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).
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).
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!
Kelley, Brittany. “Chocolate Frogs for My Betas!: Practicing Literacy at One Online Fanfiction Website.” Computers and Composition 40 (2916): 48-59. Web. 02 June 2016.
Brittany Kelley investigates the literacy practices of a fan-fiction site, the Ashwinder archive included in the Sycophant Hex fan community, a “site for quality Harry Potter fanfiction” (Sycophant Hex, qtd. in Kelley 49). Noting prior research on fan fiction that casts it as a locus for “resistance” within consumer cultures, Kelley contends that the interactions within the fan community she has studied are more complex, with unique “affective econom[ies]” (49) that both derive from and expand upon larger social forces (50).
Citing Kathleen Blake Yancey’s 2004 call for composition studies to embrace “this moment right now” for its unique window on what writing and identify mean in an age of increasing digital expansion, Kelley argues that fan fiction deserves attention because it would seem to embody the democratization offered by new online environments (49). For Kelley, however, an important reason to study fan fiction is what it can reveal about evolving digital practices, how they shape writers, and how these practices “change the ways in which texts are produced, circulated, and received” (49).
Kelley documents the degree to which sites like Sycophant Hex are governed by hierarchical gatekeeping processes, such as “vehement” assertions from administrators about the importance of correct English grammar, at the same time that they play a “teaching role” for novice writers who are encouraged to use the site’s resources to improve their writing (50). Contributors are also held to high standards with regard to accurate use of the Harry Potter “canon” and are reminded that while they “own” new characters, invented settings, and events they create beyond those that appear in the books, the “intellectual property” belongs to J. K. Rowling (51-52). Thus, Kelley posits, the site offers access and agency tempered with elements of control.
Kelley’s particular focus is the nature of the exchanges that govern interaction on the site. Though these exchanges take place within a rule-bound context that requires strict adherence to the canon and that channels writers into categories of permitted activities, Kelley argues that the more salient feature of such sites is the degree to which they are governed by the development of emotional relationships and a “‘goodwill’ ethics of exchange” (52).
Citing Henry Jenkins, Kelley posits that continued interaction within the group is the incentive for participation in the exchange of symbolic and social rather than financial capital (52-53). She sees this incentive as affective and emotional, noting for example that plagiarism, which is loosely defined on the site, is seen not so much in terms of legal ownership but rather as “a direct offense against the affective economy of the website” (52).
Kelley illustrates this “goodwill” ethic through a case study of one successful fan-fiction writer, Chivalric. In Kelley’s view, this writer’s practice demonstrates how writers establish long-lasting and emotionally rich relationships with the “betas” who voluntarily edit both for surface correctness and for plot and character development (56). Members of the fan-fiction community serve as betas for each other, generating what Kelley describes as a “gift economy” in contrast to a “commodity culture” (53).
Kelley presents Chivalric’s process to support her claim that literacy practices among fan writers are “deeply heteroglossic” (53). Writing produced by these writers integrates many elements and voices: the intellectual creations of J. K. Rowling; an extensive set of categories and tropes created by community members over time; discussion and debate on forums; specific group-governed genre expectations; and the ongoing interactions among authors and beta readers (55). Many of these intertwined voices are documented in the notes, acknowledgments, and dedications that accompany texts (56).
Further analyzing the heteroglossic nature of these sites, Kelley draws on Mikhail Bakhtin’s distinction between “centripetal” and “centrifugal” language practices to examine Chivalric’s short story, “Divorce.” Centripetal or “unitary language,” in this view, is language that is bound by clear directives from the language community, in this case the accepted uses that can be made of the Harry Potter characters and themes. At the same time, Kelley writes that Chivalric’s story, which won one of the competitive challenges generated on the site, demonstrates centrifugal force in that it gives the standard tropes and story material a “unique twist” (55) that results in an original, “transformative” telling that expands readers’ understanding of the conventional materials Chivalric incorporated (54, 55-56). This story, Kelley argues, comments on the power relationships among two Harry Potter characters, legal and political machinations in the post-canon world of fan fiction, and implications of gender in the particular category into which the story falls.
Citing Matt Hills, Kelley notes that prior research casting fan fiction as an avenue for resistance to dominant cultures has been criticized as an attempt by scholars to justify their attention to the form and to cast fan writers as “mini-academics” taking on the role of cultural critics (50, 57). She argues that her study reveals the degree to which academic views of digital environments as “somehow democratizing and hence liberating” should also recognize that “these spaces are still beset with the tensions of power structures” (57).
In her view, the hope that the access offered by such sites will allow for “widely shared and discussed knowledge” free of the bonds of entrenched power systems should include the caveat that much of what ultimately gets distributed “already fits nearly within dominant narratives” (57). The practices Kelley has examined, she contends, are still subject to issues of “race, gender, sex, class, sexuality, etc.” (58).
Noting scholarship on the possibilities of importing fan-fiction processes into the classroom, Kelly cites Michelle Knobel and Colin Lankshear to caution that it may not always be possible or advisable to do so. However, she notes that fan-fiction communities adopt many features of formal writing instruction, such as peer review and revision, and that components of fan-fiction engagement mirror the goals of writing classrooms. In particular, these sites feature learning that is “entirely self-directed” and that is enabled by the kind of intense emotional engagement that fosters learning (58). For these reasons, Kelley urges more “in-depth investigation of the writing practices of these online communities” (58).
Sumpter, Matthew. “Shared Frequency: Expressivism, Social Constructionism, and the Linked Creative Writing-Composition Class.” College English 78.4 (2016): 340-61. Print.
Matthew Sumpter advocates for “tandem” creative-writing and composition courses as first-year curricula. To support this claim, he examines the status of both composition and creative writing in the academy through the “dual metrics” of expressivism and social constructionism (341).
Sumpter characterizes the two types of writing classes as separate enterprises, describing creative writing as “an almost anti-academic endeavor” (Tim Mayers, qtd. in Sumpter 340), exhibiting a “lack of reflectiveness about what, how, and why one teaches creative writing” (340). He portrays composition, in contrast, as highly theorized and “characterized by a greater dedication to informed pedagogy” (340). He contends that both areas would benefit from increased communication: creative writing could draw on composition’s stronger critical and theoretical grounding while composition would be able to offer students more “tools with which to manipulate language’s rhythm, pace, sound, and appearance” (340).
He locates the roots of expressivism and social constructivism respectively in the work of Peter Elbow and David Bartholomae. In Sumpter’s view, Elbow’s project involved placing students and their lives and thoughts at the center of the classroom experience in order to give them a sense of themselves as writers (342), while Bartholomae saw such emphasis on students’ individual expression as a “sleight of hand” that elides the power of the teacher and the degree to which all writing is a product of culture, history, and textual interaction (qtd. in Sumpter 342). For Sumpter, Bartholomae’s approach, which he sees as common in the composition classroom, generates a teacher-centered pedagogy (342-43).
Sumpter points to ways in which current uses of these two approaches merge to create “a more flexible version of each philosophy” (341). By incorporating and valuing diverse student voices, expressivism gains a critical, socially aware component, while social constructionists exploit the de-emphasis on the genius of the individual author to welcome voices that are often marginalized and to increase student confidence in themselves as writers (344). Yet, Sumpter argues, attention to the differences in these two philosophies enables the implications of each to be explored more fully (344).
Sumpter presents a history of the relationship between creative writing and composition, beginning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when, according to D. G. Myers, there was no distinction between the two (cited in Sumpter 345). The next part of the 20th century saw a increasing emphasis on “efficiency,” which led writing classes to a focus on “practical activities” (Myers, qtd. in Sumpter 345). Creative writing, meanwhile, allied itself with New Criticism, “melding dual impulses—writing and literature, expression and ideas, art and social practice” (345). This liaison, Sumpter writes, gave way fairly quickly after World War II to a new role for universities as they tried to assert themselves as a “haven for the arts” (Myers, qtd. in Sumpter 346), leading to a rupture between creative writing and criticism (346).
Sumpter states that this rupture, establishing as it did that creative writing was “something different from an academic discipline” (Tim Mayers, qtd. in Sumpter 346; emphasis original), coincided with composition’s development as an academic field. As composition studies continued to evolve theoretically, according to Sumpter, creative writing pedagogy retreated into “lore,” disappearing from discussions of the history of writing instruction like those of Gerald Graff and James Berlin (347).
Sumpter references moves during the latter decades of the 20th century to question the divorce between the two fields, but posits the need to examine creative-writing pedagogy more carefully in order to assess such moves. He focuses in particular on criticism of the workshop model, which scholars such as Patrick Bizarro and Michael McClanahan and Kelly Ritter characterize as built around a dominating teacher who imposes conformity on student writers (348). Moreover, according to Sumpter, the pursuit of consensus in the workshop model “will reflect a dominant ideology” (348) that excludes many students’ unique or marginalized voices and experiences (349). In Sumpter’s view, theory like that informing composition studies can disrupt these negative practices (349).
Sumpter examines a number of scholarly proposals for bridging the gap between creative writing and composition. Some adjust pedagogy in small ways to integrate expressivism and social-contructionism (353-54). Others more aggressively redesign pedagogy: for example, Tim Mayers proposes a course built around “craft criticism,” which he says can meld creative writing with “sociopolitical understandings of literacy” to locate it in “a more general intellectual framework concerning literacy itself” (qtd. in Sumpter 354). Wendy Bishop’s “transactional workshop” includes “strong components of exploratory and instrumental writing” as well as self-reflection to introduce theory while retaining students as the pedagogical center (qtd. in Sumpter 355).
Other models revise workshop design: for example, Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweet have students respond to each others’ work in small groups, meeting with an instructor only occasionally to diminish the dominance of the teacher (355). Sumpter discusses other models that ask composition to encourage risk-taking, originality, and experimentation (357).
Sumpter expresses concern that some models, such as Mayers’s, ultimately fail to put expressivism on equal footing with social constructionism (354) and that efforts to inject social-constructionism into creative writing courses can impose “certain pedagogical traits that just about every theorist of creative writing pedagogy wants to avoid,” such as increased teacher dominance (353). His solution is a two-course curriculum in which the two courses are taught separately, though coordinated, for example, by theme (358) and each infused with aspects of its counterpart (351, 359).
He grounds this proposal in claims that what creative writing offers is sufficiently different and valuable that it deserves its own focus and that, if simply added to composition classes, will always risk being eclipsed by the theoretical and analytical components (350-352). He addresses the institutional burden of staffing this extra course by adapting Bythe and Sweet’s model, in which most of the feedback burden is taken on by students in small groups and the instructor’s role is minimized. In such a model, he argues, current faculty and graduate instructors can take on an additional course assignments without substantially increasing work load (358-59).
The virtues of such a model, he contends, include allowing each course to focus on its own strengths while addressing its weaknesses and “formalizing” the equal value of creative writing in the academy. He believes that realizing these goals “will give students a deep, diverse exposure to the world of written discourse and their place in it” (359).
Pruitt, John. “Heterosexual Readers in Search of Queer Authenticity through Self-Selected LGBT Novels.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 42.4 (2015): 359-74. Web. 16 Aug. 2015.
John Pruitt builds on questions raised by his experiences as a member of a gay men’s book club as well as by discussions with heterosexual students about a novel depicting the struggles of a gay Latino character. Positing that critical awareness of a text and its relationship to culture can be strengthened by seeing how that text functions for different audiences, and hoping to understand how students respond to difference before teachers frame their classroom analyses, Pruitt received a grant to conduct a case study of eight heterosexual students as they read and discussed novels by LGBT authors that addressed LGBT issues. Central to the students’ interactions with the texts was the issue of “authenticity,” which Pruitt, quoting Dana L. Fox and Kathy G. Short, defines as “the reader’s sense of truth in how a specific cultural experience has been represented” (qtd. in Pruitt 364). Pruitt concludes that a focus on authenticity can lead to essentialized responses to difference (372).
In Pruitt’s view, extant approaches to teaching LGBT literature emphasize the teacher’s role. They include assigning LGBT readings and carrying out discussions with LGBT individuals outside of the classroom (360). Critics of assigning readings in hopes of undercutting homophobia contend that such strategies leave untouched the oppression inherent in heterosexual cultural norms. Similarly, Pruitt’s sources argue, book clubs, which are often made up of middle-class white women, reinforce rather than help to dissolve current norms (360). However, other theorists defend the use of literature to “inspire both large-scale political action and less precarious face-to-face interpersonal interactions” (360).
In his effort to gain insight into the efficacy of LGBT literature for students encountering difference, Pruitt drew on members of the Sigma Kappa Delta English Honor Society, the “national English honor society for two-year institutions,” of which he is the sponsor. The eight students agreed to meet monthly in 2013-2014 to discuss novels they chose on LGBT issues. Pruitt wished to see how the students reacted to the novels without a teacher’s intervention; he did not attend the discussions but video-recorded them (361).
The group consisted of three white males, three white females, one African American female, and one Latino male (361). Asked what they “hoped to learn,” the students cited their desire for knowledge about gay experience within their own cultures, their concern about gays enduring oppression in other cultures, and their interest in understanding how stereotypes might have affected their perceptions (361-62). Quoting Pat Hutchings, Pruitt emphasizes that he focused on the research question “what is,” which “aimed not so much at proving (or disproving) the effectiveness of a particular approach or intervention but at describing what it looks like, what its constituent features might be” (qtd. in Pruitt 362; emphasis original).
The books selected by the students included historical fiction, “military novels,” novels from a range of cultures such as small-town culture in the United States, skinhead culture in England in the 1970s, Gypsy culture, the culture of Chinese prostitution rings, and gang culture in the Bronx. A novel about early twentieth-century artist Tamara de Lempicka depicted her relationship with a female model (363).
In their discussions, some of which became lively, students interrogated a number of themes and issues. The different levels of support for gays in different environments afforded opportunities to explore perceptions of sexual identity across race and ethnic boundaries, with attention to the role the understanding of family plays in a given community (368-69). Some of the characters, the students noted, chose to create “alternative families” when needed support was missing (368). Several of the novels inspired discussions of the definition of masculinity; one student noted that violence was often brought to bear in the novels in an apparent belief that a gay individual could be “toughen[ed] . . . up” by “beat[ing] the manliness into him” (“Keaton,” qtd. in Pruitt 366). The contradictions exposed by the depiction of a “gay skinhead” (365) and a “thug type” who was gay (“Frank,” qtd. in Pruitt 370) led to investigations of “shifting subject positions in which the identity marker of ‘homosexuality’ becomes both politicized and destabilized” (366). In one discussion, students noted that the very state of being different allowed the characters to imagine possibilities other than the difficult situations they found themselves in (369).
Such contradictions were among the factors that led to recurrent concerns about “authenticity.” The students questioned some of the more extreme elements in some of the novels and noted that some depictions did not match what they felt they had observed in their own culture (367-68, 371). Pruitt explores their “search for the elusive authenticity of LGBT life and culture” (371), noting their expectation that members of a community will depict that community reliably. Students intending to write and teach felt that knowing members of minority communities would be vital if they were to represent and teach about those communities (370). Quoting James Graham, Pruitt notes the value of “realistic” literature in “mak[ing] minority identities knowable to a majoritarian audience” (qtd. in Pruitt 371).
However, Pruitt cites Ana Maria Sanchez-Arce’s term authenticism to posit that the need for authenticity can lead to an essentialized portrayal (372), in which the depictions of a culture earn their authenticity by subsuming differences among members within a “reflection of the values, attitudes and worldviews considered worthy of acceptance by members of that culture as a whole” (364; emphasis original). This qualification leads Pruitt to question the authenticity of depictions of heterosexual culture, and he urges teachers to incorporate investigations of these depictions in their classrooms (372). He responds to the possibility that awareness that they were being recorded may have been shaping the students’ responses: even so, he posits, their concerns about authenticity mean that critical attention to the concept should be central to any classroom discussion about LGBT fiction (371).