This month found me returning to Canada, land of dreams for me ever since I taught at the University of British Columbia for ten years (1977-1987). This time I was in Calgary, at Mount Royal University, where I gave a talk as part of their Distinguished Lecture Series and then participated in a colloquium on writing and teaching writing that brought together scholars and teachers from other Alberta Universities. Calgary still has a frontier feel to me and I loved being in “big sky” country once again.
Professor Sarah Banting of Mt. Royal’s English Department and Writing Program, convened the colloquium, which began with tea (in real teacups!) and pastries. And it really was a colloquium, one that left plenty of time for talk and interaction, and that featured panels that were more like conversations than lectures. (You should check out her blog, Issues in Teaching Writing: A Mount Royal University Conversation.)
One major standout: five students and one faculty member responding to questions from a moderator. The students were thoughtful, insightful, and witty, reflecting on their experiences with writing, writing classes, and writing instructors—and on their sense of the role writing may play in their future lives. One student, a biology major, was particularly eloquent in describing what she had learned about herself through writing and about how she expected to use writing for the rest of her life. Other speakers described innovative courses and assignments and explored new uses of technology in the classroom. Heather and Roger Graves (both of the University of Alberta, where Roger is Director of WAC) talked about the development of a fascinating project, The Game of Writing, which allows students to monitor their own writing processes, making progress step by step, and also to receive multiple forms of response to their writing.
An extra bonus was seeing Nick Sousanis, now on a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Calgary. Sousanis is a comics artist who visited Stanford’s Graphic Narrative Project a couple of years ago when he was writing his dissertation at Columbia University, in comic book form (!). The book based on his dissertation—Unflattening—is just out from Harvard University. A shape-shifting, deeply engaging meditation on the relationship between words and images and on visual thinking, it’s a book you should check out soon!
As always, I came away from this colloquium energized and happy to be part of the writing studies community in North America. After 45 years in the field, it’s good to feel that if I were starting all over again, I’d choose the same path!