College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

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Mays, Chris. Fact and Fabrication in Creative Nonfiction. Mar. 2018. Posted 04/04/2018.

Mays, Chris. ‘“You Can’t Make This Stuff Up’: Complexity, Facts, and Creative Nonfiction.” College English 80.4 (2018): 319-41. Print.

Chris Mays explores the creation of meaning in writing through an examination of the relationship between “fact” and “fabrication” in the genre of creative nonfiction (321). He links this analysis to a 1985 article by Jim W. Corder arguing that adherence to the “narrative” each of us creates to structure our lives makes it difficult to “accommodate . . . differences” we encounter with others’ narratives (319). Mays finds an illustration of this difficulty in debates over factual accuracy in creative nonfiction.

Mays argues that writing in general excels in giving an impression of representing facts in “straightforward” ways, often appearing most praiseworthy “when a writer ‘just tells it like it is’ . . . or writes in ‘plain language’” (320). Any “simplicity” thus created, Mays contends, masks writing’s “own incredible complexity” (320). Ultimately, in Mays’s view, the power of writing to make the meaning it creates appear straightforward and uncontestable, while hiding the process through which that meaning was produced, leads to the kind of insularity Corder describes (321, 337).

Mays approaches the issue of meaning in writing through genre theory. He reports scholarship on genre that depicts genre as a categorization that “organizes writing into recognizable forms” (326); quoting Carolyn R. Miller, he portrays genre as the “form” of writing that “shapes the response of the reader or listener to substance by providing instruction . . . about how to perceive and interpret” (qtd. in Mays 324). Genres, he writes, tend to look “stable” but are actually in constant flux, with the result that readers respond to representations of facts differently when they encounter them in different genres, which themselves are responsive to different contexts (325):

[F]acts emerge out of genres, and how the boundary lines of fact and fiction are drawn is dependent on the genres in which one is observing the facts. (325)

For Mays, looking at creative nonfiction as a contextualized, fluid genre illuminates how genre assumptions affect attitudes toward facticity particularly because the history of this genre reveals ongoing tensions over the degree to which authors of creative nonfiction deal with “facts” versus “subjective experience” (321). Mays finds that, even though writers in the genre acknowledge the subjectivity introduced by literary techniques, definitions of creative nonfiction emphasize its allegiance to facts (321, 324). He argues that the tension inherent in the genre is especially useful in revealing how concerns about the facticity of writing “shift the focus away from the complex mechanism by which all facts are created and maintained” (326), thus illustrating an important feature of writing itself.

To explore these issues, Mays dissects controversy over the use of facts in the satire of David Sedaris. He analyzes the critique of Alex Heard, who condemns Sedaris’s use of elaboration and apparent invention as violations of what Heard sees as a sacrosanct obligation of writers of creative nonfiction: not to “make things up” (qtd. in Mays 329). Other respondents defended Sedaris as engaged in telling stories in which fabrications lead to “composite truths” valuable in themselves (328, 335). Mays’s interest revolves around the degree to which the criteria applied to Sedaris are “extremely passionate” (328) and “rigid” (327). He argues that the negative critics of Sedaris create inviolate genres that they believe are stable and judge the handling of facts by these rules (330). “Observers” of the creative-nonfiction genre, he writes,

often just do not perceive that there are different ways of drawing genre boundaries and intensely defend the singularity of their views. (328)

For Mays, this reaction to fact within the genre, which he depicts as widespread (321), sheds light on the tendency to forget that writing as writing is always, in Kenneth Burke’s terms, both a “selectio[n]” and a “deflection of reality” (qtd. in Mays 338; emendation in Mays). Mays contends that writing disguises the process of selection that generates a multiplicity of “facts” (329).

Mays further argues for the contextual nature of facts by noting that although “community influence” (330), for example that of the community of creative nonfiction writers, may affect decisions about what counts as an acceptable allegiance to facts, even writers within the community still generate bounded genres that drive their attitude toward the representation of their material. Writers in the genre may contend that Sedaris’s exploitation of subjectivity shirks what Heard calls the “ethical requirements” of fidelity to reality in order to sell more effectively (qtd. in Mays 330), yet Mays also cites memoirist William Bradley, whose criteria recognize “different kinds of truths” (331), and the controversy surrounding Mike Daisey’s depiction of working conditions at Apple facilities in China. Daisey asserted that his genre was “theater,” not “journalism,” and thus his problematic representation of the conditions he reported was justified (333-34).

Mays ties the question of how facts are made to the classroom by referencing “the oft-made demand for a focus on plain facts in first-year writing” (336). This demand, in his view, can be attributed to an ongoing hope for “perfect writing” that fully represents reality (337). For Mays, such writing can never exist because “writers will never be able to fully control or stabilize what is truth, fact, or fabrication in their writing” (336). In his view, complexity theory suggests that problems arise because one’s construction of reality precludes the ability to perceive what is left out of that construction (332). The act of writing in itself creates complexity, which imbues writing with this characteristic blindness (332, 335). Thus, a section title asserts, “All Writing is Dishonest (and Honest)” (333).

Citing Bronwyn T. Williams to note that some reliance on facts is necessary for day-to-day living (325), and recognizing the challenge of a “workable” acceptance that all facts are contextual (332), Mays agrees with Jane Bennett that “recognit[ion] that . . . other divergent configurations exist, even if we cannot perceive them,” is “an ethical necessity” (333). He concludes that Corder’s exhortation to extend our awareness beyond our own narratives inevitably encounters the degree to which the creation of those narratives generates the very conditions that make moving beyond them so difficult (337). Mays argues for intensified awareness of the partiality of any written truth and of the degree to which a rigid insistence on facts can limit our appreciation of different kinds of writing and what this diversity can achieve (338).


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Accessibility to print for visually-impaired persons–The Marrakesh Treaty

This information may have been widely circulated among composition professionals; I have not encountered it in any of the journals I’ve been accessing for this blog. At the same time, I’ve summarized some articles dealing with access for students with different disabilities, so I felt it might be useful to supply a link on this issue.

I received this link through a controversy that arose through my creative-writing blog. If you’re interested in the specifics (which involve intellectual-property issues that may resonate for some in composition), you can read the posts here and here.

A respondent to the second post introduced me to the Marrakesh Treaty. This treaty, which the U.S. has joined, allows authorized non-profit sites to post works for “blind and print-disabled” persons regardless of copyright.

As an author with my own books for sale at commercial sites, I was unaware of this new treaty, and from what I’ve seen, few in the creative-writing blogosphere were aware of it. If you have had experience with its provisions, please share. If not, and you would like to know more, you can check out a brief discussion and links to both an overview article and the treaty itself.

You should be able to reblog and share both this notice and the posts regarding the intellectual-property discussion. The reader’s comments on the second post in the series provide useful information about access for print-disabled readers.

I hope this information is helpful to some visitors to this site.

 


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Blatant Self-Promotion: King of the Roses 99 cents at Amazon next week!

KOTR Tatiana300KING OF THE ROSES

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“An impressive debut by a superb writer!”–Publishers Weekly

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Bailey & Bizzaro. Research in Creative Writing. August RTE. Posted 08/25/2017.

Bailey, Christine, and Patrick Bizzaro. “Research in Creative Writing: Theory into Practice.” Research in the Teaching of English 52.1 (2017): 77-97. Print.

Christine Bailey and Patrick Bizzaro discuss the disciplinarity of creative writing and its place in relation to the discipline of composition. They work to establish an aesthetic means of interpreting and representing data about creative writing in the belief that in order to emerge as a discipline its own right, creative writing must arrive at a set of shared values and understandings as to how research is conducted.

Bailey and Bizzaro’s concerns derive from their belief that creative writing must either establish itself as a discipline or it will be incorporated into composition studies (81). They contend that creative writing studies, like other emerging disciplines, must account for, in the words of Timothy J. San Pedro, “hierarchies of power” within institutions (qtd. in Bailey and Bizzaro 78) such that extant disciplines control or oppress less powerful disciplines, much as “teaching practices and the texts used in schools” oppress marginal student groups (78). A decision to use the methodologies of the “dominant knowledges” thus accedes to “imperial legacies” (San Pedro, qtd. in Bailey and Bizzaro 78).

Bailey and Bizzaro report that discussion of creative writing by compositionists such as Douglas Hesse and Wendy Bishop has tended to address how creative writing can be appropriately positioned as part of composition (79). Drawing on Bishop, the authors ascribe anxiety within some English departments over the role of creative writing to “genre-fear,” that is, “the belief that two disciplines cannot simultaneously occupy the same genre” (79).

They recount Bishop’s attempt to resolve the tension between creative writing studies and composition by including both under what she called a de facto “ready-made synthesis” that she characterized as the “study of writers writing” (qtd. in Bailey and Bizzaro 80). In the authors’ view, this attempt fails because the two fields differ substantially: “what one values as the basis for making knowledge differs from what the other values” (80).

The authors see creative writing studies itself as partially responsible for the difficulties the field has faced in establishing itself as a discipline (79, 80-81). They draw on Stephen Toulmin’s approach to disciplinarity: “a discipline exists ‘where men’s [sic] shared commitment to a sufficiently agreed set of ideals leads to the development of an isolable and self-defining repertory of procedures” (qtd. In Bailey and Bizzaro 80). The authors elaborate to contend that in a discipline, practitioners develop shared views as to what counts as knowledge and similarly shared views about the most appropriate means of gathering and reporting that knowledge (80).

Creative writing studies, they contend, has not yet acted on these criteria (81). Rather, they state, creative writers seem to eschew empirical research in favor of “craft interviews” consisting of “writers’ self-reports”; meanwhile, compositionists have undertaken to fill the gap by applying research methodologies appropriate to composition but not to creative writing (81). The authors’ purpose, in this article, is to model a research methodology that they consider more in keeping with the effort to define and apply the specific values accruing to creative writing.

The methodology they advance involves gathering, interpreting, and representing aesthetic works via an aesthetic form, in this case, the novel. Students in nine sections of first-year-writing classes in spring and fall 2013 responded to a “creative-narrative” prompt: “How did you come to this place in your life? Tell me your story” (84). Students were asked to respond with “a creative piece such as a poem, screenplay, or graphic novel” (84). All students were invited to participate with the understanding that their work would be confidential and might be represented in published research that might take on an alternative form such as a novel; the work of students who signed consent forms was duplicated and analyzed (84-85).

Data ultimately consisted of 57 artifacts, 55 of which were poems (85). Coding drew on the work of scholars like K. M. Powell, Elspeth Probyn, and Roz Ivanič to examine students’ constructions of self through the creative-narrative process, and on that of James E. Seitz to consider how students’ use of metaphor created meaning (85, 86). Further coding was based on Kara P. Alexander’s 2011 study of literacy narratives (86).

This analysis was combined with the results of a demographic survey to generate six groups revolving around “[c]ommon threads” in the data (86); “personas” revealed through the coded characteristics divided students into those who, for example, “had a solid identity in religion”; “were spiritually lost”; were “uncertain of identity [and] desiring change”; were “reclusive” with “strong family ties”; were interested in themes of “redemption or reformation”; or “had lived in multiple cultures” (86). This list, the authors state, corresponds to “a standard analysis” that they contrast with their alternative creative presentation (86).

In their methodology, Bailey and Bizzaro translate the “composites” identified by the descriptors into six characters for a young-adult novel Bailey developed (88). Drawing on specific poems by students who fell into each composite as well as on shared traits that emerged from analysis of identity markers and imagery in the poems, the authors strove to balance the identities revealed through the composites with the individuality of the different students. They explore how the characters of “Liz” and “Emmy” are derived from the “data” provided by the poems (89-90), and offer an excerpt of the resulting novel (90-92).

They present examples of other scholars who have “used aesthetic expressions in the development of research methods” (88). Such methods include ethnography, a form of research that the authors consider “ultimately a means of interpretive writing” (93). Thus, in their view, creating a novel from the data presented in poems is a process of interpreting those data, and the novel is similar to the kind of “storytell[ing]” (93) in which ethnography gathers data, then uses it to represent, interpret, and preserve individuals and their larger cultures (92-93).

They continue to contend that embracing research methods that value aesthetic response is essential if creative writing is to establish itself as a discipline (93). These methodologies, they argue, can encourage teachers to both value aesthetic elements of student work and to use their own aesthetic responses to enhance teaching, particularly as these methods of gathering and representing data result in “aesthetic objects” that are “evocative, engage readers’ imaginations, and resonate with the world we share not only with our students but also with our colleagues in creative writing” (94). They argue that “when the ‘literariness’ of data reports [becomes] a consideration in the presentation of research,” composition and creative writing will have achieved “an equitable relationship in writing studies” (95).

 


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Hall, H. Bernard. Hip-hop Based Education. RTE, Feb. 2017. Posted 03/10/2017.

Hall, H. Bernard. “Deeper than Rap: Expanding Conceptions of Hip-hop Culture and Pedagogy in the English Language Arts Classroom.” Research in the Teaching of English 51.3 (2017): 341-50. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.

H. Bernard Hall writes about the status of “hip-hop based education” (HHBE) (342) in English Language Arts classrooms. He advocates research in and teacher-education on the ways that HHBE can be effectively integrated into literacy education.

Hall presents conversations he has had at conferences and with colleagues about how best to include hip-hop in a curriculum, particularly one that is expected to accord with the Common Core State Standards (341-42). He reports that teachers seem interested in the potential of hip-hop as a means of “teach[ing] critical media literacy and foster[ing] critical consciousness, especially as they intersect around racial identity politics” (344). Some teachers need guidance in best practices for using hip-hop to engage students already involved in hip-hop culture when such a curriculum is explicitly prohibited by an administration (342).

Hall’s review of the past three decades of interest in hip-hop as a pedagogical intervention suggests that “teachers no longer need to be sold on why they should be using hip-hop in the classroom; they want to know how to use hip-hop in the classroom” (342; emphasis original).

Central to this concern is a question as to where hip-hop “[f]it[s] within the Common Core.” Hall answers, “It fits where you make space for it” (343; emphasis original). He argues that such efforts are aided by “the vagueness of the Common Core” and “the versatility of hip-hop texts” which allow “additive and transformative approaches” that can both exploit the strength of hip-hop as a pedagogical vehicle and meet the skills-based outcomes teachers must produce (343). Important to this process, Hall argues, is the power of hip-hop to undermine the Common Core’s “false binary of literary and informational texts” (343). In imparting knowledge through narrative, hip-hop becomes, in Hall’s view, “literary nonfiction” that moves beyond “just poetry” (343). Hip-hop’s aesthetic conveys argument and critique about important issues in students’ cultural experiences.

Noting that “[t]eacher effectiveness and student achievement . . . are located in why and how we teach more than in what we teach,” Hall asks teachers to articulate the “big idea driving [their] curricular intervention” (343-44; emphasis original). He gives examples of the ways such big ideas emerge from diverse applications of HHBE (344). To understand how hip-hop can best be used, he urges more ethnographic research into such applications “by real teachers in their specific contexts” (344).

Arguing that analyzing hip-hop as a text is not sufficient to release its potential as a source of “ideas, epistemologies, and dilemmas that can inform teaching and learning” (Petchauer, qtd. in Hall 345), Hall examines two aesthetic dimensions of the form. In its improvisational nature, freestyling is related blues and jazz; Hall contends that allowing students to move outside the restrictions of more conventional writing formats and use freestyling to “write without premeditation or fear of reprisal” (345) can provide new avenues for the prewriting and invention that lead to more successful academic work.

Similarly, ciphering, or an active participatory exchange that moves beyond “the mere arrangement of desks in a circle” to cast students as “feelers” and “righters” (346) can make use of hip-hop’s emphasis on the realities and environments in which Americans actually live (348). Hall gives examples of teachers who have accepted the call inherent in HHBE to become “cultural workers” in the manner of Henry Giroux (345-46). Effective methodologies for incorporating hip-hop can exploit the form’s focus on the lives of “black and brown students” and their relations to cultural oppression even through the study of traditional texts (346).

Hall takes issue with the position that only practitioners deemed sufficiently authentic can make use of HHBE. He writes that efforts to “’keep it [HHBE] real,’ in effect, stifle the potential of HHBE to interrupt the white privilege that dominates teacher education” (347). Development of HHBE must “work toward narrowing the chasm that exists between the black men who tend to dominate HHBE research and the white women interested in practicing HHBE” (346).

Moreover, Hall writes, scholarship on and practice of HHBE should be willing to determine, through “experimental studies,” in what ways incorporating hip-hop into ELA curricula helps students achieve outcomes like those promoted by the Common Core (347). He juxtaposes worries that working with the Common Core framework will necessarily constitute “sell[ing] out” with his admonition that scholars

must be careful not to essentialize the collectiveness of hip-hop understandings, experiences, and ways of knowing, nor to romanticize the agentive and/or reproductive aspects of hip-hop culture and pedagogy. (348)

He calls for “more models” that will underscore the role of hip-hop as a “microcosm of the nation’s challenges to manifest its rhetoric of multiculturalism, diversity, and inclusion” (348). Efforts to locate HHBE firmly in the mainstream of ELA education, he contends, are important because the exclusion of hip-hop from teachers’ options would palpably demonstrate that “black lives don’t matter” (348; emphasis original).


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Skains, R. Lyle. Multimodal Creative Writing. C&C, March 2017. Posted 02/05/2017.

Skains, R. Lyle. “The Adaptive Process of Multimodal Composition: How Developing Tacit Knowledge of Digital Tools Affects Creative Writing.” Computers and Composition 43 (2017): 106-17. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.

R. Lyle Skains describes a “practice-based research” project conducted over a three-and-a-half year period in which she analyzed her development as a writer of digital fiction. In this project, Færwhile, Skains progresses through drafts of several stories, beginning with a traditional “analogue” story and culminating in stories in which she has internalized the knowledge needed to create successful digital compositions.

Skains argues that such research is needed because composition pedagogy does not fully account for the “fundamental, cognitive differences between writing for the page and writing for digital media” (106). While students may engage with digital media as readers, she contends, they have little practice in actually exploiting the possibilities of digital media as writers (115). She emphasizes the need for explicit knowledge of the demands of a new medium to become internalized as tacit knowledge; students come to multimodal assignments with tacit knowledge of print from their long experience with it, but may not yet have gained the kind of tacit knowledge of digital media that will allow them to become fully accomplished multimodal writers (107).

Her own project involved reading digital fiction, reading theory on narrative and genre, and then working through several stories, beginning with a “zero-state” text: “an analogue short story” she undertook before delving into digital composition (107). Subsequent stories engaged more and more fully with the possibilities of digital fiction. Skains walks through her processes as she composes these stories.

Her method is “auto-ethnomethodological”; it consists of observations of herself at work and the states of mind through which she moves from conscious explicit knowledge to a fully functional tacit knowledge of the medium (108). Following advice from Deborah Brandt, Skains draws on “observable paratexts” to her process like “notes, journal entries, and comments on revised drafts”; these allow her to reconstruct her cognitive journey. She draws as well on the 1981 Cognitive Process Model advanced by Linda Flower and John R. Hayes, which she credits with the observation that a design or intention can be realized in many different ways and the specific realization emerges from the actual process of writing (108).

She cites other theories of narrative and creative processes including Gérard Genette’s invocation of “hypertextuality (playing the text off familiarity with other texts in the genre) and architextuality (exploring generic expectations in relation to other similar texts)” (107). Flower and Hayes’s Multiple Representation Theory suggests that “the initial mental model of a text is multimodal, then subsequently translated to written language” (107). Skains relates such theories to her own processes, for example noting how her reading interacted with her own texts as well as how the stories in her project contributed to an “intratextual” effect via a shared “element of parallel mythology,” the “Trickster” figure (111). In accordance with Flower and Hayes, she relates how her analogue short story “unfolded in [her] imagination on a visual reel, which then needed translation into written language” (110).

Skains argues for the importance of long-term memory that can draw on a “knowledge base” and allow fiction writers to construct characters and worlds (109). As short-term memory of actions involved in a medium is transferred to long-term memory, tacit knowledge is developed (110).

An important finding for her project is that the linear structuring and narrative processes she found most comfortable did not lend themselves to a simple “remediation” of the typical analogue text into a digital version (112). As she worked through a succession of stories, she continued to begin with these familiar invention and composing steps; the third story in her discussion, for example, shared features with the “zero-state” story: its “traditional, linear structure and minimal level of interactivity,” even though she “remediated” it into Adobe Flash (111). However, when she struggled with a story about a character whose “interaction with her world, both real and virtual, was hyperlinked,” Skains found that the character could not evolve if she was “stuck in sequential page turns” (112). The solution was to work through the digital version first, giving over fully to the hyperlinked world invoked by the story (112). Skains found that she was still working toward a fully developed “mental model that afforded a fully multimodal composition process” (112).

The author argues that first- or second-person points of view, increased interactivity that provides readers with agency, and intra- or intertextuality are defining features of digital fiction (111). Texts that are composed an analogue narratives, she posits, lack full commitment to these elements and will not lend themselves to revision in digital form (110): “the composition process for multimodal works must necessarily be multimodal” (112).

Skains reports that the means by which she addressed the original “rhetorical problem” for her stories was affected by her deeper and deeper engagement with digital composition (114). Writers of digital texts like hers, she writes, become programmers, with the result that “the text as composed (i.e., the source code) does not resemble the text-as-read/played” (113). She cites digital writer Jenny Weight to argue that a digital-composing experience becomes an “environment” in itself rather than a “traditional narrative” (113). Inventing a set of environments for a character to traverse in the digital composition influences the “world-building” efforts of the analogue version (113).

Similarly, she cites an example of a story in which providing a narrator with multiple voices led to the creation of a website for each voice, a move that in turn led her to experiment with visual font effects in the print version (113-14). In such cases, Skains’s “mental model of the narrative” had been influenced by the digital process (114).

Skains posits that students attempting to apply their tacit knowledge of print technology as they encounter multimodal assignments face a trajectory similar to hers, and that current composition-classroom practice does not facilitate this evolution (114). The addition of digital elements, she notes, adds many new layers to the composing process, “significantly increase[ing] the creative decisions that have to be made” (115). She contends that, like her, students must learn to adjust their creative processes to conform to the media rather than expecting the media to meet their original goals (115). The tacit knowledge and expertise to make this transition, Skains maintains, is “immersion” in the digital process, moving beyond reading to doing (115). She is currently engaged in ethnographical work to develop a “pedagogical model for teaching digital writing” (115).


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Quick Personal Note: My Writer’s Interview with Don Massenzio Tomorrow!

Books leading to open door in brick wall.Great News! My writer’s interview on Don Massenzio’s highly active, informative blog is scheduled for tomorrow! It posts in the early morning hours and should be up in the a.m. on Monday. My deepest gratitude to Don for highlighting so many terrific authors and for sharing so much information on writing and publishing. Check him out!