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My Favorite Things

posted: 10.24.13 by Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas Downs

I haven’t thought to do this before because I really don’t like choosing favorites. I actually sort of resent living in a culture where people can randomly demand of you, “What’s your favorite…” and you look like the loser if you can’t say. I’m a rhetorician, for crying out loud—a professional situationalist. My favorite in this moment will probably not be my favorite in the next. (Except ice cream. And pizza.)

But I can do lists of favorites. And why have I never done that with WAW readings? It’s risky, but what the heck. Here are the pieces I keep going back to all the time, which is one reason you’ll be able to find (almost) all of them in the second edition of Writing about Writing. (Another reason is because they all engage threshold concepts, and in the new edition we like thinking about those.)

Deb Brandt’s “Sponsors of Literacy”: with James Gee’s notion of “Discourses,” I think Brandt’s work on structures, influences, and material sponsors of people’s literate lives is the biggest idea in literacy studies.  So powerful for students to gain this perspective.

Victor Villanueva’s Bootstraps: the parts where he’s telling his story of coming to college/academic literacy. So amazingly rhetorical and smart! A lot of students will see themselves in this. The ones who don’t need to hear first-hand what it’s like to be where Villanueva has been.

Don Murray’s “All Writing is Autobiography”: Is there any more powerful statement of the personal nature of all writing? The guy publishes a scholarly article that’s half poetry and manages to blend expressivist and postmodernist views of writing in ways that are readable to first-years. Whoa. (And on the same subject: anything by Peter Elbow ever, and does anyone remember Ken Macrorie’s Uptaught?)

James Porter’s “Intertextuality and the Discourse Community”: You know what every writer eventually needs to learn? That they’re not an island, that they’re not as clever as they think, and that originality does somehow, magically result from existing ideas and from collaboration. Porter (and the Declaration of Independence) is mind-blowing on these points.

Mike Rose’s “Rigid Rules, Inflexible Plans, and the Stifling of Language”: Thirty years after this article, “everyone knows” that too many rules can freeze a writer. Rose was one of the first to systematically investigate this idea and propose the differences between writers who think in rules and those who think in guidelines. When you finish Rose, read John Dawkins on “Teaching Punctuation as a Rhetorical Tool” and Joe Williams on “The Phenomenology of Error,” which also handle quite nicely the rules-versus-guidelines (and who is subject to which) discussion.

Margaret Kantz’s “Teaching Students to Use Textual Sources Persuasively”: If only for the line, “[Shirley] believes that facts are what you learn from textbooks, opinions are what you have about clothes, and arguments are what you have with your mother when you want to stay out late at night.” No one does better than Kantz at helping readers see the difference between information and argument, and showing how most of what we perceive as the former is the latter.

Dennis Baron’s “Pencils to Pixels”: Ain’t technology great? Baron helps readers realize that writing is ever technological, but often in ways we’ve forgotten are technology. Like pencils. Equally important and forgotten, he reminds us that writing is quite a bit visual. Try Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics for that. (And anything by Ann Wysocki.) Your mind will never be the same.

And one that didn’t make it into the 2e: Jim Corder’s “Argument as Emergence, Rhetoric as Love.” You will find no more beautiful description of rhetoric as a search for shared values, common ground, and an act of deep engagement with other rhetors.

And in the universe of WAW, those are a few of my favorite things.

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Categories: Douglas Downs
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