collaborate with her to propose this tribute to Wendy for Peitho, I knew I had to agree.  I had unfinished business with Wendy; the Dialogue issue never appeared, for circumstances beyond my control.  But also, twelve years later, I went through my own cancer experience—breast cancer—and kept marking the years I’d survived beyond Wendy. I knew I would never be productive in the same ways as she was. In a way, I didn’t want to be if it meant my life might be shortened by what Melissa and Wendy so aptly describe in their collaborative essay:

We worry as that old feeling comes upon us, that we are co-existing in an academic climate that encourages the heroic, the martyr-like, the materially-focused, the multi-tasking career arc. We worry about the possible slips between the cup and the lip. How do we advise others on ways to make a nest—find a horizontal safe house—within the vertical hierarchy of the institution? (168)

Now, twenty years later, as I reread some of Wendy’s essays and poems, we academics, we human beings, are now in a much different moment, different in so many, many ways. Back then, we had the luxury of assuming institutions of higher ed would survive, however imperfectly. We had the shield of ignorance to assume that global warming was far off, nothing that would impact us any time soon. We had the hubris to believe that in teaching students to care about writing, and to write in ways that would open doors to diversity, equity, and inclusion, that change would happen, slowly, yes, gradually, too, but ultimately would succeed through generational shifts in values, practices, and visions of what is possible.  Those conversations were not about survival: will our profession, our institutions, our students, ourselves, our planet survive?

I am myself also in a much different moment.  I retired from teaching in 2022, or, as I prefer to say, left teaching to write full time.  In revisiting Wendy’s work on teaching, writing, mentoring, researching, and administering, I wonder if being “just a writer” as opposed to a “writer-teacher-writer” leaves me now more observer than participant with Wendy’s work, more connecting to those practices of writing as performed outside the academy, outside of teaching and mentoring, than trying to figure out best practices for navigating within. In the essay below, I am revisiting a dialogue I constructed with and about Wendy Bishop upon her passing in 2003. At the end of that essay, my present-time self returns to dialogue with that dialogue and with myself from 20 years ago about Wendy and her work. I do so in the spirit of bringing this retrospective forward, into the now we currently inhabit, making the walls (boundaries) of that moment tangible again and in doing so, helping us find each other through the fragments they engendered.

*  *  *

Dialogue essay 2004-2006

Friday, December 31, 2004 6:16 p.m.

Dear Wendy,

I’m still thinking about your passing more than a year after the fact. I keep coming back to this: I’m a little mad at you. I wrote that in the notes I took after listening to your radio interview with Peggy O’Neill the other day. You had been a visiting writer at Loyola College in Maryland; I was glad to know you had been invited as a writer—a poet and essayist—to do workshops. It made me wish I’d extended that kind of invitation to you.

I know when people die that sometimes my first reaction is to get a little mad at them for dying.  I’m sure that’s part of my reaction here. Yet for some reason I think you were starved for poetry.  In the interview, you read your poem, “Gardenias,” from your book Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Poem and described the excesses of desire. I remember you were very strict with yourself about such indulgences, poetry being one of them. It had its place, but it never took over your life, not like it did for Dylan Thomas, for instance. I always admired you for not letting yourself get consumed in being The Poet as a singular identity. Poetry traveled with you everywhere, but you took it to so many places where it was so clearly Other that it never became just one thing, just one identity. Instead, it was so much a part of everything you did, all your life. At the same time, I sensed something was missing in your life, although you never spoke nor wrote of it.

Maybe I’m just a little mad because I believe, rightly or wrongly, that a part of you was not nourished somehow, and that had to do with the choices you made, the pace you kept, the insistence on connection, the shyness and solitude never indulged. Maybe I just want to know what nourished you through the struggles. Maybe I want to know that you did indulge. I remember your shyness because I could relate to it; I can picture your solitude even in the midst of a crowded convention ballroom. Maybe I’m really more than a little mad that no one ever published a full-length book of your poems during your lifetime.


Mary Ann

*  *  *

Wendy Bishop’s professional work in rhetoric and composition, writing pedagogy, creative writing, and writing program administration always seemed to me about possibilities, about ever-expanding horizons of textual encounters, new dimensions of pedagogical contact, new identities being forged. With those possibilities came the underlying story of ease, joy, and wonder, as well as commitment, practice, and focus.  But I don’t remember ever coming away with a sense of struggle, labor, conflict, or even pain, at least in her writing. That came in conversations, and now, as I read some of her poetry, through her poetic voice. Memory is funny that way; I know she wrote plenty about the struggles in her WPA work; in fact I recall reading such an article in Composition Studies back when I was a WPA right out of graduate school. Yet she used dance as a metaphor for the work of administration. I remember when her colleague, Ruth Mirtz, who took over as WPA when Wendy left that position at Florida State, was denied tenure, and how she wrote of the pain of that. But I don’t remember feeling the pain in her writing, just in her conversations. She wrote about the struggles, but I remember the dance.

I was lucky to have a few conversations with her: one or two long and leisurely, post-workshop pub talks with a group of us; one in the gloom of the U.S. Grant hotel bar in San Diego during MLA; but more of them in the vein of how she recounted her own conference encounters—fast, fleet, penetrating words exchanged on elevators, in passing in a ballroom pre- or post-session, or a wave from across escalators going in opposite directions. Like the hummingbird Melissa Goldthwaite recalls in her essay here, or the bird in and out of Bede’s meadhall that Wendy herself recalls in her 2001 CCCC chair’s address, Wendy moved quickly, lightly, but also, as Melissa says, fiercely and tenderly. I felt better hearing and reading about her struggles (me, too!), but I remembered more the possibilities of the dance.


New Year’s Eve, 2004. I’m sitting in front of the computer, my beagle, Barney (a female), lying curled on my lap. She is settled in, won’t let me get up without some very unhappy looks. I remember today’s horoscope in the newspaper about a woman who will be prominent in my life today. I want to go upstairs to retrieve the exact words, but Barney is determined to keep me here. She lays her chin on my arm as I type. I know this arrangement cannot last long—we’ve been here before—but I try to keep going and not shift around too much. Petting her, waiting for words to come, I conjure Wendy, think of her strong spirit, how much I loved her friendly insistence on making these connections, building these bridges, even when the territories “over there” seemed at times so hostile. I remember Wendy including her whole life in her writing—even the dog with which she ran three miles most every day. 

When Barney wants food, very little I can say or do will dissuade her. Was connecting Wendy’s “food”?

Barney is not content until I sit back, away from the keyboard, and stop typing and shifting my legs. So I sit.


Saturday, May 06, 2006 5:17 PM

Dear Wendy,

Twenty months after I started my introduction to the Dialogue issue dedicated to you, I return to it now, worried that it will be more about me than about you. And yet I also know you would challenge such either/or, categorical thinking and perhaps even praise me for writing in “crots,” mixing genres, voices, and styles in an attempt to capture the heteroglossic combustion of the writing-teaching-writing experience.

Amy Hodges Hamilton writes about visiting you at home while you underwent chemotherapy. Even three weeks before your death, you continued to direct Amy’s dissertation. The images of you as always connected, always available, always the teacher and friend and collaborator, haunt me as much as inspire me. Melissa Goldthwaite quotes you as saying, “I think of myself as always desperate for connection,” and I wonder what fueled that desperation and why it scares me to even think about why you, of all people, would ever feel desperate when all you ever did was connect and connect and connect?


Mary Ann


Wendy aimed to make visible the invisible workings of writing to those within and beyond the college classroom; she was interested in bridging audiences to include those on the outside. But as with any such struggle came fatigue and doubts. In her chair’s address at the 2001 CCCC, she acknowledged her own and others’ “burnout” and questioned her own state of being: “Since I too regularly feel crisp around the edges, I start to consider whether or not I am maturing into a generational cliché myself, less counter, original, spare, and strange, more slow, sour, or dim. Myself, but different” (329).

Yet reading her work, it is hard to imagine Wendy ever burning out. If anything, she was a kind of magician or alchemist. And the mixtures were for many of us a heady brew. We could be more than the sum of our parts, as she wrote to Melissa Goldthwaite: “M+W squared.” She brought together roles, positions, identities, and disciplines in energizing, even liberating ways. But her work was much bigger, more generous, certainly deeper than mere professional life could contain. She wrote about the pain, yes, even the pain of the cancer that finally took her. But I remember more the largeness of her, the mystery surrounding the light her life provided to those like me who refused to accept writing, writing about writing, and teaching as somehow lesser acts in the academic/cultural hierarchy. It was not difficult to believe that her light would never burn out.

Wendy was a great mentor because of the balance she struck in embracing such diverse and sometimes divergent aspects of herself and her work. And certainly Wendy did pave the way for so many of us to do just that, to aim for balance rather than shutting down or denying the parts of ourselves that did not fit the academic mold. But perhaps even more importantly, she insisted on bringing us to the borderlands of our knowledge. With Wendy, there was no center, only the border at the center of all she cared about and fought for, against difficult and often frustrating odds.

As someone who has followed Wendy’s exploratory, radically revising example, I find that the borderlands are perhaps the most challenging location to situate oneself—as teacher, writer, scholar. It is a place of unknowing rather than certainty, exploration rather than proven mastery, untested potential rather than certified accomplishment. Even after 20 years, I feel nervous excitement when I teach, especially when I know I’ve situated myself, along with the students, in the borderlands of what we know, say, and do.

Still, it is easy to forget that the borderlands are more than a metaphor and that real lives are at stake. Wendy insisted on bringing us to those borderlands, and also those of forest, night, and wild, of the interpenetration and interanimation that language gifts us. She showed us how to find ways to approach those borderlands and those who work within them in order to radically revise our vision of ourselves and of those Others upon whose labor we depend.

Wendy valued the labor of writing and of teaching for what it was—exhausting, exhilarating, necessary, vital, and just plain good work. William Stafford, speaking of his ditch-digging days, lauded the repetition, the over-the-shoulder glance at the sky, the moments of being totally in the moment with his own movements, with the earth, and with everything around him. Like Stafford, Wendy did not romanticize the labors of teaching writing, but neither did she condescend to them. It was simply good work. She argued and at the same time simply offered herself as the example that it was valuable and should be valued for what it was: “It takes encouragement and courage to find a clear passage to the safe harbor of affirming oneself as a teacher within an institution that valorizes almost every other role first” (“Places to Stand” 13). Wendy modeled how to find that clear passage for so many of us, and in doing so created passage for others to follow as well.


Yesterday, as I finally sat down again to write this introduction, 20 months to the day since I first began “the Wendy issue,” I watched as my beagle, Barney, took her usual place on the sofa downstairs in my office. This time she did not interrupt me to seek the warmth of my lap, despite the fact that my basement office is colder in May than September. Even though it was dinner time, she did not come to my desk and, with her strong right paw, scratch the filing cabinets in persistent circles. Maybe she was content that earlier that day I had taken her for a walk around Foster Park. Unlike many dogs, she is not a walker; she stops and sniffs every last thing around her. But that morning she stared at me with such intent while I laced my walking shoes that I knew she wanted to join me. It took us almost twice as long as my “normal” pace to circumvent the park, and I had to keep my eyes tight on Barney, not the explosion of lilacs, tulips, and crabapples flowering our path, just to keep her going. At the end of the walk, I lifted her in my arms to smell the three different kinds of lilacs that line the bikeway to the park, because the day was too beautiful not to. For once, I did not resist Barney as she led me to the borderlands of my assumptions about a “productive” day and radically revised my vision to include attending to my dog’s insatiable nose and proud and steady trot in between fits of sniffing. Perhaps like Wendy, I, too, am just as desperate for connection.


Sunday, May 07, 2006 3:02 PM

Dear Wendy,

What is it about our profession that makes us so lonely, so “desperate for connection” that we will ignore the imperatives of authorities, the warning signs, the threats of physical, psychological, material, and emotional harm and press on, “against the odds,” to make and sustain our relationships? What if teachers, especially teachers of writing, were really valued in the ways that you hoped for, struggled for, and ended your life still working for? What if we, as a country, valued the ditch digger and the sugar cane field worker, the teachers of writing working in obscurity? What if we brought the shadow populations out into the light of respect and gratitude? Would our desperation disappear, and if so, what would we be left with? What would it be like to feel satisfaction without wearing ourselves down against the frustration and pain of teaching always in the shadows, in the service of certain notions of mastery? What stories and poems and dialogues and essays could we write to help us imagine such a world, and also help us “find a clear passage to [that] safe harbor” of connection and relationship, of the community so often written and spoken about but so little understood, let alone manifested in sustainable ways, within and outside the classroom?”

Your death puts me into another borderland, another location that insists on exploration, uncertainty, and risk. What am I willing to give up, change, take upon myself to radically revise my vision of myself and of Others, but also to change the borders themselves so that all may find their true value?

I don’t know the answer to that last question, but I do know that I am not the only one who wants and values the connection and the work, who wants “balance” and connection (“dialogue”) but also, paradoxically, the unbalancing borderland to be at the center of all we do.


Mary Ann


Wendy’s concept of “radical revision” (employed in this cluster conversation by Amy Hodges Hamilton, Micaela Cuellar, and Meg Scott-Copses) helps me in this moment of re-visioning my self from 20 years ago, along with my understanding of Wendy’s work. In “Places to Stand,” Wendy writes,

The goal then is not to toss out the unified text with the academic bath water, but to offer options. To explore for ourselves, and to allow our students to do so also, how a deeper understanding of the connections between thought, words, and life may occur when we re-read our own writing. To do that, of course, we must write. (17)

In this act of rereading my writing, I find myself radically revising my writer-teacher-writer identity now that I am “outside” the institution where this identity primarily existed. I am writing to discover a “deeper understanding” of that “unified text”—in this case, the text of my academic identity and of academia itself—in this moment of radical change and upheaval for those in the humanities and liberal arts.  In this radical revision, I lean into the forms and genres that Wendy led me to 20 years ago—the crots, the genre mixing of personal, academic, and narrative writing—to re-vision the writer-teacher-writer who no longer teaches in the classroom: “Because styles, genres, and syntax seem to both prompt and predict thought, I need to think in and through them all” (17).

What this rereading prompts me to understand is what Wendy was demonstrating and advocating for all along, namely that to create spaces for students and ourselves to learn, we need to create spaces of learning that go beyond the prescribed identities we are presented with. We need to understand our work as not simply one identity or another, one genre or another, but (as I wrote 20 years ago, quoting Wendy) as something that helps us “‘find a clear passage to [that] safe harbor’ of connection and relationship, of the community so often written and spoken about but so little understood, let alone manifested in sustainable ways, within and outside the classroom.”

I reread myself as not “outsider” or “insider” but as a learner who still learns through language, thoughts, and writing. Stories are an important container through which those elements necessary to relational work like mentoring are carried forward. I radically revise my “outside” location as one that helps me understand and experience the intimacy that language and writing make possible, an intimacy that teaches me new understandings of how writing enables new ways of knowing and being by creating the relational webs through which all else is made possible. I understand “intimacy” as coming from a practice of deep observation and attention to others in relationships of mutuality, respect, and cooperation. Being released from the urgency to “produce,” to “publish or perish,” and to give more and more of myself to students, colleagues, and the institution, places me in a different mindset, a different sense of time, one that allows me to open up to what I might have overlooked before in my rush to produce. I don’t simply know how much words matter; I feel words more as an experience. And it’s stories that best carry that experience.

In All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake, Tiya Miles painstakingly unravels the story of a simple cloth sack that was passed down from an enslaved woman, Rose, to her daughter, Ashley, after Ashley was sold to another slave owner. The sack contained the few objects that Rose could muster to sustain her: a “tattered dress 3 handfulls of /pecans a braid of Roses hair” (Miles 5). Decades later, Ashley’s granddaughter, Ruth, embroidered the contents of Ashley’s sack in colored threads that told the brief but potent story of her grandmother’s experience.

As Tila Miles demonstrates, the sack is a container that, like stories, carries a transformational power, “mark[ing] a spot in our national story where great wrongs were committed, deep sufferings were felt, love was sustained against all odds, and a vision of survival for future generations persisted” (274). In this “radical vision of Black persistence,” Rose’s fear was turned into love and a commitment to “fight for life”—her own and that of generations to come (274). The sack is a container that carries not only physical sustenance but emotional and spiritual resilience in the face of unfathomable injustice and suffering.  In her deep dive into Ashley’s sack, Tila Miles demonstrates what otherwise would go unnoticed and unvalued in this weaving of identity, culture, and legacy across generations of African American women, namely the power of the ordinary object to sustain life across generations in the face of impossible circumstances.

The story of Ashley’s sack returns me to the power and possibilities that stories offer as a container for radically revising our relationships within and beyond the academy, and by doing so, radically revising the academy itself. As I radically revise this “insider/outsider” binary I confront now as “just a writer,” I come to understand how much Wendy and her emphasis on narrative has prepared me for this moment of shifting ground. It’s not about either telling stories and fostering the relational threads of intimate understandings of self and other or doing the “hard” work of analysis, argument, research, and evidence. Instead, it’s about appreciating what narratives, like everyday objects such as Ashley’s sack, provide in terms of sustenance. In short, stories don’t just support us; we can’t, literally and figuratively, live without them.

And now in this moment, when academia faces its greatest challenges and threats, we need stories more than ever. We need the kinds of relational work—collaboration, teaching, mentoring—that Wendy valued and argued for, work made possible by writing, teaching writing, and studying both. If we carry the sack of our stories forward, “we cannot forget its layered lessons” (274), which we need to sustain us in the face of overwhelming force and potential domination and suppression. The world has always been there; it’s just that academia’s inward-looking demands made that less apparent.  And now the world has come blasting into academia’s view. In some ways, it’s been positive in terms of fostering inclusion. But in this moment of radical revision, much of the change being forced from without has been hugely negative. Such negative “revisions” are, at least in part, the consequence of academia’s hubris in positioning itself above the fray, including the relational work of language, writing, and the teaching and research of writing that continues to be devalued as too basic or remedial or just plain ordinary, like a sack. As I radically revise myself as “just a writer” in relation to the academy, I also start to radically revise my vision of the academy itself. And in this, I see how much Wendy’s work has prepared me for this moment.


Twenty years is just a number, as the saying goes, until you get up close and consider what all has happened.  In my radical revision of self and other, I see twenty years in dog years, i.e. the three beagles I’ve lived with. Like Ashley’s sack, my beagles are the containers that sustain me and carry forward memories of sustenance, love, and a commitment to carry on. First Barney, who entered my narrative 20 years ago. Then Bootsie, who came five years later. And now, as of one year ago, Blaisie, our newest.  Just as Barney, in my previous narrative, kept reminding me of the world and all its different movements of time, attention, and stillness, Blaisie continues to complicate my identity as not simply in the world as a human being but also as part of the natural world—a world I experience now as both breathtakingly beautiful and frighteningly under siege with climate change. Each beagle marks a different season of life: Barney saw the beginning of a settled home life and job; Bootsie ushered me through the middle years of health and other personal challenges, including breast cancer and losing a second home to a climate-change-fueled wildfire; and Blaisie arrived just as my husband and I shifted to being writers, “just” writers, after decades in academia.

As I write from this house rebuilt in 2013 after the fire, with Blaisie now a year old, I think of Wendy and her black dog running on the beach, her hummingbirds at the feeder, and how she merged identities with them, and the beach house where she, too, considered storms and destruction but also the sea turtles making it all worthwhile. I think of how radical revision requires destruction as well as creation. Living in close relationship to anyone or anything, one must learn to relate to both.

 Still very much a (sometimes destructive) puppy, Blaisie demands the kind of intimacy that has marked this shift into a new awareness of language and stillness; she carries the storms that make the deeper understandings possible.  Such storms are extraordinary teachers, offering lessons of intimacy that are gifted through close attention, stillness, and then language, writing, reading, and reflection.  And in this exchange I find, along with Wendy, a measure of hope even as so much else tells me otherwise. When we radically revise our identities to be in dialogue with the Other, new worlds, new possibilities, new understandings appear.

As my Other, Blaisie challenges me with her playful insistence that I pay close attention or else destruction may ensue.  And it always does. Because I know now, after 28 years of life with beagles, how fleeting their puppyhood is; because I have the privilege to stop what I’m doing to pay attention without feeling the crunch of time slipping away and other, more urgent tasks, going unattended; because I am, perhaps, also a bit wiser about how to address her destructiveness, I radically revise my self as less concerned about maintaining an order and control I assume is necessary and more concerned about engaging the destruction she presents on its own terms. To this end, I silently sprinkle cayenne pepper where she is chewing and biting: her bed, the furniture, the carpets, sometimes even the light sockets (though thankfully, this last one is rare). The pepper lets her environment give her feedback instead of me having to correct her.  As a writer, I gain more respect for the destructive aspects of my own composing processes, now untethered from an order I assumed I had to follow to survive within the boundaries of the academy.  

Twenty years is, through the eyes of puppy Blaise, an unfathomable amount of time.  Twenty years since Wendy left this world, and an entirely different world has arrived.  In another 20 years, there will be yet another world, unfathomable even as the hopes and fears, the dire warnings and ongoing catastrophes point towards anything but peace, stability, and freedom. In this moment that Wendy didn’t know but in a way anticipated, I hitch my wagon to language, learning, writing, and the relationships these foster. We can still become something else, something different, something we never could have otherwise imagined.   

Works Cited

Bishop, Wendy. “Against the Odds in Composition and Rhetoric.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 53, no. 2, 2001, 322-335.

—–. “Places to Stand: The Reflective Writer-Teacher-Writer in Composition.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 51, no. 1, 1999, 9-31.

Bishop, Wendy, and Melissa Goldthwaite. “Is Your Cup Half Empty or Half Full? On Seeking Fullness in Academic Places.” Teaching, Research, and Service in the Twenty-First Century English Department edited by Joe Marshall Hardin and Ray Wallace, Edwin Mellen P, 2004, pp. 167-181.

Miles, Tila. All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake. Random House, 2022.


“Our correspondences have wings—paper birds that fly from my house to yours—flocks of ideas crisscrossing the country. . . . [A] connection is made. We are not alone in the world.”  —Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge

a stack of correspondence: at the top, a card with a photo of an austere, dingy gray against a cloudy gray sky, with a bright yellow addressed envelope underneath. Also visible is another white envelope and, at the bottom of the stack, a typed letter with handwritten additions.

a stack of correspondence: at the top, a card with a photo of an austere, dingy gray against a cloudy gray sky, with a bright yellow addressed envelope underneath. Also visible is another white envelope and, at the bottom of the stack, a typed letter with handwritten additions.

One of my clearest memories of Wendy Bishop is her standing on a chair outside her beach house at Alligator Point in Florida one hot July afternoon in 2000. I was standing on the sand below, reaching up to hand her the hummingbird feeder she needed to hang. That day, she was all sun and smiles, welcoming the birds. I remember looking up to her, shading the sun from my eyes, smiling.

Will Baker, in a memorial after Wendy’s death, captured her personality when he wrote, “Wendy was half hummingbird. Quick. Sharp. Light. Intense. Charged with sweetness, and a subtle thrum in every move” (5). She became what she loved, a symbol of life and renewal.

Her correspondences certainly had wings. Rarely, they were paper; most often, she sent emails—faster than hummingbirds but just as welcome. A flash on the screen, a connection made.

In one of its meanings, correspondence is to agree, in another, to communicate. In both meanings, correspondence implies connection. Wendy Bishop wrote to connect, often following a pattern of invitation-response-invitation to respond in her process of writing both personal correspondence and the poems, essays, stories, and articles she published.

She modeled a practice of writing, teaching, and working in the context of relationships, relationships based not on status but on mutual care and interest. She established relationships with her students through writing and revising with them, quoting them in her work, and caring about their professional, personal, and intellectual development. She did the same with colleagues across the country, both longtime friends and those who were newer to the field of composition (many trained, like Wendy, in both creative writing and composition) and saw in her a model for how those who care passionately about writing, teaching, and teaching writing could do what they love.

In creating these mutually beneficial relationships through writing with and for others, Wendy found in both students and colleagues hope for the future of composition studies, a field that didn’t always understand or value what she so cared about. Through her invitational ethos, she not only created an opening for other like-minded people to join active—though not always friendly—conversations in the field of rhetoric and composition, but also made the field a friendlier place for the kind of work she loved.

Seeking and Finding Connection through Collaboration

In July of 2000, hours before we drove from her home in Tallahassee to her beach house and several years before her book On Writing: A Process Reader was published, Wendy told me about the initial reviews that claimed she was presenting a solitary writer’s view. She was perplexed, explaining, “I don’t think of myself as a solitary writer. . . . Internal and private and quiet, but I don’t think of it as solitary. I think of myself as always desperate for connection” (Bishop interview). I saw that desire in her eyes and heard it in the quick, low intensity of her voice.

That desire for connection fueled much of Wendy’s writing—as well as the relationships she developed and nurtured through writing, especially email. For me, that relationship lasted eight years. For others, I know, it was much longer. For most, the correspondence was connection and the comforting knowledge that we were not alone in the field of composition studies, in our desire to write both creatively and academically, in our teaching practices, in our personal or professional lives, no matter how internal, private, and quiet many of us are or were.

On that same July day, eight months before she was to give her CCCC chair’s address, I asked Wendy what she’d like to do for it. Grinning, she told me she wanted to do a version of Sesame Street’s “Here is Your Life.” “Toaster: this is your life,” she said with a laugh and then went on to talk about how she wanted her children and all of her friends whose work and teaching had influenced her to join her on stage. I could picture it: blue-suited Guy Smiley with his oval, yellow face and triangle nose leading Wendy’s children, Morgan and Tait, and her husband, Dean, to the stage. Numerous students, teachers, editors, friends, co-authors, and collaborators would follow: huddled, herded, and half-embarrassed/half-amused. They would all tell stories, and she would be there to hear those stories. It wouldn’t matter that she’d be embarrassed by the attention; she’d know she wasn’t alone.

And she would show others that they, too, were not alone, that writing is anything but solitary.

Even a quick glance at Wendy’s published work shows how she valued collaboration. Nearly half of her more than twenty books are co-edited or co-authored, and even when she wrote single-authored texts, Wendy was always reaching out, asking for ideas, feedback, contributions. Every now and then, I’d receive a group email with a subject line such as, “friends, if time,” asking for reflections on something she wanted to write about. She’d use the quotations from friends as chapter openings, jumping off points, entries into a conversation. Months or even years later, that same group of friends would receive an email file, showing what she did with those initial thoughts, and still later, we’d receive a copy of the book.

Other times, the invitations came through individual emails. When Wendy was working on Thirteen Ways of Looking for a Poem, she wrote, asking if I had written a ghazal or pantoum she could include alongside the already published poems. At the time, I had nothing to offer but liked the thought of her including her own and her friends’ and students’ poems, a risky move that sometimes made reviewers uncomfortable, but a democratizing move from which teachers and students often learned about writing as a process.

Five months into my first (and as of twenty-some years later, only) tenure-track job, Wendy emailed with an invitation to write together. She wrote,

i had been thinking about you these last few weeks, wondering if you’d ever care to try to write something together, now or later down the line—i know your new job is keeping you busy and i know co-authoring takes new learning and doesn’t always pay off in depts. in pre-tenure years. i had a request to write a chapter for something i don’t know if i even have an idea to say anything about. i’m afraid i may be at a pause, mid-years, mid-passage state myself but i also don’t know if it’s just this stunning fall 01-spring 02 season which is not like any i recall. i’ll forward the call for chapters and see what you think. (Re: [no subject])

The call for papers asked for proposals related to balancing teaching, scholarship, and service in contemporary colleges, specifically English departments. So new to my job, I wasn’t sure I had anything to say either, but I welcomed the opportunity to write together.

Both Wendy and I found collaboration generative. Each day for weeks, we’d send long emails back and forth, each reflecting on the ways we sought to integrate teaching, scholarship, and service. Early in the process, Wendy pronounced me “cup half full” and herself “cup half empty,” yet despite inevitable frustrations in careers, departments, universities, life, I never saw Wendy as pessimistic. Over the eight years of our friendship, she often asked in differing contexts whether I was optimistic about the future of composition. Always, I said “yes,” and always that sense of optimism was, in large part, because of Wendy. It was her work, her presence, that made me hopeful.

Writing together seemed to make Wendy more optimistic as well. Early in our work on the essay, she wrote about the process: “and the love of the writing means we don’t care—we write it anyway if it works for the collection or not. which is another difference, point—the liking to co-author for a particular sort of conversation that can only be done with print words and word play but actually has always been what enables the bit of conversation i’m capable of” (Re: Searching for cups). We sent poems, quotations, and stories, cutting and pasting each other’s words into multiple, messy drafts. We left spaces between paragraphs, inviting each other into and to extend the conversation.

Early in the writing process, Wendy ended an email with “m+w squared” (Re: Pulling things together), gesturing to the ways individuals working together add up to more than just two people’s ideas. We change—become more—in the presence of others. In a later stage, she wrote, “i felt a familiar ‘this will work’ pricking of my scalp in rereading the earlier parts and realizing i wasn’t quite sure sometimes who had written which paragraph/section” (Re: here’s the attachment). For me, and probably Wendy, the collaborative process was just as important as any product, any publication, could be. It provided a space for connection, correspondence. As Wendy reflected, “it’s so pleasant to write with someone who understands writing in a similar way: to this project (and others), w” (Re: An Invitation). I knew that pleasure and looked forward to the projects to come.

Beyond writing essays and a poem for her books, one co-authored essay was the only project we completed together, though Wendy was always coming up with ideas for others. She once wrote, “we should edit a whole collection of hummingbird poetry, nonfiction, fiction, and photos. the hummingbird book” (Re: letters to a young writer). She was, just as Will Baker wrote, “Quick. Sharp. Light. Intense” (5), a welcome, energizing presence.

Seasons, Gifts

Wendy and I corresponded most in the openings between semesters or to celebrate (sometimes mourn) beginnings or endings. In January, she’d write about the Chinese tulip trees and azaleas, while my world was marked by mid-Atlantic snow on spruce branches and dreams of crocuses, early signs of spring. When, in March, Wendy described the scent of crepe myrtle and the sight of high pollen season, chartreuse green coating everything, I told of redbuds and tulips. While she wrote about November dolphins and porpoises at Alligator Point, I talked of the last oak and maple leaves of autumn.

Each December, we’d look forward to time and space to write. In December 2002, as we were finishing our co-authored essay and wrapping up the semester, I told Wendy about the creative nonfiction portfolio a student had delivered to my office, wrapped as a gift in purple ribbon. She responded, “what if we asked them to all wrap these in wrapping paper of choice (would some choose birthday, anniversary, xmas papers?)—or name the person besides ourselves they’d most like to give the portfolio to?” (Re: that is). That she saw student writing as a gift worth giving and worth receiving set Wendy apart from many teachers, especially teachers facing piles that became something to get through rather than something to anticipate or welcome.

Like all teachers, Wendy felt exhaustion and frustration, but those feelings simply prompted more writing. When stuck, angry, or disappointed, she went for a run, wrote a poem, sent an email, or tried to figure something out in an article or essay.

For Christmas that year, I sent Wendy a hummingbird calendar wrapped in handmade paper. In her thank you note, she said she’d use it all year long. That year, 2003, we saw each other only once—shared an hour-long conversation at CCCC and emails about dogs, family, work, and later chemotherapy and radiation. Three months into her treatments, Wendy wrote to say she had six months or so left of chemotherapy. I joked, “You could make a person in that amount of time,” and she wrote back, that’s “the best line i’ve heard on this process so far” (Re: updated bio).

A little over a month later, she was gone.

Hundreds, even thousands I imagine, of us stared blankly at computer screens or sat silently with a phone pressed to our ears at the news. Speechless.

For months after her death, I found myself expecting one more email or wishing to write to her. I realized how often we did correspond. More than the long, descriptive emails to mark the end of the semester or beginning of a season, there were hundreds of short notes about an assignment that did or didn’t work, best wishes for weekend grading, hope for time to write or rest, a poem, a funny or horrifying family story, good news, bad news, an idea, an invitation. “More soon,” I’d close. “l,w,” she’d end.

For months, I spent hours upon hours, re-reading old emails, stunned by the thought that another from Wendy would never flash across the screen. Of all the memories, all the messages, one stands out. In March of 1999, Wendy and I were both reeling from the death of close friends. We’d just returned from CCCC, from the comfort of seeing friends, and I’d borrowed a line from Leslie Marmon Silko’s exchange with James Wright, “I’m glad and relieved you exist.” Wendy reflected on the familiar feeling, writing, “that’s how i felt when i looked up and saw you in the audience as a still, comfortable point of focus and often the same when i’d look across the hotel lobby and see friends i couldn’t quite catch up to but was glad they were there. in fact, a few times I slipped into a corner and just watched. . . .” (Re: finally spring, thinking of redbuds).

The CCCC after her death, many of us, too, slipped into a corner and watched, half-expecting Wendy to round the corner. She’d be rushing to a meeting, maybe a session, but she’d smile, wave, offer a quick hug and be off. She was present, even in her absence.

I felt that presence in January of 2004 when I flew to Florida for her memorial service at Florida State. For days, I walked the beach on the Gulf Coast side, thinking of how much she loved that place, even though she sometimes dreamed of moving back west. I watched labs run on the beach, thinking any one of them could have been hers—Lucy—thinking any one of the joggers could have been Wendy. One April, she wrote to say that the birds were using Lucy’s sheddings for their nests.

She always noticed the birds. In her poem “Mid-passage,” from a chapbook by the same title, Wendy writes about mockingbirds and hoot-owls, the energies of the young: “Outside, / under night’s spotlight, / I admire the bird’s young energies” (34). It was Wendy’s energies I admired: she wrote more, did more, created more, felt more, nurtured more in just over 50 years than most can imagine doing in a longer lifetime.

There are a lifetime of things I wish I had written or said. I wish I had the chance to tell Wendy I used Thirteen Ways of Looking for a Poem in my poetry writing class the spring after her death. Like she would have, I wrote with the students during every class. Most often, my poems were addressed to her. And I finally wrote the pantoum, my first, she had asked for years earlier.

Pantoum for Wendy


I cannot stop wishing you back,

playing your words, your laugh,

over and over. Feet in the sand

at Alligator Point, I look up.


Playing your words, your laugh

in my mind, I see the afternoon sun

at Alligator Point as I look up

to you, hanging the hummingbird feeder.


In my mind, I see the afternoon sun

on your hair, cheeks. I smile

at you, hanging the hummingbird feeder,

spilled nectar pink on Hawaiian print.


Remembering your hair, cheeks, I smile

over and over. Feet in the sand,

spilled nectar pink on Hawaiian print,

I cannot stop wishing you back.


Beyond the change of seasons, poems, teaching or family stories, there was another occasion for correspondence; I’d often meet people at conferences who would tell me that they wouldn’t be teaching today if it were not for Wendy Bishop and her work. I’d write to tell her that. And the hope I find today is the knowledge that a part of Wendy exists in hundreds of teachers and writers who teach and write the way they do in large part because of her.

If I could have wrapped every word I wrote in the year after Wendy’s death, I would have wrapped it in handmade paper composed of leaves, flower petals, and recycled office paper—all the drafts that weren’t quite finished. And, if I could have, I would have given it to Wendy, for most of it was to, for, in memory, somehow because of her and the way we corresponded.

Pause, Mid-Years, Mid-Passage Correspondences

Wendy died twenty years ago. In these two decades, I’ve seen other correspondences between Wendy and myself. I am now a year older than Wendy was when she died. I’m not the only one who has done the math. Doug Hesse does the math in his contribution to this Cluster Conversation: “Wendy was 50 when she died. I was 47, which means that as I write, I’ve now lived 17 years longer.” Last year, I heard from one of Wendy’s co-authors, David Starkey, who wrote, “Now that I’ve outlived her by a decade, she’s starting to feel more like a genius younger sister than an older (genius) mentor” (Re: Trying to find). At 51, I understand the “pause, mid-years, mid-passage state” that I could not have understood when I was 29 or 30. I find myself asking others, like Wendy asked me, “Do you feel optimistic?” But instead of asking about Composition Studies, I’m asking about English Departments, the Humanities, academia.

I’ve returned to the book chapter, “Is Your Cup Half Empty or Half Full? On Seeking Fullness in Academic Places,” Wendy and I wrote more than twenty years ago:

We have found that ‘remembering’ has been instrumental in allowing us to find a  balance in academic life. The process of connecting what we thought (then) with what we think (now) is explained in studies of adult reentry (often women) college students. We believe that what is useful for the adult academic learner is useful for the adult academic—a constant attention to and making of accounts of one’s learning helps to (re)integrate diverse aspects of one’s life. (175)

I have been reintegrating my life, in part, because of another correspondence: like Wendy, I was diagnosed with a blood cancer (leukemia rather than lymphoma), but it did not take my life. It did, however, strip away my ability—for a while—to serve on multiple committees, teach multiple classes, work on multiple books, say yes to multiple requests to conduct manuscript or promotion reviews. As the rogue cells multiplied in me, I had to reevaluate what I could do, what I wanted to do, what gave life (whether there would be minutes or years or decades left) meaning. Years later, I’m still doing that reevaluating.

I go back to that article, to the words Wendy and I wrote:

We worry as that old feeling comes upon us, that we are co-existing in an academic climate that encourages the heroic, the martyr-like, the materially-focused, the multi-tasking career arc. We worry about the possible slips between the cup and the lip. How do we advise others on ways to make a nest—find a horizontal safe house—within the vertical hierarchy of the institution? (Is Your Cup 168)

I think about the nest, the safe house, the ways we offered the advice we needed to take ourselves: “find safe audiences—co-author in order to build nourishing relationships and develop innovative thinking/texts; use e-mail exchanges and tag-team writing to build on and refine each other’s ideas” (180). I still need that advice, still need “self-mentoring as a way of seeing the academy, of learning how to accept what’s there and ask for what’s not in ways that fit one’s own ethos and ethics within an admittedly difficult institutional climate” (177). Do you need that, too?

Here’s what that process of re-integration and of finding correspondences reminds me: writing and teaching writing and writing alongside students still matters to me. It still gives my life purpose and meaning. As I create syllabi for my autumn classes—The Practice of Writing, Creative Nonfiction Workshop, Writing and Reading Animals—I’m building in opportunities to write for and in every class period, scaffolding support for a writing life for myself, for my students. I am returning to the radical revision assignment that Amy Hodges Hamilton and Micaela Cuellar describe in their piece: “a ‘radical revision’ of a previously completed text, where students [are] invited to consider changes in voice/tone, syntax, genre, audience, time, physical layout/typography, or even medium.” The re-seeing through changes in form and genre that they describe feels new and exciting even a more than a quarter of a century after the publication of Bishop’s Elements of Alternate Style: Essays on Writing and Revision.

Making connections with colleagues across the country who share similar values still matters to me. This past April, I attended Cheryl Glenn’s moving and inspiring retirement celebration—a symposium that looked and felt a bit like that Sesame Street spoof Here Is Your Life that Wendy had joked about doing for her CCCC Chair’s Address. Former high school students Cheryl had taught, former graduate students, teachers, family members, co-authors, friends, colleagues from across the country all gathered and gave talks and ate together and told stories and made further connections. In Cheryl’s kitchen, I talked with one of her former graduate students, Heather Brook Adams, about our desire to mentor the way we’d been mentored. My dissertation director, Andrea Lunsford—mentor extraordinaire—was at that gathering, too. In Cheryl’s living room, when I was talking with Kris Ratcliffe and brought up something Wendy had said, poet Robin Becker came over and said, “I heard you mention Wendy Bishop,” and the circle of conversation opened. All these correspondences created an optimism and sense of hope and connection that I hadn’t felt in a while.

Recently, I was consolidating boxes of letters, putting a lifetime of correspondence into larger boxes. A saw a flash of yellow and Wendy’s familiar handwriting, a paper bird migrating back. And then another! The next was a letter Wendy had written on September 11, 2001, a day many of us will never forget, a day on which most of my students now were not yet conceived.

This morning, I pulled Wendy’s posthumously published poetry collection My Last Door from my shelf and found her poem “Where the Hummingbird Sips, There Sip I: An Appreciation,” in which she writes of a hummingbird: “She’s what I want to be” (72). And I see Wendy in her description of the hummingbird:

Her wings long hands

in service of her tongue—

even as she begins,

she’s at top speed,

rising phoenix-like

from another flower-flame. (73)

Wendy Bishop rises in the flower-flames of her words, the writing that sustained her and that—even decades later—continues to inspire and mentor others. In our teaching, our writing, our friendships, may we continue to find correspondences.

Works Cited

Baker, Will. “Remembering Wendy.” Writing on the Edge 14.2 (Spring 2004): 3-20.

Bishop, Wendy. Bishop, Elements of Alternate Style: Essays on Writing and Revision. Boynton/Cook Publishers, 1997.

—. Mid-passage. Nightshade P, 1997.

—. My Last Door. Anhinga P, 2007.

—. Personal Interview. July 2000.

—. “Re: finally spring, thinking of redbuds.” Received by Melissa A. Goldthwaite, 31 March 1999.

—. “Re: here’s the attachment.” Received by Melissa A. Goldthwaite, November 2002.

—. “Re: An Invitation to Propose an Essay for a New Collection.” Received by Melissa A. Goldthwaite, 3 February 2002.

—. “Re: letters to a young writer.” Received by Melissa A. Goldthwaite, 1 June 2002.

—. “Re: [no subject].” Received by Melissa A. Goldthwaite, January 2002.

—. “Re: Pulling things together.” Received by Melissa A. Goldthwaite, 2 March 2002.

—. “Re: Searching for cups.” Received by Melissa A. Goldthwaite, 31 January 2002.

—. “Re: that is.” Received by Melissa A. Goldthwaite, 9 December 2002.

—. “Re: updated bio.” Received by Melissa A. Goldthwaite, October 2003.

Bishop, Wendy, and Melissa Goldthwaite. “Is Your Cup Half Empty or Half Full? On Seeking Fullness in Academic Places.” Teaching, Research, and Service in the Twenty-First Century English Department edited by Joe Marshall Hardin and Ray Wallace, Edwin Mellen P, 2004, pp. 167-181.

Starkey, David. “Re: Trying to get in touch with Dean.” Received by Melissa A. Goldthwaite, 27 October 2022.

Writing With and After Wendy

when it comes down to it, i’m an introvert who loves to/needs to write and finds her community where she can–as in these e-mails, the conferences.

Wendy Bishop to me, “re: catching up,” 4/4/02 7:34 am

I recently skimmed dozens of emails from Wendy Bishop between 1999 and 2002.  Someone had wanted details about the CCCC Public Policy Committee, which she’d asked me to form and chair. I found the information and in the process happily revisited several other conversations: about Wendy’s essay that I published in a College English special issue on creative nonfiction, about a book project with Kathi Yancey and Carrie Leverenz that ultimately was overtaken by Wendy’s cancer, and, most poignantly, about personal lives that included family worries and career doubts. Each email came entirely lower case and signed “cheers,w” or “l,w” as if her writerly torrent couldn’t be hindered by shift keys—or perhaps as if, despite her prolific output, part of her remained careful to leave modest footprints.  In August 2001, for example, our main topic was whether I’d lead an upcoming C’s Executive Committee retreat, but I was worrying about my wife having cancer, and Wendy was worrying about Hurricane Barry:

we have the place we _really_want to be living at on the gulf coast and it will take a few days to get there (45 miles away, dean was evacuated yesterday) and see what’s left of our cinderblock imaginary retirement. but the place on alligator point has been fine for 50 years so i’m sure it’s fine still. hurricanes come with the sea turtles and dolphins and i’d say it’s a fair deal.

i’ll be in touch and give becky my best thoughts. same for you,


Wendy to me, “re: a double p.s.” August 6, 2001, 1:31 pm

I first really got to know Wendy at a picnic in Oxford, Mississippi, July 1994.  The occasion was a joint WPA/ADE summer conference, at an evening social beneath oaks on a mansion’s lawn, with fried chicken and coleslaw served on long white tables.  Libby Rankin invited me to join her, Lad Tobin, and Wendy, people whose work I admired as way out of my own league. I felt lucky. Those three were friends, and I watched their easy banter with envy but was happy to be there as a newcomer warmly welcomed.  This was the second time I’d met Wendy, the first being during a small, late afternoon session at the CCCC Seattle, 1989. Wearing a down vest, she sat near the back wall, offering astute comments during the discussion. I went up afterward to share my appreciation, and I mostly remember her wariness.

When I was program chair for the 1999 WPA conference at Purdue, I invited Wendy to speak. She said she’d need a small stipend to offset childcare costs when she left Tallahassee. Of course. She chose as her title “What Interests Me Is What Interests You: The Writing of WPAs,” had us write during her talk, and sent us off with some prompts.

  1. Write vignettes of all the memorable people you’ve In ten years you’ll have forgotten many of them—savor—them now.
  2. Take off the weight of this world and list the things you have learned: small to large. Practical to theoretical and back again (or aren’t these often intricately intertwined?).
  3. Write a letter back to this conference; tell it what it did and didn’t do for Ask it hard questions. Do a short analysis of what you saw as its main text and subtexts. Put your finger on the pulse and pressure points that you brought along with you, that you felt from others.
  4. Write a piece praising yourself—your work, your sense of what it means to be in your role(s), the spaces the role(s) create in your life that might not otherwise be there for you to
  5. Tally up your Put them down in writing, then take that writing and perform a ceremony for it: let it go, give it up, forgive it (and yourself, and others): put it in a ten-year time capsule, a message in a bottle, bid it (at least temporary) adieu. Now, feel what you feel without these losses. If you could/can forgive yourself, are you more willing to go on?

These invitations exemplify Wendy’s pure belief in the personal value of writing, her utter respect for the craft and those who practiced it. Although the Purdue conference was for administrators, and although Wendy surely was one of us, she insisted that we remember and privilege our identities as writers. The prompts were partly therapeutic, a role I sometimes saw writing as filling for Wendy, though writing for her had the larger purpose of creating, something bigger than repairing or healing.

Those values drove many people to dismiss Wendy as naïvely romantic, even dangerously so. Most infamously, Gary Olson used her as an avatar of ideas threatening “the death of composition as an intellectual discipline.” Olson’s ire focused on Wendy’s 1999 CCC essay “Places to Stand: The Reflective Writer-Teacher-Writer in Composition,” which he cast as seeking to deny the place for theorists, especially social constructionists, within composition studies. Gary made reasonable points about keeping composition a large field, and he interestingly complicated the present dispute as not between social scientists and humanists but, rather, between both of those and a philosophical/theoretical tradition interested more broadly in status and power.  Still, in framing the issue as one of “creative” writing (his quotation marks) v. intellectual work, I think he missed Wendy’s point. She was trying to hold as central to our field the act and craft of writing as opposed to theories about writing. Certainly, Gary was right to assert that theorists cared about writing, including their own, as much as “creative” writers do. But Wendy called for privileging at least in our field the techne and art of making texts, of whatever genres and subject matters, rather than using writing as a topical field and way into larger social and political structures. However vital those latter matters surely are, and important as I found both of and about, both craft and status, I remain drawn to Wendy’s emphasis on producing writing—on the act, on style and practice more than on idea or analysis. Those traces show in my “Creative Writing and Composition” in CCC a decade later.

Wendy certainly heard and was troubled by those critiques. In January 2002, when I sent her editorial suggestions to fine-tune “Suddenly Sexy,” a piece I’d already accepted, she replied,

out of the frying pan into the fire, doug.

i started in revising this last week and somehow the essay turned to shreds as i tried to make it more organized and erudite. i want to give it another go but can’t until friday which i’ve slotted for nearly all day, me and “suddenly sexy,” mano a mano. if i can’t pull it off (i think i may have a spectre of “first time in CE and tired of Gary Olson calling me the death of theory audience jitters”) then i’ll just go back to the original and do the cosmetic things you suggested. but you had good deeper revision ideas and i want to try to honor them–it’s just i don’t write logical or linear and when i pull out a thread and try to insert a backbone, it seems to come tumbling down. and the conflation of cnf and essay is a troubling and pesky one–this is such a slippery area–but i’m game for the challenge.

Wendy to me, “this is just to say,” Wednesday, 1/23/02, 5:47 am

I was surprised that Wendy, to all appearances productively confident, would have jitters about writing for any readership.  As someone who’s always written with doubts and difficulties, I was reassured to have lofty company, especially someone whose revising could also tatter a draft.  Wendy knew she was cutting diagonally against many (perhaps most) of the prominent scholars in our field, and she carried the extra weight of being a poet (one who even became chair of AWP) in the afterglow of Jim Berlin’s sharp but ultimately reductive critique of poetics through the 1990s. In those days, poetry specifically (and creative writing generally) met some contempt within our field, both as a classist avatar of an unexamined belletristic tradition and as cushy idling while there were more urgent (politically, economically) writing matters to sort. If composition studies loathed literature colleagues for their resources, status, and power (at that time) in departments, it dismissed academic poets as indulgent and indulged. Compositionists were doing the hard and necessary work. Setting aside the accuracy and fairness of this attribution, it is historically the case that creative writing had been part of CCCC through the 1960s. Wendy was publishing articles in CCC just as poets Marvin Bell and William Stafford had done three decades earlier, although, as I’ve noted by the mid sixties, scholars like Ed Corbett and Francis Christensen were winning the organization’s hearts and minds.

I dedicated the 2004 CCCC convention program to Wendy, writing a few comments on her life and accomplishments and reprinting her “My Convention Poem.” Kathi Yancey and I organized a session, “Her Words and Ours: A Celebration of the Life of Wendy Bishop,” which I put in a late Thursday afternoon slot. Lad Tobin, Deborah Coxwell Teague, Libby Rankin, and Marilyn Cooper all shared memories of Wendy. Carrie Leverenz, John Boe, Keith Gilyard, and David Starkey all read some of her work. The center of the session, however, featured everyone present writing in response to one of Wendy’s invitations—the five from Purdue I reprinted above, plus seven more Kathi and I had culled from her books. After writing, we shared them, led at tables whose leaders included Pavel Zamelinksi, Hans Ostrom, Lisa Albrecht, John Lovas, Joye Neff, Shirley Wilson Logan, Michael Spooner, and Erika Lindeman. I include all the names both to inscribe these people into this remembrance and to suggest the company she kept and people who missed her—at least those able to come to San Antonio that spring.

Going on twenty years, I’ve kept the writings people gave me from that celebration. It’s long past time to reach to their writers—the ones still living—to see if I/we might do something with them, perhaps revisit what we wrote. My own piece (responding to Wendy’s prompt #10: “Write about decisions, windows, chances, turns”) went back to that day in Oxford, Mississippi, concluding, “I don’t know cause and effect here. I do know there’s a chain of meetings with Wendy that began with the fairly shy me deciding on a July afternoon to sit down with my betters. Not a big decision at all, more chance than window. I’ve learned since to try making room at tables.”

what’s bad is i haven’t given you much time to respond to this (if any). 

Wendy to me, “here ‘tis,” 1/28/02, 10:17 am

Today I’m drawn to Wendy’s shortest prompt, #9: “Write about time.” Not much rhetorical situation in that assignment. I imagine someone chiding its author as being too unfocused, lacking exigency. But I see it as capaciously trusting, letting writers figure audience and purpose based on their interests and needs.

“Write about time.”

Wendy was 50 when she died. I was 47, which means that as I write, I’ve now lived to an age 17 years beyond her. Had she lived to 67, I imagine she’d long ago have retired to that cinder-block beach house on Alligator Point to make poems, memoirs, stories, and essays. I can’t help confronting the sober truth that she’d have made better use of those years than I have, at least in terms of writing. In other dimensions of life, I think I’ve done fine, though who doesn’t have regrets? But in mapping my writerly life against the extrapolation of another’s, especially when that other is Wendy, I enter a dispiriting competition. Wendy would loathe competitive self-doubt and redirect me to ask what writing I wanted to do tomorrow, cautioning against fussing about writing I didn’t do yesterday, suggesting that if we’re being really honest, I must have derived some compensatory satisfaction from the multiple service and leadership roles I took in the past couple decades, commitments that rendered my writing practice a stream, not a river: an oxbow, not the main channel. I suspect, further, she’d urge me to make writing a priority—now!—if that’s what I thought I wanted. Time is neither plentiful nor promised.

I have a preserving strong impression of Wendy that comes from the Monday before Thanksgiving, 2001. We were both standing outside the Baltimore convention center, and she invited me to share a ride to the airport. We talked about meetings we’d just attended, about my son’s journey as a cellist, about the upcoming holiday. Conversation that started in animation dwindled to near silence as we neared the airport, Wendy slumping lower in the corner of backseat and door. She’d just led her last meeting as CCCC’s chair, and she was exhausted. I was chastened to realize that I’d failed to register the personal costs of her commitments and dedication, seeing instead only the torrent of her talent. We’d continue sending emails. We’d continue meeting: drinks in the Palmer House the next spring, a talk I gave at Florida State. We promised to propose a panel for CCCC in 2004, but she was dead by November 2003. It turns out the session we finally did share featured Wendy having us write, showing the way through her own words. The subject was writing. The subject was Wendy.

Works Cited

Bishop, Wendy. “Places to Stand: The Reflective Writer-Teacher-Writer in Composition.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 51, no. 1, 1999, pp. 9-31.

—. “Suddenly Sexy: Creative Nonfiction Rear-ends Composition.” College English, vol. 65, no. 3 (2003), pp. 257-275. Special issue guest-edited by Doug Hesse.

Hesse, Douglas. “The Place of Creative Writing in Composition Studies.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 62, no. 1, 2010, pp. 31-52.

Olson, Gary. “The Death of Composition as an Intellectual Discipline.” Composition Studies, vol. 28, no. 2, 2000, pp. 33-41.

Radically Revising the Writing Classroom: Wendy Bishop as Feminist Mentor

“It takes encouragement and courage to find a clear passage to affirming oneself as a teacher within an institution that valorizes almost every other role first.”

– Wendy Bishop, “Places to Stand: The Reflective Writer-Teacher-Writer in Composition”

Cheryl Glenn’s analysis of rhetorical feminist mentoring is an apt description of how Wendy Bishop mentored until the day she died in 2003. Glenn defines feminist mentoring as “a generative model of ever-expansive teaching” and acknowledges that as such “we academics ‘embody’ the discipline for the next generation of scholars and it passes along…values, theories, habits, and assumptions that, especially when transformed, keep the discipline rolling” (173). This is exactly how Bishop mentored, and as I, her last graduate student, consider the power of her teaching and mentorship on the twentieth anniversary of her death, the reflection I shared at her memorial still rings true:

Wendy Bishop was my mentor, teacher, fellow writer, major professor, and friend, so it was impossible for me to find a way to adequately express my love and respect for her.  She always encouraged me to read through things I had written when I was blocked, so I took her advice and began to read things we wrote to each other.  I am going to read the last paragraph of the process memo I wrote to Wendy in a research methods course I took with her in Fall 2002, because it is much of what I would like to write to her now:

This process narrative is the last text I will write to finish my course work and begin studying for exams, and I am so grateful for the experience of this course and your teaching. Your knowledge and love for students and writing has been evident in every course I have ever taken with you (and my first class with Wendy was an advanced article and essay workshop in 1996), Wendy, and I will never forget your grace, your guidance, and the knowledge you have shared with me and countless other students. I came alive as a researcher and member of the Composition field this semester, and I have you to thank. It is my goal as a teacher and researcher to share with others all you’ve shared with me.    

I have never forgotten that goal and always strive to emulate Bishop’s pedagogical and theoretical approach to teaching, the field of Composition Studies, and, perhaps most importantly, the mentoring of my own student-writers like Micaela Cuellar. Bishop was a pioneer in the ways she challenged scholars, writers, and students alike to explore texts creatively and analytically, to radically rethink the essay form, and to collaborate and to engage in interdisciplinary work with and for students. Bishop shared this commitment in her 2001 chair’s address at the Conference on College Composition and Communication: “I have long been one who preferred to be among others only if I can choose my own way” (CCCC 326). Bishop chose her own way by moving in and out of the traditional English department coverage model, all while including students, from Literature, Creative Writing, and Composition, in the conversation. As Art Young describes in the foreword to Composing Ourselves as Writers-Teachers-Scholars, Bishop was one of the first to “call for boundary-crossing conversations about pedagogy and theory, about students and classrooms, and about individual and social purposes for writing and for teaching writing” in ways that have made space for progressive scholars of today and those in the future to dissolve arbitrary boundaries and promote inclusivity and exploration (vii).  Wendy Bishop was a radical feminist mentor, as evidenced through her research, mentorship, and teaching practice.

Wendy Bishop as Radical Feminist Mentor 

To most effectively analyze Bishop’s impact on the field of feminist rhetoric, we must first consider how her scholarship paved the way for feminist scholars across English Studies.  During Bishop’s twenty-five years as a teacher-scholar, she led what colleagues Patrick Bizzaro and Alys Culhane define as a “a quiet revolution” and served as a leader in both Composition and Rhetoric and Creative Writing, holding executive positions in both the Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) and the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC).  Bishop earned an MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Composition and Rhetoric and insisted on merging both creative writing and composition studies into her prolific research, publishing 22 books and hundreds of articles and creative writing pieces. In all of this work, Bishop resisted the limitations of singular labels and declared, “For me, to be only a poet, or a feminist, or a compositionist is not enough” (341).  As Bishop further shared in one of our class freewrites during Amy’s PhD program and later published in “Because Teaching Composition is Still (Mostly) Teaching Composition”:

I do not believe I can have a smorgasbord pedagogy, but if I do feel entitled to range widely, as a teaching generalist, as a writing specialist, then I’m obliged to think systematically about my practice, even if I do so in snippets of time—at the market, on the commute, between classes, during the department meeting. I am obliged to define, refine, name and explain my practice and to build new knowledge from which to set out again. It is the building and the appreciating and the setting out strongly that matters to me. Writing teachers who get up each day and do their work are doing their work; they do not have to apologize for having values and beliefs, for coming from one section of a field and for moving—perhaps—to another section—from one understanding of instruction to another understanding of it—as long as they are willing to talk, to share, to travel on in company. (77)

This traveling on in company is how Glenn differentiates rhetorical feminism from feminist rhetoric, which she defines as “a set of long-established practices that advocates a political position of rights and responsibilities that certainly includes the equality of women and Others” (3). Bishop agreed that women and other minoritized voices in the academy are always at risk of further silencing and marginalization and believed an interdisciplinary approach within English studies could provide a “formidable challenge to the status quo” (qtd. in “Learning” 344). One way Bishop pushed against these boundaries was to include the voices of students in her scholarship, particularly those we might not have heard from previously (344).  Bishop was more interested in the creation of texts than the theorizing of them, particularly from those historically ignored. In Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins speaks to the power of feminist mentorship, as it specifically pertains to Black “community othermothers,” and she connects education and mentorship directly to political activism when she writes that “families and community mentors imbued the highly educated Black women in her study with a determination to use their education in a socially responsible way” in reference to historian Stephanie J. Shaw’s What a Woman Ought to Be and to Do (189). Though Bishop’s positionality did not reflect that of a Black woman, she still sought to use her education to promote inclusivity in the classroom (and academy at large) by centering students’ voices and experiences. Shaw describes the impact and role of these feminist community mentors stating, “these women became not simply schoolteachers, nurses, social workers, and librarians; they become political and social leaders” (Shaw as qtd. in Collins 190). Through her radical feminist mentorship, Bishop, too, served not only as a teacher but also as an othermother, collaborator, and social leader within her writing community. “Learning Our Own Ways” illustrates Bishop’s commitment to feminism and to valuing the voices of marginalized student-writers.  As Alice Rosman reminds us, “Her contention that storytelling and narrative are powerful ways to build bridges between these marginalized cultures and the dominant ones is one that carried through the entirety of her scholarship” (64).  Bishop also acknowledges connections between her creative approach and theories in anthropology and feminism, which we would argue is radical feminist mentorship:

Postmodern anthropology and feminist theory suggest alternative ways of reporting both practice and research—honoring story, testimony, observational anecdote, informal analysis, regularized lore and so on—and these movements may connect some of us back to our humanistic roots as writers and readers of fictional and factional texts. (Teaching Lives 319)

As a writer, teacher, and scholar, Wendy Bishop actively worked to deconstruct unnecessary boundaries within the academy, the English Department, and in the classroom. In her 1999 essay “Places to Stand: The Reflective Writer-Teacher-Writer in Composition,” Bishop reflects on her career, stating: “All the years, 1-20, I’m teaching. Teaching writing. Teaching writing as a writer. Wondering how it could be any other way” (21). Bishop emphasizes the ways she sees herself as both writer and a teacher with a goal of mentoring and collaborating with her students both in and outside of the classroom. In reflection of Bishop’s mentorship, Stephanie Vanderslice cites collaboration as the way she deconstructed boundaries: “collaboration was second nature to Bishop” and “she not only enjoyed what I think of as the highest kind of discourse—an intellectual give and take rather than rabid attack-and-retreat turf-guarding that can characterize others in academia—but that she also shared the wealth, often inviting others to converse and co-author” (3).  Always cognizant of her role as a professor, Bishop is also aware of and considers the limitations of labels in the hierarchical system she sees existing within English departments, including the label of “feminist”, as noted in her essay “Learning Our Own Ways to Situate Composition and Feminist Studies in the English Department”:

When we label ourselves in this way, we agree to the dominant method of distinguishing areas in English studies, what Gerald Graff calls the field-coverage model, a model that isolates and elevates the literature scholar and critic and isolates but devalues the generalist…. By creating separate women’s studies programs, designating fields like “composition” and “feminist studies,” or allowing only minimal authority for writing program administrators, the establishment is free to conduct department business as usual. Meanwhile, marginalized cultures within or beside the department’s dominant culture, alienated, co-opted or about to be co-opted, sit silently around that meritocratic table, feeling concerned. (339)

In their 2006 book Keywords in Creative Writing, Bishop and Starkey deconstruct the master-apprenticeship analogy ever present within academia in a manner that speaks to the institutionalized inequity that the academy has yet to rectify when they write, “while this hierarchical model may have functioned effectively centuries ago… it is problematic in the democratic and multicultural twenty-first century” (122). Their critique of this system calls out the colonial nature of teacher-student relationships within the university that are directly tied to power and the possession of knowledge as power and control, writing, “One obvious inconvenience is that the master-apprentice system tends to reproduce an image of ‘genius’ held by those in power” (Bishop and Starkey 122). Bishop and Starkey highlight an excellent point in their rejection of the master-apprentice analogy by not only bringing the suppression of minoritized voices to the forefront but by subsequently noting that having students emulate the scholarship and writing of instructors ultimately limits the possibility for new, revolutionary scholarship across the curriculum.

Though Bishop passed before the conversations of decolonizing composition and the academic classroom took place, we are reminded of her devotion to inclusive pedagogies, as evidenced through her reflections on teaching and the experiences of those she mentored. In their article “Decolonizing the Classroom: An Essay in Two Parts,” Reanae McNeal and Peter Elbow describe the importance of decolonization within the English classroom:

Decolonial pedagogies require that we honor our web of relations by being deeply aware of each one’s valuable contributions and our connections with each other…. The voices and personhood of our marginalized relations become an imperative aid to understanding the complexities of diverse knowledge systems and multiple lived realities. In order to address current atrocities, historical trauma, and colonialism we must create strong braids of awareness that are sturdy bridges to new stories. These stories help us reimagine the world as diverse global citizens: a reimagining grounded in the promotion of justice for all, including the Earth. In this fashion, what we braid and how we braid knowledge systems in our classrooms is so important. (21)

A self-described “social expressivist” (although she preferred no labels), Bishop blends the fields of creative writing and composition in a way that encourages students to be better writers both in service of themselves (expressivist) and in their larger communities (social) (Teaching Lives viii). In doing so, Bishop, in her own pedagogy, writing, and classroom, seeks to “create strong braids of awareness that are sturdy bridges to new stories,” as McNeal and Elbow describe. Much of Bishop’s teaching of writing stemmed from her own learning and experience as a writer. In interrogating the writing processes of herself and her students, whom she often wrote in communion with, she incorporated the findings into her classroom and her scholarship. When describing what brought her to her unique blending of creative writing and composition studies, Bishop writes:

Writing captured me and composition helped me understand that captivation. After unbraiding and uncomposing my selves within the academy in order to learn specialized skills and certain discourses, in order to participate in elect and select societies, I decided intentionally to rebraid and recompose my self through teaching creative and compositional strategies together. (“Composing Ourselves as (Creative) Writers” 219)

Bishop and her legacy are crucial to the future of composition studies as we continually seek to deconstruct unnecessary demarcations between the personal and the political, the scholarly and the creative. She theorized the braiding of two fields as an act of rebellion—a “quiet revolution”—in which she challenged the dominant perspective of composition as a field and teaching as a profession. Bishop radically revised the role of the composition instructor, and, in doing so, she made the classroom more inclusive and welcoming for all by composing with students, inviting them to collaborate in her publications, and by thinking radically about what it means to compose and revise in the field of English Studies.

Moving Feminist Rhetoric into Practice: The Radical Revision

In order to move Bishop’s feminist rhetoric into practice, we must remain attentive to how an embodied sense of identity is always linked to rhetorical action as Glenn calls us to do. This principle can act as a guiding force for our field, both professionally and in our activism. Bishop defends her choice to do this in her essay “Places to Stand: The Reflective Writer- Teacher-Writer in Composition”:

I do my mixing, not to elevate genres but to intermingle them, not to venerate the poetic or belletristic but to point out that each brings us to our senses though in different modes and tones. Because styles, genres, and syntax seem both to prompt and predict thought, I need to think in and through them all. (17)

One of the first practical experiences Amy had with radical feminist mentorship came in the way of a revision project Bishop assigned in her 1998 upper-division writing workshop at Florida State University. Bishop assigned a “radical revision” of a previously completed text, where students were invited to consider changes in voice/tone, syntax, genre, audience, time, physical layout/typography, or even medium. Today, this project could be classified as one that promotes multimodality or that asks students to “decolonize the essay” from its traditional form.  In addition to the radical revision, students were also asked to write a letter of self-reflection that explained the process and radical revision in detail (Appendix A).  This assignment opened up possibilities for how to revise outside of what is often viewed as acceptable in academic discourse, and Bishop was ahead of her time, once again, with the introduction of multimodal composition and alternative discourses. She invited students to consider what discourse and modality best fit their writing, providing students agency over their stories and writing and encouraging instructors to adjust assessment accordingly. Amy chose to create a poem after writing her literacy essay on a lifelong search for love through words:

I Think of My I Love Yous,

of all my I’ll waits and I promises,

so sad, our sea of failed words,

like stars that fall too far off,

faint and alone in the sleeping sky.


But the always and the nevers

keep speaking somewhere—

only listen for the echo of our parallel lives,

the way a subway violinist haunts us,

a church of sound on our way

to somewhere else, or that rare rush

of air in a mall, a smell that stops us,

chilled, makes us mouth

someone’s name.

It was such an eye-opening experience that Amy, and now Micaela, assign it in every writing course and continue to be amazed at how it shifts students’ understanding of discourse, writing, and revision.

Micaela reflects on her experience with the project in Fall 2015: “I found this particular assignment to be my favorite of the class…When approached with the task of taking one of our essays and transforming it from one form of art to another, I was excited.” For her radical revision, Micaela chose to visually create a metaphor she used in her personal essay from earlier in the semester. When speaking of her goals for the project, Micaela writes, “My biggest challenge while creating this was hoping readers would get it and that it would be an accurate representation of how one feels when going through a difficult situation.” In the process letter, Micaela emphasizes how the process of creating the radical revision unknowingly seemed to align with the experience she wrote about, but this time she had agency over it. She created the radical revision, and she was able to choose how to share it.

Image description: an example of a radical revision: a collage showing the lower half of a person’s head and their shoulders. The background is made of blue-gray paper with variegated lighter and darker shades. The person’s hair is made from silver paper, and the face, neck, and shoulders are made from paper with printed text. In the middle of the person’s chest is a vertical cut with holes at the edges. String is used to lace up and tie together the vertical cut.

Image description: an example of a radical revision: a collage showing the lower half of a person’s head and their shoulders. The background is made of blue-gray paper with variegated lighter and darker shades. The person’s hair is made from silver paper, and the face, neck, and shoulders are made from paper with printed text. In the middle of the person’s chest is a vertical cut with holes at the edges. String is used to lace up and tie together the vertical cut.

The radical revision project, first published in Bishop’s Elements of Alternate Style (1997), invites students to shift their essay’s style, perspective, or genre.  Through this final revision project, student-writers are invited to reflect on their growth throughout the writing process by revising their essay in a radical way and into a different genre or form. Bishop writes that the radical revision moves us to an informal, narrative research writing style that “allow[ed] [her] to investigate ethical, political, and writerly concerns more freely” (216).  The radical revision requires students not only to wrestle with the challenges of reconceiving their previously finished work but also encourages them to consider how they define revision and how they chose to learn to deal with its limitations.  In “Distorting the Mirror: Radical Revision and Students’ Shifting Perspective,” Kim Haimes-Korn presents the radical revision assignment and reminds us that the radical revision “involves seeing and seeing again and how shifts in style and perspective can help us write, think, and learn” (95). Overall, if one of our main goals as teachers of writing is to share the power of rhetoric with students, then why not take a risk and move differing forms of that rhetoric into our pedagogical designs?  In other words, Bishop calls us to break out of our “comfort zones” and get radical in the writing classroom by moving past theory and into practice.

Carrying Radical Mentoring On: Student-Mentee Reflections

Amy, Wendy Bishop’s Final Graduate Student, 1998-2003: Even as an undergraduate student, I was intrigued by the uniqueness and effectiveness of Bishop’s assignments, and I could tell she was much more humble than she should be.  Of course, I was right.  She was, by the late nineties, one of the strongest voices in the field of composition in terms of her publications and professional engagements, as well as an endowed chair in the Department of English at Florida State University.  Yet in class, she wrote with us, shared with us, and always entered into writing exchanges as our equal. In “Learning Our Own Ways to Situate Composition and Feminist Studies in the English Department,” she supports the need to critically challenge students: “Since graduate students clearly represent great potential for English departments, we should explore public and private channels for teaching these soon-to-be-peers critical consciousness […].These students have the potential to make the changes within the house of English studies we have sometimes despaired of making” (133).  Bishop and Glenn offer alternatives to traditional, master-apprentice models of mentoring through non-hierarchical, mutual, and networked collaboration. Glenn also points out that such mentoring is the way rhetorical feminists give each other hope and make space for each other in what has traditionally been a privileged and exclusionary white, male space, and that was my experience as a student of Wendy Bishop.

I was distracted by the bright Florida sunlight that bounced off one of the many bookshelves lining Dr. Bishop’s office and almost missed what she asked.  Or maybe I didn’t believe she could really be asking me, a first-year Ph.D. student, to co-author a chapter on the power of letter writing as a way to process loss and trauma.  I squinted her way and said yes even though I wasn’t exactly sure what I was saying yes to. And she continued to ask me to collaborate—on CCCC panels, in chapters, pedagogical workshops, and in conversations over coffee about her research and the teaching of writing.  Because of the power of this mentorship, of being valued, I have looked for opportunities to mentor in my teaching and writing life.

Even though I didn’t think I was adding much to the scholarship when working alongside Wendy, which she insisted I call her rather than Dr. Bishop, I now know that was likely untrue because of the ways my teaching and research have been deepened through mentorship and collaboration with my own students. Micaela, a student who didn’t even know she wanted to go to college, is an example of how carrying mentorship forward is both radical and vital to the future of our field.

Micaela, Amy Hodges Hamilton’s student, 2015-2018: Eight years ago, I sat in my first college class, Amy’s first-year writing course, and I finally felt that I belonged somewhere. A high-school drop-out by the age of 16, I was persuaded to attend college two years later as an escape from the small Texas town in which I was raised. To my surprise, I found my home within the four walls of a classroom where the desks were arranged into a circle and the space was made complete with a professor and strangers-turned-friends who comprised a community of writing, researching, and collaboration founded on mutual respect and care for each other and their stories.

As a white Latina student, I always struggled to articulate the complexities and privileges I experienced throughout my life due to my race, ethnicity, and the pronunciation of my name. However, with Amy’s guidance and through workshopping with my peers, I sought to interrogate my own identity by telling stories through memoir, essays, art pieces, and research—all of which I was encouraged to explore in Amy’s class. Prior to this, I’d never experienced education in such a communal way. I was moved by the rhetorical, pedagogical choices Amy made in the classroom, such as: sitting amongst her students, as opposed to traditionally standing in the front of the classroom, writing and sharing with us during class, especially during freewrites, and prioritizing connection and collaboration through individual conferencing and half-class workshops. Though I couldn’t have articulated it at the time, I wholeheartedly believe the sense of belonging I (and many others) felt can be attributed to the radical feminist pedagogy and mentorship Amy has carried on from Wendy.

In my second semester of college and another course of Amy’s, I approached her after class one day, letting her know I was considering changing my major to English. In that moment, Amy led me to her office, and we began discussing the English major and possible graduate programs and career choices in and outside of the academy. Quickly, these conversations shifted from undergraduate advising to research possibilities, collaborations on campus-wide social justice initiatives, service-learning opportunities, and, later, the chance to co-teach a writing workshop with marginalized women in the community.

There are days when I lie beneath the Spanish moss, shading myself from the warm Florida sun, that my heart burns with immense gratitude for Wendy Bishop and her legacy that lives on through my forever-mentor and friend, Amy. As a third-year PhD student studying to take my preliminary exams, I carry the teachings of Amy and Wendy with me as I enter what I hope will become a decades-long career of teaching, writing, and dissolving the boundaries between the academy and the community. Whether she knew it or not, Wendy forged her own genealogy within composition studies—one I am lucky to be a part of—and it is privilege to have a hand in carrying on her legacy and expanding upon her creative, empowering, and inclusive scholarship that changed the way I understand writing, the classroom, and the true meaning of teaching.  As Bishop reminds us, “…teaching is visionary and spiritual—it is what matters—and I return faithfully to the classroom year after year, needing that growing space, no doubt, as much or more than the classroom inhabitants need me” (Teaching Lives 314).

A Call to Radical Feminist Mentoring

From reading and re-reading Bishop’s scholarship, we think she would argue that to most effectively act as rhetorical feminist mentors, we must all, beginning and established scholars alike, write with and about students.  In both her teaching life and scholarship, Bishop believed in the power of connecting these two sometimes dichotomous roles. In “Places to Stand: The Reflective Writer-Teacher-Writer in Composition,” Bishop urges “…teachers [to] write with and for their students as well as with and for their colleagues” (9).  Glenn, too, insists, “teaching is hope embodied. It is a forward-looking endeavor, one that has the power to change lives—our own, our students” (125). Glenn suggests that rhetorical feminist teachers should acknowledge their own positionality, respect students’ experiences, and help students investigate patriarchy and other compounding injustices in the world. To be an intersectional feminist capable of effecting positive change in the classroom and academy, it is our responsibility to demonstrate inclusion, equity, and decoloniality in all aspects of our pedagogy. Bishop did this as an early advocate of ethnographic inquiry, a research method designed to give voice to writers and writing practitioners we may not have otherwise heard from. Equipped with these inclusive writing practices, students and teachers are prepared “to develop rhetorical agency” and change the status quo, prompting us to see how our work matters and how our political commitments can guide our professional actions (148).

We can begin by doing what Bishop did throughout her mentorship and scholarship—share stories, write with and about our students, and mentor the next generation of feminist rhetoricians.  As she articulates in “Teaching Lives: Thoughts on Reweaving Our Spirits,” “…teaching [and mentoring] teaches me, heals me, helps me, centers me in my professional and personal life in a way I’ve seldom seen talked about” (314).

It’s time to talk.

Works Cited

Bishop, Wendy. Elements of Alternate Style: Essays on Writing and Revision. Boynton/Cook Publishers, 1997.

—.  “Steal This Assignment: The Radical Revision.” Practice in Context, edited by Cindy Moore and Peggy O’Neill, NCTE, 2002, pp. 205-222.

—. “Places to Stand: The Reflective Writer-Teacher-Writer in Composition.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 51, no.1, 1999. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/358957.

—. “Teaching Lives: Thoughts on Reweaving Our Spirits.” Teaching Lives. Utah State Press, 1997. pp. 313-320.

—. “Traveling Through the Dark: Teachers and Students Reading and Writing Together.” Teaching Lives. Utah State Press, 1997. pp. 104-118.

—. “Because Teaching Composition Is (Still) Mostly about Teaching Composition.” Composition Studies in the New Millennium: Rereading the Past, Rewriting the Future. Southern Illinois University Press, 2003. pp. 75-77.

Bishop, Wendy, and David Starkey. “Pedagogy.” Keywords in Creative Writing. Utah State University Press, 2006. pp. 119-125. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.cttcgr61.28.

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, 2nd ed. Routledge, 2000.

Glenn, Cheryl. Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope. Southern Illinois University Press, 2018.

Haimes-Korn, Kim. “Distorting the Mirror: Radical Revision and Students’ Shifting Perspectives.” Elements of Alternate Style: Essays on Writing and Revision. Heinemann, pp. 88-95.

McNeal, Reanae, and Peter Elbow. “Decolonizing the Classroom: An Essay in Two Parts.” Writing on the Edge, vol. 28, no. 1, 2017, pp. 19–32. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/44647497.

Rosman, Alice. Wendy Bishop: A Feminist Voice at the Intersections of Composition, Creative Writing, and Ethnography. 2013. Oregon State University, M.A. Thesis. ScholarsArchive@OSU,ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/pc289m400.

Sommers, Jeff. “Revisiting Radical Revision.” Critical Expressivism: Theory and Practice in the Composition Classroom, The WAC Clearinghouse, 2015. DOI: 10.37514/PER-B. 2014.0575.2.18.

Vanderslice, Stephanie. “There’s An Essay in That: Wendy Bishop and the Origins of Our Field.” Journal of Creative Writing Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, 2016. https://scholarworks.rit.edu/jcws/vol1/iss1/2/.

Appendix A

Radical Revision Guidelines

  1. Choose Essay I or II (you may not want to choose Essay II, because you just finished writing that essay and you may be too close to it, making you reluctant to jump in and play with your text).
  2. You will revise this essay in a way that challenges you to take risks and try something you’ve never tried before as a writer and analyst in this class.
  3. The revision can end up less effective than the original (there’s no real risk-taking without the possibility of failure).  Remember the revision process is an important part of the overall writing process.  You must be willing to re-evaluate and analyze your texts again and again to become a successful writer.
  4. The core of the radical revision assignment is your process, which will include:
    1. A process letter (one page single spaced minimum) where you recount what you chose to do, why—why is this a risk/challenge for you as a writer, how it worked, and what you learned—see questions below.
    2. All drafts/notes/peer review sheets that encouraged your revision.
    3. The final radical revision (or a photo).
    4. Class presentation or reading/explanation of your revision.

Process Letter Questions–Radical Revision

This letter will inform your reader of your goals for this radical revision and how those goals were accomplished.  These may include learning about drafting from changing a text from one style to another, taking risks, pushing boundaries, attempting difficult tasks in order to learn more about yourself and your writing style.  Please write this as a personal letter to me, and answer six of the following eight questions.  Be sure to add any information that you think will help me evaluate your radical revision.  Remember, your process letter should be 1-2 pages single-spaced.

  1. Tell me in some detail about the drafting particulars of this project—where did you start (ideas and drafts) and where did you go (how many drafts, revisions, taking place where, for how long, under what conditions)?
  2. What were your goals for this piece?  Where are you challenged?  What did you risk in revising your essay in this way?
  3. Who is the ideal reader/audience?  What should she/he bring to the text in order to give it the best reading/interpretation?
  4. If you had three more weeks, what would you work on?
  5. According to your own goals for this project, estimate your success.  Be specific and perhaps quote from sections of the text or point to a particular aspect of the project.
  6. What did you learn about yourself as a person and writer from this project?  How was this process healing?
  7. You’ve given this to your peers and they say, “we like it, but…”  How did your responders help or hurt your revision efforts?
  8. How would you evaluate yourself?  Do you feel like the radical revision was a success for you as a writer?  What did it show you about your focus/your life story?

To radically revise, students are invited to try one or more of the following:

  1. Voice/Tone Changes? Change from first to third or try second; write as a character, change tone (serious to comic, etc.), change point of view from conventional expectations, change ethnicity, change perspective, use stream of consciousness, use the point of view of something inanimate, use a voice to question authority of the text OR change from adult to child to alien, try parody or imitation
  2. Genre Changes? Nonfiction to poem to song to ad campaigns, bumper stickers, letters, sermon, journal, fairy tale, recipe, prayer, cartoon, short story
  3. Time Changes? Future (flashforwards/flashbacks), present to past, tell backwards, situate in a different era or time, change expected climax/central idea of essay
  4. Multimedia/ “Art” Piece Performance (monologue/dialogue), play, audio and or video, art illustration (canvas, collage, watercolor, etc.), write on unexpected objects (shirts, shoes, walls), choral performance, mime

***push your text, fracture, bend, break conventions, think about emphasis, importance, and detail as a writer. How will your central idea be clearest for the reader/observer? You are going to break conventions in order to learn about the importance of analysis in EVERY context (art, research, film, music, literature, math). As you write, notice the progression of your ideas and the progression of your text (you will explore this in your process cover sheet)***


Creative Composing: A Lesson Plan for Students, Teachers, and Teacher-Writers


This lesson plan focuses specifically on Wendy Bishop’s chapter “When All Writing is Creative and Student Writing is Literature,” from The Subject is Writing, 2nd edition. Like so much of Bishop’s work, her style and structure serve as direct evidence for her primary argument. She “creatively composes” this chapter, demonstrating the natural overlap between creative and academic pursuits and between student writing and the literature we teach. While Bishop’s work predates the subject we now call rhetorical feminism, she offers a clear example of its key tenets—inclusivity, community, and equity. She privileges dialogue over monologue, inviting students to draw on their own experiences as they develop an empowered and growth-oriented writing practice.

It was long after my graduate training at Florida State that I found language for the re-orientation that Wendy instilled in me. In reading Carolyn Shrewsbury’s “What is Feminist Pedagogy?” and later Cheryl Glenn’s “Remapping Rhetorical Territory,” I came to recognize that my teaching practice moved in these same directions and that I had been guided by Wendy to radically alter the power dynamics and the communication opportunities in my writing classroom. In Shrewsbury’s words, I had created, somewhat unconsciously, a “liberatory environment,” which she describes as:

A classroom characterized as persons connected in a net of relationships…in which we, teacher-student and student-teacher, act as subjects, not objects. Feminist pedagogy is engaged teaching/learning—engaged with self in continuing reflective process; engaged actively with the material being studied; engaged with others in a struggle to get beyond destructive hatreds and to work together to enhance our knowledge; engaged with the community and with movements for social change (166).

Reading any of Wendy’s work reveals these same values as she challenges us to re-orient our understanding of what an academic article is and does. Her chapter “When All Writing is Literature and Student Writing is Creative” offers a clear example of what we might call a “flipped article” (again Wendy’s pedagogy and scholarship was well before the term flipped classroom came into popularity). Readers are immediately inside the experience of her pedagogy, as she places her students’ writing alongside her own. She fuses pedagogical research with lived experience, insisting on a more embodied approach. As for methodology in both creative writing and composition classrooms, she suggests:

Writing always involves the study of exemplary or expert writing in the forms you hope to learn. But you also need the opportunity to write against and experiment with those forms. You have to try it to do it (Bishop 197).

The following lesson plan grows out of this “Try-It” spirit, both for students and for teachers. Recently a colleague asked me about building rapport; he lamented that the buzzwords all sound good in theory—“experiential” “embodied” “hands-on,” “active.” His question: but how do you actually do it? My answer: Not unlike writing, teaching is also about trying it. You have to try it to do it.

Background and Audience

This lesson is appropriate for any of the following courses: Introduction to Academic Writing, First-Year Seminar, Freshman Composition I or II, Introduction to Creative Writing, Introduction to Literary or English Studies, Advanced Composition, Theories of Teaching Writing, Graduate Teaching in English or English Education. Students should come to class having read the article “When All Writing is Creative and Student Writing is Literature,” but even if they haven’t prepared as thoroughly as we’d like, this assignment is designed to experientially teach the key findings of the article and to generate helpful discussions about thinking and writing.


  • To understand existing distinctions between disciplinary fields of creative writing, literature, and composition.
  • To generate new, experience-based definitions of creative writing, analytical writing, professional writing, and academic writing
  • To consider what separates student writing from literature
  • To study our own writing preferences, beliefs, and practices
  • To discuss helpful teaching and learning strategies for writing

Discussion and Mapping 10-15 minutes

Create binaries on a whiteboard, smartboard, or overhead using the terms Creative Writing vs. Academic Writing and Student Writing vs. Literature. Ask the class to generate key words and associations that typically fall under each heading, as seen below:

Creative Writing /Academic Writing                                                             Student Writing / Literature

fewer rules rubrics novice Published
voice more formal graded Studied
feeling analysis errors Perfect


Discuss areas of overlap between these divisions. For example, both student writing and literature might be published. Both creative writing and academic writing may involve research. Consider what Bishop’s article adds to this discussion. For example, both creative and academic writing are process-based. Both student writing and literature involve an understanding of generic conventions. In Bishop’s view, risk-taking and engagement apply equally to creative and critical thinking.

Two Writing Prompts 20-25 minutes

Divide the class into two groups, A and B, and assign two different quotations (below), both of which are lines from Bishop’s article. Students should begin with this line. Note: students aren’t quoting Bishop (or Bishop’s students); they are acting as though this is their own opening line.

  • Group A opening line: Is creative writing stuff that you do for fun and composition stuff that your teacher makes you do? That’s how it felt in elementary school.
  • Group B opening line: Creativity involves risk taking. It’s likely that in your past, you were not praised for taking risks.

Subdivide these two groups further so that:

  • Group A-Academic will use opening line A to write an academic/analytical piece.
  • Group A-Creative will use opening line A to write a creative piece.
  • Group B-Academic will use opening line B to write an academic/analytical piece.
  • Group B-Creative will use opening line B to write a creative piece.

Allow 7-10 minutes for this first writing prompt. Make sure students understand that this is an exercise, a first try, and that they may not be finished when time is called. The purpose is to see what we know intuitively about these genres and to notice our own thinking and writing process as we try it out.

After time is called for Prompt 1, explain that students will now use the same opening line, but this time to write in the other genre. For example, students who first worked on a creative piece will now use the same line to write something more academic or analytically driven. Allow 7-10 minutes for the other genre.

Partner Work and Class Discussion 20 minutes

Pair students with a partner to discuss this experiment. Ideally, a student from A-Academic should pair with a student from B-Creative. This will offer students a chance to learn more about the opening line they weren’t assigned. It will also control for variables such as which genre they worked on first or second. Students should trade their writing or read what they’ve written aloud, then discuss their process. Which piece felt more successful? Which one surprised you the most? Students might also identify new ideas or emerging definitions for the thinking processes used in each. It’s unlikely that this discussion will need much prompting. In my experience, this portion of class is extremely lively.

Finish class by returning to the charts made at the beginning. What new ideas have developed as a result of this experiential lesson? Assign a reflective follow-up to be completed as homework. Students may post to an online discussion board or bring their reflections to the next class.

Teacher Reflection and Follow-Up Instructions:

As I hinted above, this lesson was a big hit. I knew it would be interactive and hoped it would help students grasp the article, but it far exceeded these expectations. Students were completely engaged in what Bishop describes as the “messy, generative, exciting process of writing” (194). For whatever reason, this particular line has stayed with me years beyond graduate school. I’ve even used this quote on syllabi and assignments, and it came to me again—almost in a chill-bumps way—while watching my students so completely immersed in the act of discovery. The messy, generative, exciting process of writing. Yes!

As good as I felt about the class, I was even more impressed with students’ follow-up posts, which they submitted a few days later. Reflecting on this distilled experience proved to be as important for them as the experience itself. I will insert, here, the prompt I used. In keeping with my earlier theft of Wendy’s lines, please feel free to steal:

  • In Thursday’s class, we used the same prompt to write two entries—one creative, one analytical. What did you discover about your own writing through this experience? What takeaways did you glean from your partner in follow-up discussion? Describe your relative comfort with one style over (or in tandem with) another and consider Bishop’s claim that “all writing is creative.”
  • After processing your experience, think about what these ideas mean in the context of teaching writing. What’s the role of “the creative” in composition classes? What’s the benefit of considering “student writing” alongside “literature?”

Student Writing

It seems only fitting to focus now on student responses as valuable testimonials and direct evidence for Wendy Bishop’s vision. More than anything else I learned from her, it’s that teaching writing really means writing alongside your students, reading them, letting them read you, learning from them as equally as they learn from you. When I think about recent discussions I’ve had with colleagues and students about the advent of ChatGPT, I take comfort in writing that feels authentic, metacognitive, collaborative, and instructive.

Below, I’ve excerpted passages from students (used with permission) that have given me plenty to think about. These students will be delighted to learn that their writing—not unlike literature—was published, and that their words are worthy of study.

From the unlikely English major:

Bishop’s article discusses the problem of students believing that they aren’t worthy to be named a “writer,” that what they write is so much less than “literature.” The constraints students often face when interacting with academic writing, such as research papers and essays, disregard writing as a creative process. This resonated personally with me as I would’ve never guessed in a million years I would be an English major. Growing up, I enjoyed reading and writing, but never excelled in school. I wasn’t a great essay writer, and I never did anything that deserved praise. I accepted my place outside of the discipline. But I finally had a teacher who encouraged us to take risks and encouraged us to lean into the discomfort we felt and do some exploring. He treated us as if we were all equably capable of producing publishable work. I   started reading more, writing more, and caring more, and here I am. —Eliza

From a self-professed analytical writer:

In Thursday’s class, I came to the realization that I really need to get out of my comfort zone when it comes to writing. I naturally gravitate towards writing in a manner that seems academically correct—always. I was assigned to write creatively first, which I really struggled with. Without realizing, I wrote the creative prompt in a more analytical manner. Honestly, I don’t think I wrote creatively at all. And then afterward, when writing analytically, I just used more professional verbiage and somehow making things even more structured than before. Am I really this boring?

When discussing with my partner, I noticed that she took a more anecdotal approach, which I think made her text seem less analytical and created a distinction between the two styles. Her writing was fun, personable, and relatable. I noticed that my writing seemed to only answer the prompt. I learned a lot about potential areas for growth. —Chelsea

From an unabashed creative writer:

Reading my creative piece and then moving to my analysis is a bit funny, honestly. It’s like I turned around, put a suit and tie on, slicked my hair back, and turned back to face the audience, ready to lay out some facts and cite some quotes. Lewie and I had a blast conversing and focused mostly on how similar we are in our inability to hush our creativity, humor, and emotion under any circumstances. We never actually read our analyses to each other because we were too busy laughing about how we both wrote intensely dramatic, poetic pieces about risk-taking and creative writing itself. Needless to say, we were both fully immersed —Luca

From students who cultivate the merging of these styles, or who use one genre to think strategically about the other:

From Thursday’s class I learned that I have become a better analytical writer than a creative writer. It was kind of sad to realize this, since I fell in love with writing through the creative writing I did in elementary school. In middle and high school, I still loved creating stories and new approaches with the prompts I was given, and I realize now that this made me a better analytical writer because I would look at these boring papers and still try finding a way to be creative! I think that if students at any level were allowed to release some sort of inner creativity, or allowed their own spin, that both their creative and analytical writing would improve. —Elizabeth


This exercise got me thinking that creative writing and academic writing have a systematic relationship, not a hierarchical one. When we colloquially talk of creative versus academic, we are more speaking about the Inspirational Process versus the Mechanical Process of writing, both in the actual crafting of language and in the crafting of ideas: the fundamental systems employed by the writer.

The Inspirational/Mechanical Processes are more akin to energy sources than anything else, and the writer bounces between them whether writing a post, a school essay, a poem, or a novel. The writer uses the Mechanical Process while integrating quotes but may draw on the Inspirational Process when their integration becomes ineffective or repetitive: they dive into the creative energy to find a new, more unexpected way to craft the language and ideas surrounding this quote. When the movement between these two processes is unconscious and fluid, we feel in the zone. When it’s not fluid, we become conscious of the discrepancy and may feel writer’s block. —Jacob


The exercise we did in Thursday’s class was a surprising challenge. I noticed that writing in separate styles forced me to look at the same topic from more than one angle and with different audiences in mind. In talking to Hailey about this experience, we agreed that it was difficult to mentally switch between the analyzing and creative parts of our minds. I can see that this is a skill writers need to practice in order to weave the two aspects together in a singular piece of writing.

This experience showed me that academic writing and creative writing really shouldn’t be taught as completely separate entities. It would be a disservice to student writers to not be allowed to start experimenting with the mixture of analysis and creativity before they get to the college level. It would be like parents who don’t let their children cook or try out spicing their own food and exploring flavors. They wonder why kids end up only cooking bland dishes once they move out of the house.

Bishop mentions that “creativity involves risk-taking.” What better place for student writers to take risks and try new things with their writing than the classroom? What is a teacher really doing for their students if they don’t foster a safe environment for that? How can a student confidently mix ingredients in new ways if their work keeps coming back to them covered in scolding remarks about criteria and convention errors? —Vaccarella

From students who plan to teach:

I want to be a teacher who praises/encourages students to take risks! I remember what it felt like once when a teacher told me I clearly didn’t get it, and that I should “try something easier.” I had an idea, and though it wasn’t perfect, all ideas deserve attention in a writing class, even if you end up throwing it out because that is part of the writing process too. —Sarah

Rather than thinking of the two as separate categories, Bishop believes one should come before the other: “If you are creative before you are careful, you will be more likely to gain an understanding of the writing process of professionals.” I think this shows the importance of maintaining “the creative” in composition when teaching writing to students. When students are taught to write in a strict, rubric-driven way, they’re being shielded from taking the risks that could make them really grow as writers and invest in the process itself, which most of them come to dread. This activity felt empowering, and I was energized by knowing that it was up to me to feel what was working. I want my future students to use their own instincts. —Ariel

So in teaching writing, maybe teachers should stop giving out super in-depth rubrics and prompts. Let the student read the prompt and use their writing to give the prompt some shape and depth. That way, the teacher may get a new insight instead of receiving what they already know, what they expect, the answers teachers are looking for. —Kennedy

From a rule-breaker:

Ummm…through my experience with responding to the same prompt creatively and analytically, I discovered I need to read prompts more closely. But no matter my oversight, I discovered that I will make any writing prompt my own. Even when I realized I was supposed to be writing something analytical and then something creative, both of my responses took the same form. They failed to be either specifically creative or specifically analytical and became instead what I wanted to write. I even struggled to stay on the topic of creativity, instead finding myself connecting the prompt to some recent experiences. Neither struck me as easier, considering I found it impossible to meet the criteria of both!

The other day I saw a TikTok about how at 5 years old 98% of children met the requirements of being a “creative genius.” By age 10, only about 30% did and by adulthood it was less than 5% (or something.) I think the role of creativity in teaching writing should be fostered. There are also many reasons to consider student writing as literature beyond the fact that they are far more similar than they are different. The most compelling to me is building the confidence of students. Regardless of what a teacher may say to their students, their underlying beliefs come through, and if it’s clear that a teacher doesn’t take their students’ writing seriously, students won’t take their own writing seriously either. —Mo

From a student with big questions about academic voice:

It was easier to get into a state of flow when writing creatively. I got nearly three times more words out in the first write-up compared to the second (which I would attribute to the need I felt to incorporate evidence in the academic writing style). It’s interesting that I naturally associate academic writing with evidence-based style and creative writing with a more intuitive style. If I dig further, I realize that the academic voice that I attempted is neither natural or captivating, and it is certainly not a voice that I ever see myself utilizing outside of academia.

Why do I use it? Who has shaped my understanding of this academic style… one that I think is both boring and impractical? If you take another step, one must wonder: why do we teach students to write with this voice? I don’t even think this is done intentionally, but I also think this is a bigger question than it appears to be on the surface.—Ryan

Even if you only browsed a few of these student samples, it’s easy to detect their level of engagement. These writers are asking interesting questions and courageously posing solutions for themselves, as well as for the educational systems they are a part of. It’s worth noting that these Discussion Posts are entirely credit-based; students receive a 100 for completion if they meet a 250-word count. All students easily wrote much more than this, not simply checking a box to receive a grade. They continued to mention the impact of this assignment all semester long, even referencing it in final projects and on course-instructor evaluations.

Thank you, Ryan, Mo, Kennedy, Ariel, Sarah, Vaccarella, Jacob, Sarah, Elizabeth, Chelsea, Eliza, Luca, and Mo for giving us new ideas about Wendy Bishop’s work and the larger practice of engaged teaching and writing.

Works Cited

Bishop, Wendy. “When All Writing is Creative and Student Writing is Literature.” The Subject Is Writing, 2nd ed. Edited by Wendy Bishop, Heinemann Educational Books, 1999, pp.192-201.

Glenn, Cheryl. “Remapping Rhetorical Territory.” Rhetoric Review, vol. 13, no. 2, 1995, pp. 287–303.

Shrewsbury, Carolyn M. “What Is Feminist Pedagogy?” Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3/4, 1987, pp. 6–14.


Inspiring Collegiality: A Roundtable on Intergenerational Mentoring

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.

Renee Love—Intertextuality

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.

Works Cited

Bishop, Wendy. “A Rose by Every Other Name: The Excellent Problem of Independent Writing Programs.” A Field of Dreams: Independent Writing Programs and the Future of Composition Studies, edited by Peggy O’Neill, Angela Crow, and Larry W. Burton, Logan Utah State UP, 2002, pp. 233-246.

—. Acts of Revision: A Guide for Writers. Boynton/Cook/Heinemann, 2004.

—. “Is There a Creative Writer in the House?: Tutoring to Enhance Creativity and Engagement.” A Tutor’s Guide: Helping Writers One to One, edited by Bennett A. Rafoth, Heinemann, 2000, pp. 44-54.

—. “Learning Our Own Ways to Situate Composition and Feminist Studies in the English Department.” Journal of Advanced Composition, vol. 10, no. 2, 1990, pp. 339-355.

—. “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.

—. “Suddenly Sexy: Creative Nonfiction Rear-ends Composition.” College English, vol. 65, no. 1, 2003, pp. 257-276.

—. Teaching Lives: Essays and Stories. Utah State UP, 1997.

—. The Subject is Reading. Heinemann, 2000.

—. The Subject is Writing: Essays by Teachers and Students. 2nd ed., Boynton/Cook, 1999.

Bishop, Wendy, and David Starkey. Keywords in Creative Writing. Utah State UP, 2006.

Bizzaro, Patrick. “Writers Wanted: A Reconsideration of Wendy Bishop.” College English, vol. 71, no. 3, 2009, pp. 256–70. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25472323. Accessed 21 May 2023.

Bochner, Arthur and Carolyn Ellis. “Why Autoethnography?” Social Work and Social Sciences Review, vol. 23, no. 2, Jan. 2022, pp. 8-18.

Brereton, John, and Cinthia Gannett. “Intergenerational Exchange in Rhetoric and Composition: Some Views from Here.” Composition Studies, vol. 49, no.1, 2021, pp. 119–124.

Burke, Kenneth. Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. University of California Press, 1966.

Eble, Michelle, and Lynée Lewis Gaillet, editors. Stories of Mentoring: Theory and Praxis. Parlor Press, 2008.

Fishman, Jenn, and Andrea Lunsford. “Educating Jane.” Stories of Mentoring: Theory and Praxis, edited by Michelle Eble and Lynée Lewis Gaillet, Parlor Press, 2008, pp. 18-31.

Glenn, Cheryl. Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope, Southern Illinois UP, 2018.

Leahy, Anna, Stephanie Vanderslice, Kelli Custer, Jennifer Wells, Carol Ellis, Meredith Kate Brown, Dorinda Fox, and Amy Hodges Hamilton. “Wendy Bishop’s Legacy: A Tradition of Mentoring, A Call to Collaboration.” Stories of Mentoring: Theory and Praxis, edited by Michelle Eble and Lynée Lewis Gaillet, Parlor Press, 2008, pp. 67-81.

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Generation(al) Matters: Story, Lens, and Tone.” Composition Studies, vol. 50, no. 1, 2022, pp. 106–126.

Rafoth, Ben. A Tutor’s Guide: Helping Writers One to One, second edition, Heinemann. 2005.

Rosman, Alice L. Wendy Bishop: a Feminist Voice at the Intersections of Composition, Creative Writing, and Ethnography. 2013. Oregon State University, MA thesis.

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.

Reclaiming the Work of Wendy Bishop as Rhetorical Feminist Mentoring: A Cluster Conversation

“I do have something to add to this conversation because I’m a woman and a creative writer and part of a different generation of compositionists, perhaps because I may experience fewer disharmonies and dichotomies . . . since I don’t find my academic and writing lives so disparate although they are often desperate.”

–Wendy Bishop, “If Winston Weathers Would Just Write to Me on E-Mail”

Wendy Bishop was one of the most engaged, prolific, and profoundly influential writers-scholars-teachers-researchers that the fields of Rhetoric and Composition, as well as Creative Writing, have ever known. When Bishop died twenty years ago in November of 2003, she was just fifty years old, but she had accomplished more than many people do in much longer careers. She authored or edited more than twenty books, crossed organizational borders (CCCC, AWP, MLA, WPA), often holding leadership positions, and she advocated for this very border crossing and intradisciplinary cross pollination within English Studies and beyond. Bishop transformed the binary of outsider/insider into a more inclusive, multivocal, multidisciplinary approach. As contributors to this Cluster Conversation, we find in this more fluid and flexible understanding of academic work hope for the future of our fields. We need hope, we need examples and mentors, we need to find sustainable ways of working and being that enrich rather than drain us.

As this Cluster Conversation illustrates, Wendy Bishop’s influence and legacy—profound, prolific, and persistent—continue long after her passing, and yet much of what she did often falls within the largely undocumented, relatively invisible, and ultimately devalued work of the academy—sometimes seen as “women’s” (or these days, “gendered”) work. In her essay “Places to Stand,” Bishop describes the fear of openly identifying as writers and writing teachers within the profession, a fear that may have “to do with our own concerns about authorizing ourselves as writers-who-teach-a-subject: writing” (12). What Bishop later acknowledges in an endnote is just how profoundly gendered this “pressure to be professional” is: “I also have not entered the larger discussions of feminism and writing style though I’m aware of it and sympathetic to problems like these” (30).

Her concerns about the marginalization of writing-as-subject, along with the marginalization of writing teachers who must choose between being seen as professional versus writing as a writing teacher, writer, and (what she implies) a woman, echo the broader scholarly conversation about “women’s/gendered work”—both within and beyond the academy. Elizabeth Flynn’s 1988 groundbreaking essay in College Composition and Communication “Composing as a Woman” generated conversations in the field that point to what keeps Wendy Bishop’s influence both relatively undocumented and thus invisible but also vitally important—because it is still regarded as “women’s work.” It’s not simply whether or not she is remembered—she most certainly is; it’s more a matter of how. The how is very much in line with what Amy Hodges Hamilton and Micaela Cuellar identify, citing Cheryl Glenn, as the embodied practices of rhetorical feminism. But that how is still on the margins of a hierarchical structure at work in the academy.

Beyond Binaries and Hierarchies

“A polyphony. A bouquet of voices.” –Carole Maso, Break Every Rule

In reclaiming the work of Wendy Bishop as rhetorical feminist mentoring, we seek—in this cluster conversation—to value the kind of writing that sustains us and our work but doesn’t always find a prominent place in academic publications: personal, pedagogical, dialogical, reflective, and collaborative. As this Cluster Conversation amply demonstrates, Wendy’s work remains vibrantly alive and embodied by those who worked with her and/or read her texts. Very visible in some ways yet invisible in others, Wendy’s legacy has given us a way to understand, argue for, enact, reflect upon, embody, and value work that can too readily be written off as “not professional.”

Melissa A. Goldthwaite’s “Correspondences,” first written in 2004 and revisited for this cluster conversation, reflects upon a deeply personal and also intensely writerly and teacherly relationship that sustained both of them for many years, a sustenance that illustrates the power of what Wendy advocated, finding a clear passage to that safe harbor of connection and relationship, of the community so often written and spoken about but so little understood.

In “Inspiring Collegiality: A Roundtable on Intergenerational Mentoring,” 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 continue Wendy’s legacy of refiguring mentoring as less hierarchical and more dialogical, more mutually engaging and sustaining, more about shared, “intergenerational” learning and less about what Paulo Freire critiqued as “the banking model of education”: “This journey [through academia] is enhanced in life- and career-changing ways through recursive mentoring and collegiality, collaboration, and accompaniment characterized as fluid, liminal, and asynchronous” (Gaillet).

Meg Scott-Copses, in “Creative Composing,” offers a course plan inspired by and based upon Wendy’s writing and pedagogy, illustrating how relevant Wendy’s work remains. Despite the fact that Wendy’s boundary-busting practices and theories preceded much of the current theoretical language that describes them, Meg highlights how much in line Wendy’s work is with current rhetorical feminism in her current iteration of a course, one assignment, and its outcomes.

Amy Hodges-Hamilton and Micaela Cuellar exemplify Wendy’s embrace of the margins-as-center approach to refiguring roles, genres, and dichotomies of personal/political, individual/collective, creative/critical, exploring and interrogating existing boundaries for new possibilities. Their essay both shows and tells the story of how Wendy’s “rhetorical feminism” shaped their collaborations: Amy with Wendy, Micaela with Amy. Their narratives, both collaborative and individual, break generic boundaries to weave their stories and research into a collaborative whole.

In “Writing With and After Wendy,” Doug Hesse describes how mutual efforts in writing program administration dovetailed with Wendy’s genre-busting impulses to write and teach across generic, but also other, boundaries imposed by the academy as well as the culture at large. He also shares some of Wendy’s prompts, writing in response.

“In Dialoguing with Wendy,” first written in 2003-2004, Mary Ann Cain revisits Wendy Bishop’s legacy 20 years later. She considers how Wendy’s work as “writer-teacher-writer” (Bishop, “Places to Stand”) enacts rhetorical feminism while predating the theoretical language that now helps describe and further illuminate that work. She also, like other contributors to this Cluster Conversation, considers how Wendy’s work has influenced and continues to influence her own, including after her retirement from teaching.

Through the lens of a 20-year retrospective, we discover just how current and relevant Wendy Bishop’s legacy still is, and, in turn, consider just how (often quietly) revolutionary it was in her time. Wendy’s work insisted that we break down binary understandings of identity—in her case teacher-student, master-apprentice, insider-outsider, mentor-mentee, researcher-subject, academic-creative, and so forth—in relation to the academy. While she did not have the theoretical language available to her at the time of her greatest productivity in the 1990s, diversity, equity, and inclusion were, indeed, central to her understandings and commitments. She did not specifically claim to be a feminist, or anti-racist, or an ally to the LBGTQ+ community. She simply was. She understood and enacted what legal scholar and Critical Race Theorist Kimberley Crenshaw first named “intersectionality” before she had a name for it, mapping the complexities of navigating the university as a multiply-identified entity (“writer-who-teaches teacher-who-writes”). She understood how multiple identification also applied, albeit in different terms, to her students. As Amy and Micaela point out in their contribution to this Cluster Conversation, “One way Bishop pushed against these boundaries was to include the voices of students in her scholarship, particularly those we might not have heard from previously.”

We the editors also note how Wendy’s genre-bending and blurring has prompted some of the contributors to migrate between genres within their individual pieces, and as a result, to break some discursive conventions. In particular, Wendy is named in more personal contexts as “Wendy” while referred to as “Wendy Bishop” or “Bishop” in more conventionally academic contexts. Instead of insisting on consistency within each contributor’s piece, we put the question to ourselves and those authors who were not consistent and decided that strategic “inconsistency” was appropriate, especially when navigating shifting relationships: student/teacher, mentor/mentee, colleague, friend, reader and scholar.

Toil, Toll, and Joy

“We must work. The earth of writing. To the point of becoming the earth. Humble work. Without reward. Except joy.” –Hélène Cixous, Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing

Wendy fought hard to make way for a margins-as-center approach aimed at valuing teaching and student writers and their work and knowledge. Even when she entered public debates about what writing studies should be, she quoted students, acknowledging that her goal was not just that students would continue writing after her course but that she would “become more aware and respectful of how much and how well they compose themselves before [her class], in what varied media, with what full lives, acknowledging that they are part of the ‘weight’ of the community” as much as she was; “I have power,” she acknowledged, “but when I write with them I tap into their powers” (“If Winston Weathers” 102). To consistently value what and those whom others dismiss, however, can take a toll. Doug Hesse’s poignant reflection captures the toll such work likely took:

Conversation that started in animation dwindled to near silence as we neared the airport, Wendy slumping lower in the corner of backseat and door. She’d just led her last meeting as CCCC chair, and she was exhausted. I was chastened to realize that I’d failed to register the personal costs of her commitments and dedication, seeing instead only the torrent of her talent.

When it came to institutional change, Wendy was not quiet, was not measured, but instead labored, full-throttle, through her own department and college, as well as through a head-spinning roster of professional organizations, including WPA, CCCC, AWP, and MLA within about a decade.

In this regard, her legacy is also sobering; the effort and exhaustion of taking on such professional and academic entities was Sisyphean. Feminist scholar Sara Ahmed describes it this way: “The brick wall is what you come against when you are involved in the practical project of opening worlds to bodies that have historically been excluded from those worlds” (Ahmed). Ahmed goes on to describe how “brick wall” as a metaphor is not simply an idea to those who hit it, over and over. Instead “a metaphor (something is like something) of the wall matters precisely to convey how these institutional processes become something that can be touched. A wall is what you come up against. It is a physical contact, a visceral encounter” (Ahmed). Wendy hit those institutional walls over and over: the invisible work of the teacher-writer-WPA. In its invisibility, working the margins, hitting those walls, can sometimes be a lonely task.  Such work can also make one hungry, even starved, for connection: “The wall: something tangible to some, that can be perceived by touch, by contact, is not even there for others. What one body experiences as solid, for another might simply be air. There; nothing there” (Ahmed).

The bodies Wendy wanted to open to the world of academia were writer-teachers and teacher-writers who wrote, read, and researched in collaboration with their students. And that is where the joy of Wendy’s legacy comes in. Because she refused to think, act, write, teach, feel in binary terms, she found connection everywhere:

Diversity work requires world making; finding spaces to withdraw into, places that are less hard to inhabit. Fragments, those pieces that have shattered: we find each other. We find those who have been shattered; who recognise what we are up against. What and even who. This is hard, but who too. (Ahmed)

Those kinds of connections were documented more than a decade ago in Composing Ourselves as Writer-Teacher Writers: Starting with Wendy Bishop; they were strengthened in “Wendy Bishop’s Legacy: A Tradition of Mentoring, A Call to Collaboration”; we seek to reinforce and invite new connections in this Cluster Conversation.

In the sometimes invisible, gendered work of making connections, of refusing binaries, of speaking up and hitting one brick wall after another, Wendy Bishop nonetheless inspired others to work and think and write and play and find connection along the way: “We become inventive: to survive what we have come to know. And we have come to know. We know from what we come up against even if we have only scratched the surface” (Ahmed).

It is up to us to continue to remember who she was, what she did, said, and wrote, to keep inscribing her life, work, and legacy, so that this invisibility, i.e. what is simply “air” to some, is seen, felt, and understood as something “solid,” something “tangible” and thus a shared experience that can lead to something else, something new, including places where we truly can “find each other.”

Works Cited

Ahmed, Sara. “Hard.” feministkilljoys, 10 June 2014, https://feministkilljoys.com/2014/06/10/hard. Accessed 30 July 2023.

Bishop, Wendy. “If Winston Weathers Would Just Write to Me on E-Mail.” CCC 46 (February 1993): 97-103.

—–. “Places to Stand: The Reflective Writer-Teacher-Writer in Composition.” CCC 51:1 (September 1999): 9-31.

Bizzaro, Patrick, Alys Culhane, and Devan Cook, eds. Composing Ourselves as Writer-Teacher Writers: Starting with Wendy Bishop. Hampton Press, 2011.

Flynn, Elizabeth. “Composing as a Woman.” CCC 39.4 (December 1988): 423-35.

Leahy, Anna, Stephanie Vanderslice, Kelli Custer, Jennifer Wells, Carol Ellis, Meredith Kate Brown, Dorinda Fox, and Amy Hodges Hamilton. “Wendy Bishop’s Legacy: A Tradition of Mentoring, A Call to Collaboration.” Stories of Mentoring: Theory and Praxis, edited by Michelle Eble and Lynée Lewis Gaillet, Parlor Press, 2008: 67-81.

Cixous, Hélène. Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing. Columbia University Press, 1993.

Maso, Carole. Break Every Rule. Counterpoint Press, 2000.