Friday, March 21, 2014


I find myself in Indianapolis today to attend CCCC 2014. I present this afternoon, in fact, something about which I am just a bit nervous. I should be okay, though; I have done this kind of thing before, and in front of large audiences, and I will again (in a couple months, actually, and a couple months after that). But I have not presented on a composition-related topic in some time, not since 2006, so I am a bit concerned that I am out of practice.

Cs is a hell of a place to come back in.

Those who know me professionally outside of my coworkers know me as a medievalist and fantasist; they know that I study the languages and literatures of England from the Anglo-Saxon invasion through the ascent of the Tudors to the English throne as well as that body of literature of which Tolkien is the touchstone and which so self-consciously borrows from and misappropriates the older works. It might be wondered at, then, that I, who am not a rhetorician or a compositionist, would attend what is perhaps the most important conference those groups have in the United States. I present on literature at the South Central Modern Language Association conference, and I present on the medieval at the International Congress on Medieval Studies. This year, I am presenting on a quirk in a group of texts at the Evil Incarnate conference in Cleveland (which still sounds like a hell of a time*). Why, then, do I feel the need to go out among the compositionists and rhetoricians?

The answer is that most of the work I do to support my ability to do The Work is in the composition classroom. Most of the teaching I do is of writing classes--and even my literature classes end up offering explicit writing instruction. It is not to be wondered at that I would immerse myself in the newest research and best practices in the field in which I work; I am a professor, and I am a professional, so I want to know as much about the work I am asked to do as can be known, that I may do the best job of that work as can be done.

What is really to be wondered at is that more people do not do as I do. I am hardly the only person whose area of study is literary who ends up teaching more writing than reading; the nature of the job market in the academic humanities is such that the composition course offers the only chance at something resembling steady employment for most in the field. (Not that it is terribly stable; composition classes show enrollment fluctuation, and so those who teach them are those most likely to be kept contingent so that they can be the more easily dismissed or released when numbers are down.) Most who teach literature also teach writing. Certainly they require that writing be good. They ought therefore to be invested in the development of proficient writers--and that means continuing to train such that they can assist in that development.

I do not know how many of them I am going to see today.

*I am a dad. I get to make dad jokes.

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