As circulated by the WPA-L listserv Via Illinois Staten University:
The Pedagogical Potential of Story: Life Writing, Composition, and Blended Scholarship
Call for Proposals, Amy E. Robillard and D. Shane Combs, Editors
We live in what some have called the Golden Age of the Essay. We’ve been living for years in a bona fide memoir boom. Yet for far too long in composition studies, scholars have positioned themselves on either side of a debate that pits academic writing against personal writing and, as a result, we have not accessed even a fraction of the potential offered by narrative theory generally and life writing specifically. The debate itself, we might say, has been the most significant barrier to our seeing the value of this work, as it sends people running to the safety of either a rules-based professionalism or the alleged freedom of personal writing. For this collection, we invite work that leaves this debate behind and instead imagines the agentive potential of story: how do stories act in our lives to direct our attention, to teach us what to value, what to believe, what to suspect, and what to do and not to do? What we should take seriously and what we should dismiss? How, in
short, do stories teach us how to live?
Life writing texts—essays, memoirs, autobiographies, letters, diaries, interviews—are the focus of this collection for a few reasons: first, they call attention to the circumstances of their own production in ways that foreground process; second, they demonstrate our core interdependence, as one can no more write one’s life without writing the lives of others than one can live without food; and third, they show how all writing is a part of ongoing conversations (a claim that has been entrenched in scholarly discourse for some time).
We all rely on and live within cultural narratives that we did not choose, and we try, to varying degrees, to control those narratives by revising them in any number of ways. In this collection, we want to highlight the ways that scholarship and theory blend productively with life writing to create something new: not arguments but essays. We seek essays that blend the public and the private to theorize writing, teaching, learning, and living. We want to let life writing do what it does every single day for so many people: provide insight, show us we’re not alone, and stimulate our own thinking, writing, and learning.
We invite proposals that blend life writing and scholarship, including but not limited to, essays that address any of the following:
• How does a complex understanding of narrative contribute to identity?
• How do we story our lives as scholars and teachers? When and why might we turn to the autobiographical in our lived experiences as scholars and teachers?
• How does life writing teach us how to live?
• What does life writing—reading it or writing it or both—teach us about writing processes?
• How might our understanding of rhetoric inform analyses of life writing’s acts of persuasion and negotiation of truth and belief?
• How can we theorize writing differently by writing autobiographically?
• What are the effects of challenging cultural narratives in our writing about the self?
• How might we tell our stories autobiographically while using previous life writing autobiographies as theory? Or, how do we make our stories historically relational to the life writing that precedes us?
• How does life writing contribute to the theorizing of affect?
• How do changing life situations—grief, illness, trauma—affect our desire and/or willingness to write autobiographically?
What we are not looking for: essays that send us back to the endless loop of well-trod debate. We seek productive and imaginative blending of story and scholarship that show minds at work on the page, thinking through complex issues of concern to teachers, writers, learners, people in the early twenty-first century.