Developing Your Intellectual Genealogy

This course comes out of my Advanced Composition course. When I was asked to design a course for the Danville Correctional Center after starting work with the English Justice Project (EJP), I revised the course to emphasize the cultural and literary contexts in which we write. Even students who do not intend to pursue a degree or career in the humanities and social sciences use language in particular ways and write within particular discourse communities. My students and I collaborated throughout this course to discover what it means to write in standard English (or not) and how they think about their own writing and positionality both within the prison and beyond it.

This course was also “ungraded,” meaning we used extensive feedback and a contract, instead of grades, to respond to student work.

In 2014, Teresia Teaiwa, a Fijian scholar working out of Aotearoa/New Zealand, wrote, “my experience of theory has mostly been one of valuing ideas, and in particular valuing the ability to identify connections and resonances and distinguish gaps and contradictions between models and proposals” (46). In so doing, she establishes everyone’s reading and writing practices as genealogical processes by which we develop our own voices in relationship to those who came before us and those who work alongside us.

Each of the texts in this course asks us to think about language—how we use it and why. They imagine alternate genealogies to those offered by histories of colonization and critique standardized English as a tool that colonizes bodies and mind. Through the gendered and raced experiences of language narrated by writers like Leslie Marmon Silko, James Baldwin, and Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, we will question the ways we have been taught to use language and learn to employ personal and standardized language strategically in our writing.

Since this is an advanced composition course, we will spend the semester practicing and exploring different ways of engaging with the writing of others toward a final research paper, in which each of you will apply one of the critical frameworks we have read to a primary text of your choosing. The idea will be to learn to engage critically with different texts while developing strategies for adapting writing to different situations and in response to different texts, communities, and object. Throughout the semester, you will be reading, drafting,  writing, speaking, and, most of all, listening in order to more effectively engage with the ideas of others and to express our own ideas clearly. Using imitation as a foundational methodology for writing, you will read and write often, connecting your own ideas to the ideas of others.