The title of my first Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) presentation is there on my vita for anyone to see. But I expect that few who look at my vita, if anyone does other than to count up numbers of talks, article, books, and so on, have noticed that my first CCCC conference talk was on the subject of “How to Get a Non-Academic Position.”
There’s a story behind that talk, which when I gave it I assumed would be both my first and last CCCC presentation. Here it is in brief: I entered the PhD program in English at Ohio State University in the fall of 1970 not even knowing that it was possible to undertake study in the field that we have come to call rhetoric and composition (or some related title). My area was Victorian literature, and by the time that Susan Miller and Andrea Lunsford came to Ohio State (Susan to direct the writing program and Andrea to cobble together the first PhD program of study in rhet/comp in the English department), I was well underway on a dissertation on the Victorian nonsense literature of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll.
I was also quite involved with the writing program—not only through my own teaching but also as a result of my participation in the teaching assistant (TA) council that advised the Director of Writing. To say that Susan Miller brought energy and intellectual excitement to the writing program is an understatement. Susan brought in outside speakers (David Bartholomae! Rick Coe! Erika Lindemann!), and she spoke of the development of a new field. (Later I would learn that depending on your perspective the field wasn’t so new. I would also learn of the important role that OSU Professor Edward P. J. Corbett played in the field’s contemporary formation. At the time, I knew Professor Corbett primarily as a scholar of eighteenth-century literature.)
I still remember the moment when, in the spring term of my final year of grad school, I was sitting in Susan’s office discussing some matter related to the TA advisory council that I then chaired. “Lisa,” Susan said to me, “you are going to have to make some decisions about your future career. You’re going to have to decide how seriously you want to take the teaching of writing as a profession.” Given the job market at the time—reportedly the worst for PhDs in the humanities since the depression—the notion of a “future career” in the academy was hard to imagine. By the time Susan and I had that conversation, I had already gone on the job market once (earlier that year) with no luck, and I was getting ready to put myself out there a second time. I would support myself during what I hoped would be a transitional year by working as an editor at a sociology research center on campus, and I was grateful to have that opportunity for full-time employment.
The year that I completed my dissertation is a blur now, and it probably was then too. But at some point in 1975, I realized that the upcoming 1976 CCCC would be in Philadelphia. My good friends and graduate school colleagues Andrea Lunsford and Suellynn Duffey were planning to go to the conference and would share a university van. I could travel with them if I proposed a talk and had it accepted. Attending the conference would give me a chance to learn more about the emerging field of rhet/comp, and giving a talk there would look good on my vita. I had already decided that when I went on the job market the following year I would apply both for Victorian literature and (newly created) rhet/comp positions and see what happened.
Like many of my peers, I was at a crossroads, and my future looked uncertain. My immediate challenge was to determine a topic and write a proposal. Why not draw upon my good fortune in finding what we would now call an alt academic position? Others might benefit from my experience of turning part-time work that supplemented my TA stipend into a full-time editing position. Hence my topic: How to Get a Non-Academic Position. Given the job market, I knew this would be a useful presentation for others whose situation resembled mine. And indeed the panel on which I participated was well attended.
By the time I gave that talk in the spring of 1976, I thought that my future was clear—and that it would not follow a traditional academic path. I had interviewed for two or three positions (a pitiful but at the time not unusual number) at the MLA the previous December in San Francisco. No job offers came my way. I did get a letter from the State University of New York (SUNY) Brockport saying that they were interested in my candidacy, but their position was frozen. I had been in my editing position for several terms by this point, and I liked it. I had already decided not to put myself through the job market process again. Why humiliate myself a third time?
So I gave that talk. I was energized by the conference, but I thought that my future was set: I would be an editor of scholarly publications—and I was grateful to have work that I enjoyed and that was meaningful to me. Then in the summer of 1976 SUNY Brockport called. Their position was unfrozen. They wanted to interview me on campus. Could I come? I did, and I was offered a tenure-line position of Director of Composition at that university.
I will have more to say about the role that serendipity has played in my career later in this essay. For now, I want to note the important role that certain key preferences and predilections have played in my life and career. I should perhaps be embarrassed to admit this, but I knew as early as middle school that I wanted to be a teacher, and looking back I can easily identify teachers who made a huge difference in my life. Mrs. Ryan in middle school, who taught me to love history and affirmed my identity as a serious student who cared enough to get my own subscription to my first scholarly (or semischolarly) journal: the hard-bound American Heritage. Mrs. Falk in high school (AP English junior and senior years) who required students to write an essay (some more formal than others) every day of the school year, and who developed what I later realized was an early form of portfolio evaluation.
I also knew as early as grade school that I loved reading and writing and that they were central to my sense of myself, though of course I couldn’t have articulated that at this point. By the time I was in high school I knew what I wanted to be: a high school English teacher. I loved teaching, and I loved literature—and teachers consistently praised my writing. What I discovered when I did my student teaching for my undergraduate English education degree at Ohio State was that I didn’t love the public school system—at least not the crowded inner city school where I taught. So I did what seemed natural to many students of my age and temperament at that turbulent but exciting time: I applied to grad school.
I barely knew what I was doing. I applied to only two universities—Cornell and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I have no idea how I chose them other than that they were outside of Ohio, where my family lived, but not too far away. I ended up in Madison with an out-of state tuition remission scholarship. The English department had just abolished the first-year writing requirement in retaliation against teaching assistants who had spearheaded a failed move toward unionization, so TA positions were available only to a limited number of PhD students. I supported myself during my one-year MA program by working at the Wisconsin State Department of Education, even as I marched with others in massive campus protests against the Vietnam War.
My time in Madison was difficult. I did well in my courses, but the MA program was huge: some of my MA classes that year were larger than my undergrad English classes had been at Ohio State. While some courses and professors were excellent, the goal of the program—to pass a test that included multiple-choice questions (example: Upon what does the worm sit in Blake’s Book of Thel?) at the end of the year—was uninspiring. So I applied to the PhD program at Ohio State. I did so not as a result of serious research about PhD programs or careful career planning but rather to reconnect with my then boyfriend. When I counsel students who are making decisions about grad school applications, I am astonished at the knowledge and professionalism they bring to this task. I had neither.
It was at Ohio State that I had my first experiences teaching undergraduates and my first involvement with the rhet/comp field. My interest in audience also developed in grad school. A chance conversation with a fellow TA about an assignment that he was experimenting with, one that required students to write to real or hypothetical audiences, piqued my curiosity. I began to experiment with nontraditional assignments—assignments that one way or another encouraged students to engage in writing tasks that at least offered the possibility of something resembling an authentic experience. My first publication, a brief essay entitled “Oral History,” which appeared in CCC in 1977, explored one such assignment. (Ed Corbett, who by this time was a mentor and also the editor of CCC, encouraged me every step of the way in this, my
first publication.) My second publication, also in CCC, attempted to formalize some of the questions that I had begun to ask myself about the role of audience in discourse and in the teaching of writing. This essay, “On Audience and Composition,” appeared in 1979.
As I transitioned from the field of Victorian literature to that of rhet/comp, I experienced a satisfying sense of coming full circle. My earliest aspiration had been to become an English teacher, which I knew meant being a teacher not only of literature but also of writing. When I entered grad school, that goal shifted, and I focused on the scholarly work of English studies—at least in my coursework. But my teaching drew me back to my aspirations as a teacher. With my “conversion” to rhet/comp, I felt a renewed sense of pedagogical commitment and purpose, one that was strengthened with my position directing the writing program at SUNY Brockport.
In my early years at SUNY Brockport, I had a very steep learning curve: I was the sole “expert” on the teaching of writing on my campus, even as I was attempting to educate myself about my new field. In hindsight, I see that serendipity played a role here too. While some of my contemporaries entered the field in the late 1970s and early 1980s as graduate students in rhet/comp, many others “converted” to the field after completing PhDs in literary studies. (For a discussion of this phenomenon, see chapter three of my Situating Composition: Composition Studies and the Politics of Location). The timing was fortuitous. In the wake of a purported literacy crisis (one that ultimately was more about a new generation of students entering college than a real decline of literacy), funding was available to “solve” the problem of illiteracy. Definitions of expertise in the field of rhet/comp were evolving, and commitment and pedagogical/administrative experience in many instances counted as much as a traditional graduate education—particularly given the tiny number of rhet/ comp grad programs at the time.
The more I learned about writing and rhetoric, the more engaged I became in questions about the role of audience in writing and the teaching of writing. This quest for understanding led to additional serendipitous moments in my career. The first was when I was accepted into Richard Young’s 1978–79 yearlong NEH seminar at Carnegie Mellon. My proposed topic? To explore the concept of identification in classical rhetoric, Burke’s dramatistics, and Pike’s tagmemics. At the heart of this study was my continued interest in audience. In the years since I “converted” from Victorian literature to rhet/comp, I had gained a much richer understanding of both the classical and contemporary rhetorical traditions, an understanding that was dramatically enriched by my year of study with Richard Young and with fellow seminarians Jim Berlin, Victor Vitanza, Sam Watson, Charles Kneupper, and others.
The NEH seminar was an intellectual and professional boost, and it gave me the confidence to go back on the job market. I valued my work at SUNY Brockport and enjoyed my colleagues—and I continued to marvel at the serendipity that led to my first tenure-line appointment but in the late 1970s, the college was in the midst of a serious financial crisis. Even my colleagues encouraged me to consider other options, grimly citing the possibility of what one referred to with dark humor as tenure on the Titanic. The time seemed right for a change. I interviewed for the position of Director of Writing at Oregon State and was offered it.
OSU looked like a good professional opportunity, but I have to admit that for my husband and me the thought of living in the Pacific Northwest played an important role in my decision to accept the position. Avid hikers and backpackers, we loved the thought of living in a place where we could be in the mountains in two hours and at the coast in one hour. Our friends Andrea and Steve Lunsford also were living in the Northwest—Andrea’s first job was at the University of British Columbia—and told wonderful stories of life there.
Once we moved to Oregon, the four of us took advantage of every opportunity we could to be together, traveling the eight hours up and down the I-5 corridor at least once a term, and more often in the summer. Andrea’s and my collaboration, which has played such an important role in my career, could not have taken off—especially given the technological limitations of the time (no email, no word processing, etc.) without that physical proximity. Even so, Andrea and I first collaborated almost by accident. With our friend Robert Connors, we were coediting Essays on Classical Rhetoric and Modern Discourse, a collection in honor of our mentor Edward P. J. Corbett. We were vacationing on the Oregon coast, and while on a long walk it suddenly occurred to us that it might be rewarding to write a collaborative essay for that collection. We had each planned on contributing an individual essay. Our memories of our motivation differ somewhat. I remember thinking that it would please Ed Corbett. Andrea remembers thinking that it might be practical and efficient to write together, given our other responsibilities as coeditors. We both agree that serendipity played a role in our decision to write together. Without that chance conversation, our long collaboration might never have happened.
Andrea’s and my essay “On Distinctions between Classical and Modern Rhetoric” was published in Essays on Classical Rhetoric and Modern Discourse in 1984. We were surprised by how much we enjoyed writing together and, especially, how productive our collaboration was. It was clear to us that working together encouraged us to be particularly ambitious and to challenge ourselves in ways that we might not have done if we were writing alone. So to us, it felt natural to continue to undertake significant collaborations—even as we each engaged in individual projects. However, what felt natural and productive to us was anything but to our colleagues. In fact, we quickly realized that many of our colleagues (including Ed Corbett) viewed our collaboration as shocking—even dangerous. “You will never get tenure if you insist on writing together,” Andrea and I remember Ed fretfully warning us. And his concerns were justified. When Andrea prepared her materials for promotion and tenure at UBC she was told by her chair that “of course her collaborative work couldn’t be considered.” Anticipating similar difficulties, my chair invited Andrea to “spontaneously” send him a letter noting that all of our collaborations were equal. Nevertheless, my college’s promotion and tenure committee requested that Andrea and I go through all of our coauthored essays and use colored markers to indicate who had written which sentence. Needless to say, we refused—and fortunately I was promoted and tenured despite this refusal.
Earlier in this essay, I commented on the importance of key preferences and predilections, and in the case of Andrea’s and my collaboration I would have to call attention to our stubbornness. The more people challenged our desire to write together, the more persistent we were in attempting to understand—and critique—the preference for single authorship in the humanities. This led to our 1990 Singular Texts/Plural Authors: Perspectives on Collaborative Writing, and to much additional work. But our very close friendship also played a central role in our collaboration.
In 2012 Andrea and I published Writing Together: Collaboration in Theory and Practice, a collection of previously published and new work. The collection gives a good sense of the range of topics we have explored over thirty plus years of collaboration. In the first section, we address the question “Why Write Together?” The second section includes several chapters from our 1990 Singular Texts/Plural Authors: Perspectives on Collaborative Writing, as well as more recent thoughts on this topic. The third section focuses on our research on audience and includes our essay “Audience Addressed/Audience Invoked: The Role of Audience in Composition Theory and Practice,” our most anthologized work; the fourth, on rhetorics and feminisms, and the final section on writing centers. Each section concluded with a new essay written especially for this collection.
Putting this collection together was a joyful act; however, I do not want to romanticize our collaboration. In the introduction and in various new essays, Andrea and I attempt to dispel some potential myths about our collaboration. No, we have not always been “together” and not always been in accord. Yes, we have experienced some painful personal and professional moments as a result of our collaboration. But yes, despite the complexities that are part of any human experience, we are grateful for the journey that we have taken together.
One powerful insight that we slowly came to recognize in recent years is the extent to which developments in new literacies and technologies have caused what we always viewed as two more or less separate strands of research—our work on audience and on collaborative writing—to merge. As we note in “‘Among the Audience’: On Audience in an Age of New Literacies,” another of the new essays in Writing Together, we have come to understand that
as writers and audiences merge and shift places in online environments, participating in both brief and extended collaborations, it is increasingly obvious that writers seldom, if ever, write alone. In short, when receivers or consumers of information become creators of content as well, it is increasingly difficult to tell when writers are collaborative writers or authors and when they are members of audiences. (238)
This insight has played an important role in our recent research—and also in a relatively new textbook that we have undertaken with coauthors Michal Brody, Beverly Moss, Carole Clark Papper, and Keith Walters. (Our editor Marilyn Moller has also played an essential role in this project.) Everyone’s an Author attempts to respond to the exigencies described in this statement and to present rhetorical strategies appropriate to twenty-first-century readers and writers.
I mentioned earlier that one of the sections in Writing Together focuses on Andrea’s and my research on feminisms and rhetorics. I would like to say a bit more about my (and Andrea’s and my) engagement with feminist research in our field. I have already noted how rewarding it felt when I transitioned from Victorian literature to rhet/comp to reaffirm my strong commitment to teaching and to find a way formally to express that commitment. I felt a similar sense of satisfaction in the 1990s as my research increasingly engaged feminist theories and practices. A strong feminist since my undergraduate days, I did not originally see how to make connections between my personal and scholarly commitments.2 My friend Beth Flynn emphasized the importance of making these connections in her pathbreaking 1988 CCC article “Composing as a Woman.” In my case, that meant making a transition from research that focused primarily on classical and contemporary rhetorical theory to explicitly feminist research. In that regard, I view the article that Cheryl Glenn, Andrea, and I coauthored, “Border Crossings: Intersections of Rhetoric and Feminism,” which was published in Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric in 1995, as a particularly important turning point.
When we published this piece, Cheryl, Andrea, and I knew that it was important work: we believe that our article was the first feminist article published in Rhetorica, a journal that until that point had focused on traditional rhetorical historiography and analysis. That article also planted a seed in Cheryl’s and my minds. In the fall of 1995, our chair invited us to cocoordinate a one-time conference on any topic that we thought might draw interest. (At that time, Cheryl was still teaching at Oregon State and had not yet moved to Penn State.) Cheryl and I pinned our hopes and dreams on the then-still-nascent topic of rhetorics and feminisms. In August 1997 the conference “From Boundaries to Borderlands: Rhetoric(s) and Feminism(s)” was held at OSU. Just as I assumed that my 1976 CCCC presentation on how to get
a nonacademic position would be my first and last appearance at the CCCC, so too did Cheryl and I assume that “From Boundaries to Borderlands” would be a one-time phenomenon. However, near the end of the conference Lillian Bridwell-Bowles and Lisa Albrecht announced that the conference was so powerful as a site of feminist research, inquiry, and networking that it had to continue, and that the University of Minnesota would sponsor it in two years. Thus was the first of what has come to be an ongoing succession of conferences exploring the intersections of feminisms and rhetorics. (For more on the history of the feminisms and rhetorics conference series, which is now sponsored by the Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition, see the chapter on that topic in Writing Together.)
Sometimes we recognize a serendipitous occurrence the moment it happens: that was definitely the case when I was offered my first tenure line position at SUNY Brockport (which I am happy to report has weathered its earlier financial storm nicely). Sometimes we can only recognize serendipity in action in hindsight, as was the case with the chance conversation that caused Andrea and me to undertake our first collaborative project.
I certainly didn’t recognize it as a serendipitous moment when during my interview in 1980 at Oregon State the chair nonchalantly mentioned, “We wondered if in addition to directing the writing program you’d also agree to head up the writing center . . .”—but it was. Even though this meant that I would direct two writing programs as an untenured assistant professor, my thirty-plus years of directing OSU’s Writing Center, and thus of being able to interact with colleagues like Lex Runciman, Jon Olson, Wayne Robertson, and Dennis Bennett and literally hundreds of writing assistants, has been a highlight of my career. My work with the writing assistants and with student writers at the Center also played an important role in my decision to write a first-year writing textbook. That book has gone through ten editions since it was first published in 1989. The first six editions came out under the title Work in Progress: A Guide to Academic Writing and Revising. After a radical revisioning of the text, it reappeared in 2008 as The Academic Writer: A Brief Guide for Students. This text is now in its fourth edition.
I am grateful for the opportunity that writing this essay has given me to take a long view of my scholarly work, and of the personal, intellectual, and professional commitments and predilections that, in hindsight, have proven to be constant (if not always visible, and certainly not always conscious) threads. In that regard, I would like to turn again to the dissertation I wrote on the Victorian nonsense of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. Imagine my surprise when Patrick Bizzaro contacted me in the late 1990s wanting to interview me about possible connections between my dissertation topic and my subsequent work in composition, especially my interest in audience. Up to this point, I had viewed these two research interests as completely disconnected. As Bizzaro persuasively argues in his 1999 CCC essay, “What I Learned in Grad School, or Literary Training and the Theorizing of Composition,” the connections that I originally couldn’t see were nevertheless there. Bizzaro cites frequent statements of concern about miscommunication, a predilection for ranging broadly in terms of sources and disciplines, and a preference for what Bizzaro terms “a tactic of complication” as connections between my dissertation and my work on audience. (In case you’re interested, Bizzaro also looks at connections between the dissertations of other scholars of my generation who “converted” to composition after completing PhDs in literature, including William Irmscher, Linda Flower, Art Young, David Bartholomae, Erika Lindemann, Toby Fulwiler, and Peter Elbow.)
Bizzaro’s essay was published in part two of a special issue of CCC, “A Usable Past: CCC at 50.” In the introduction to this issue, editor Joseph Harris writes of the importance of uncovering “a people’s history of our field” (559). This and other essays in this collection contribute, I hope, to this project. It goes without saying that a true people’s history of any field requires diverse contributions from diversely situated participants. A colleague fresh out of grad school or in the first ten years of his or her postgraduate career would
necessarily (and refreshingly) have a different story to tell than I have.
In my own narrative, I have tried to emphasize the central role that serendipity has played in my career, while also emphasizing that key preferences and predilections can also be relevant. But I should also acknowledge that what the editors of this volume refer to as accidental sagacity played a role as well. After all, my long-time commitment to teaching encouraged me to take advantage of the kairotic opportunities that I had as a graduate student at Ohio State when Susan Miller took over the writing program. Mentors also played an important role. Some mentors were inspirational intellectually; Susan surely was that. But other equally important mentors intervened in practical ways in my career. When I came to Oregon State, for instance, my contract stated that I would teach eight courses out of a usual nine-course load (over three quarters). When my chair Robert Frank realized how much I was up against directing two writing programs as an untenured assistant professor (no one in the English department knew anything about the writing center, which had been connected with another unit and was radically underfunded), he rearranged my schedule so that I taught one course that entire year. He was also an advocate for rhet/comp at a time when most members of my department saw it as a new and questionable area—an assumption that I am happy to say has changed considerably over the years.
In turning toward my conclusion, I should acknowledge that as I worked on this essay I found myself troubled by a persistent question:
how do I avoid the potential narcissism inherent in a focus on my research, my career?
What do I have to say, I found myself asking over and over as I sat fretting at my computer, that might be of some use to those who are earlier in their scholarly and professional paths? At a minimum, I hope that I have documented, however sketchily, a particular moment in the development of the field of rhetoric and composition—a moment when a PhD student could begin writing a dissertation thinking that (if lucky) she was embarking on a career teaching literature only to discover that a (to her) new field would issue her an invitation in the form of mentors and colleagues like Susan Miller, Ed Corbett, Andrea Lunsford, Beth Flynn, Suellynn Duffey, Robert Connors, Jim Berlin, Victor Vitanza, and others.
I hope that this essay reminds readers that ethical questions are always present for any member of any field, including our own. In Situating Composition: Composition Studies and the Politics of Location, I attempted to raise some questions about the costs as well as the benefits of composition’s professionalization. My goal in this study is not to challenge the value of theory but rather to remind scholars in our field of our responsibilities given academic hierarchies of knowledge, which value the practice of theory over the practice of teaching. In so doing, I call attention to the importance of considering what philosopher Linda Alcoff refers to in her much cited essay “The Problem of Speaking for Others.” I appreciate the ongoing efforts of younger scholars to continue this conversation and to find powerful and persuasive ways to act upon it.
Throughout this essay, I have attempted to call attention to the role that serendipity plays in (I would argue) any career in any field—but especially in the academy, where individual success is both highly valorized and (in research universities, at least) narrowly defined in terms of scholarly productivity. Over the years, I have looked for any and every opportunity to share the story of my first CCCC talk with graduate students and colleagues. So often it can be tempting to think that someone who has managed to secure a tenureline position and to publish was somehow destined for success. I like to think that in our current climate—where many are advocating for contingent faculty members and exploring alt-academic careers—this assumption has been vigorously challenged. If my narrative can help further dislodge this assumption, I would be pleased.
Alcoff, Linda. “The Problem of Speaking for Others.” Cultural Critique 37 (1991): 5–32. Print.
Bizzaro, Patrick. “What I Learned in Grad School, or Literary Training and the Theorizing of Composition.” CCC 50 (1999): 722–42. Print.
Connors, Robert J., Lisa Ede, and Andrea Lunsford, eds. Essays on Classical Rhetoric and Modern Discourse. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1984. Print.
Ede, Lisa. The Academic Writer: A Brief Guide for Students. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s P, 1989. (2nd ed., 1992; 3rd ed., 2014; 4th ed., 2017). Print.
———. “On Audience and Composition.” CCC 30 (1979): 291–95. Print.
———. “Oral History.” CCC 28 (1977): 380–83. Print.
———. Situating Composition: Composition Studies and the Politics of Location. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2004. Print.
———. Work in Progress: A Guide to Academic Writing and Revising. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s P, 1989. (2nd ed., 1992; 3rd ed., 1995; 4th ed., 1998; 5th ed., 2001; 6th ed., 2004). Print.
Ede, Lisa, and Andrea Lunsford. “Audience Addressed/Audience Invoked: The Role of Audience in Composition Theory and Pedagogy.” CCC 35.2 (May 1984): 155–71. Print.
———. Singular Texts/Plural Authors: Perspectives on Collaborative Writing. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1990. (Paperback ed., 1992). Print.
Ede, Lisa, Cheryl Glenn, and Andrea Lunsford. “Border Crossings: Intersections of Rhetoric and Feminism.” Rhetorica 13 (1995): 285–325. Print.
Flynn, Elizabeth A. “Composing as a Woman.” CCC 39 (1988): 423–35. Print.
Lunsford, Andrea, Michal Brody, Lisa Ede, Beverly Moss, Carole Clark Papper, and Keith Walters. Everyone’s an Author. New York: W. W. Norton, 2013. (2nd ed., 2017). Print.
Lunsford, Andrea, and Lisa Ede. Writing Together: Collaboration in Theory and Practice. Bedford/
St. Martin’s P, 2012. Print.