Cluster Conversation: Reclaiming the Work of Wendy Bishop as Rhetorical Feminist Mentoring
“Just as Virgil led Dante into the underworld, through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, so we will do for others.”
-Cheryl Glenn, Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope
If academics ever needed “this thing called hope,” we need it now in a time when Hell and Purgatory seem much closer than Heaven. Even as the pandemic has made visible, as well as exacerbated, problems with student success, retention, and mental health, previous struggles with enrollment, shrinking budgets, and sweeping challenges to the relevance and viability of higher education have created a crisis culture that is shaking the very foundations of our institutions. The Great Resignation continues to sweep dedicated faculty from classrooms and offices, while students struggle with the very technologies that are supposed to give them greater flexibility to persist yet often contribute to their failure to thrive. As academia lurches forward into an ever-uncertain future, those who remain search for sustainable means not simply to survive but to transform the conditions we collectively face.
In Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope, Cheryl Glenn introduces rhetorical feminism as a hopeful tactic and theoretical stance that can create positive change through activism; intersectional identities; and inclusive theories, practices, methods, methodologies, teaching, administration, and mentoring. Glenn describes rhetorical feminist mentoring as “a generative model of ever-expansive teaching and mutually nourishing professionalism that can be shared, passed around, and passed on. Rhetorical feminist mentoring acknowledges that we academics ‘embody’ the discipline for the next generation of scholars, and it passes along and around a legacy of values, theories, habits, and assumptions that, especially when transformed, keep the discipline rolling” (173). While Wendy Bishop did not explicitly claim to be a feminist rhetorician, teacher, or mentor, her body of work, as well as the testimonials of those who knew her well, signal her participation in exactly the kinds of activities and activism that Glenn outlines in her book.
When Bishop died nearly 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—an approach that others in the liberal arts are currently taking up to justify their existence within ever-shrinking institutions. We find that in this more fluid and flexible understanding of academic work lies hope not only for the future of our fields but also liberal education overall. In these difficult times, we need hope, we need examples and mentors, we need to find sustainable ways of working and being that enrich rather than drain us.
In this cluster conversation for the autumn 2023 issue of Peitho, we are interested in including work from a range of writers and scholars with diverse backgrounds and experiences. We especially welcome collaborations (especially between teachers and students, mentors and mentees, scholars and creative writers), mixed genres, remixes, and playful work. We ask that you write something—influenced or inspired by Bishop—that sustains you and others. For those not already familiar with Bishop’s work, we invite you to search out her books, articles, and poetry and write a piece inspired by her work. In what ways were you mentored by Wendy Bishop or her work? How did that mentoring affect your pedagogy, writing, administration, and/or life? How does Bishop’s work help you enact sustainable writing, pedagogical, and/or administrative practices? What “values, theories, habits, and assumptions” did Bishop espouse that you can you learn from and transform in ways that “keep the discipline rolling”?
This special issue will include longer pieces (up to 4,000 words) as well as shorter contributions and poems.
Please submit completed pieces to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org by June 1, 2023. Please also include a short biography (less than 100 words). We will provide notification of acceptance and suggestions for revision by July 1, 2023. Final drafts will be due on August 1, 2023.
Dr. Mary Ann Cain, Purdue University Fort Wayne (emerita)
Dr. Melissa A. Goldthwaite, Saint Joseph’s University