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Book Reviews

In Conversation with Douglas Hesse’s “Creative Writing in Composition Studies”


I spent my Saturday morning in bed reading Douglas Hesse’s 2010 College Composition and Communication (CCC) article skin to skin with my companion, an MFA student who fondled the pages of a Cara Hoffman novel. In between sporadic moments of Hesse and Hoffman, we’d pause to discuss our opinions of passages that made us go mm-mmm. He was fascinated with Hoffman’s use of irony to protest small town nostalgias rooted in bigotry. I explained Hesse’s idea of borders as a way to explain how composition engages creative genres. Hesse claims creative genres in composition classrooms are often deemed ego-driven, therapeutic or merely confessional genres which allow for awakening students to their possibilities of distinctive and valuable personal experiences and expressions (38). I agreed with Hesse, but I wasn’t satisfied with such limited usages of the genre, and I’d wondered if experiences and identity could be translated into valuable academic texts that support complex reasoning, and advanced analyses, or resistance. But to discuss the divide between creative writing and composition is to examine the boundaries between literature and composition.

“For Baldwin, Kerouac, and Capote experience was an activity that fueled the writing, they weren’t taught how to write, it’s different,” said my companion.

“What exactly do you mean?” I replied.

“Academia has a way of purging that blues, that eruption of funk that is born out of experience, as Toni Morrison says,” he continued.

“And the best writers invent craft, they resist technique for the purpose of capital.”

“As a matter of fact, someone comes along to tell them what there ‘craft’ is, and how it contributes, they’re usually dead by then, but true writers don’t really give a shit because they’re too busy living and trying to use language to make meaning out of their own darkness and the fuckery of this world,” he concluded.

I understood my partner. I also felt the need to protect my turf, one that would never speak of writing/or writers like some manifest destiny (well, at least not to the writer’s face). I was reminded of how I’d once engaged the literary (where one read literature and theories about literature for deconstruction or examination of craft), but had now fostered an identity that supported literacy (where one read often the presumably not so great student writing, and discussed the implications of various rhetorical situations). I’d heard enough metaphors that often discussed the divide between composition and literature as throwing the dictatorial baby out with the postmodern bathwater, or the assumption that the word literacy among composition was code for diplomatic teaching practices.

Hesse’s article appears among others in the September 2010 edition of CCC, all of which sought to “map out new directions in rhetoric and composition.” I wasn’t sure if the dialogue had moved beyond David Batholomae’s “demand that students abandon their old discourse communities and join a new one based exclusively in the language of academy[…]where they can ‘both imagine and write from a position of power’ ” (Boyd 1991, pp. 336). In other words, as Frantz Fanon once noted, “How do we extricate ourselves?” The dangers of continued disregard of creative writing given multimodality are as clear as Hesse claims: “When creative writing and composition studies have little to do with one another, the division truncates not only what we teach and research but how writing gets understood (or misunderstood) by our students, our colleagues, and the sphere beyond” (34). So what if creative writing and composition were in constant conversation with one another? What if composition and creative writing had bed talk? Conversation in bed with people we love is where we map out territories, confess the past, make proclamations about the future, and lay our academic burdens down. Above all, if we listen close enough, bed talk can allow for low-stakes identity travel and revision. Hesse ultimately suggests that composition folk explore creative writing and “creative composing [to enlarge our] sense of ourselves as text makers” (50). But what if our sense of ourselves as inventors or reinventors of texts and rhetorical techniques aren’t as transparent (given the historical frameworks), or comfortable as our sense of ourselves as theoretical and pedagogical producers conveying and conforming to conventional discourses and bowing to our most acclaimed writing assessment gurus. Well repetition is key so what if composition and creative spent their Saturdays together interrogating what Richard Boyd calls “paradigmatic texts” (335), ideologies in composition studies that juxtapose a treacherous tradition where writer, power, and craft are concerned. What if creative writing and composition had bed talk? Or are we as James Baldwin suggests, “people trapped in history, and history trapped in them.”

Suggested Readings
Bartholomae, D. (1985). Inventing the University. When a Writer Can’t Write: Studies in Writer’s Block and Other Composing-Process Problems. New York: Guildford, 134-165.

Boyd, R. (1991). Imitate Me; Don’t Imitate Me: Mimeticism in David Bartholomae’s “Inventing the University.” Journal of Advanced Composition. Fall, 335-345.

Hesse, D. (2010). The Place of Creative Writing in Composition Studies. (CCC) College Composition and Communication. 62(1), 31-52.

Murphy, J. J. (Ed.). (1990). A Short History of Writing Instruction. (2th ed.). New Jersey: Erlbaum Association.

Royster, J. (1996). When the First Voice you hear is not your Own. (CCC) College Composition
and Communication
. 47(1), 29-40.

Schroeder, C. (2001) Reinventing the University: Literacies & Legitmacy in the Postmodern Academy. Logan, UT: Utah State Press.

LaToya Faulk received her MA in Rhetoric and Writing Michigan State University in 2009. She joined the department as a lecturer in 2011 and is currently teaching ENG 1020.

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