Writing Democracy 2012: Envisioning a Federal Writers’ Project for the 21st Century

Session: AW.10 on Mar 21, 2012 from 1:30 PM to 5:00 PM Cluster: n/a) Not Applicable
Type: Workshop: Wednesday Afternoon Interest Emphasis: Not Applicable
Level Emphasis: All Focus: Not Applicable

Seventy-five years ago during the Great Depression, a division of the Works Progress Administration called the Federal Writers’ Project employed writers and researchers to create “a new roadmap for the cultural rediscovery of America” via local guidebooks, oral histories, and folklore. Today, college writing programs, service-learning programs, and scholars across the disciplines are engaging in university-community partnerships that might together create a similar roadmap for rediscovering 21st century America.

After the 2008 crash, numerous commentators suggested the idea of a new FWP. Although it became clear by late 2009 that Obama’s stimulus package would not fund such a project, the idea inspired an informal meeting at CCCC 2010 and a conference Writing Democracy: A Rhetoric of (T)here in March 2011 at Texas A&M-Commerce, and further developed during a follow-up meeting at CCCC 2011. Another venue for dialogue about the idea is a forthcoming special issue of the Community Literacy Journal.

Over 150 scholars, students, and community members convened in Commerce in March 2011 looked at place, history, local publics, and popular movements in an attempt to understand and promote democracy through research, writing, and action. It is precisely this existing infrastructure of university-community projects that suggests the direction Writing Democracy might take to enact what Ernest Boyer calls the “scholarship of engagement” in local communities: local histories of a neighborhood school in Brooklyn (Mutnick), publications co-authored by undergraduate researchers and local community centers and museums (Grobman), video and audio “remixes” of archival materials featuring local histories of traditionally underrepresented groups (Carter).

The primary goal of the proposed CCCC Workshop is to extend the conversation that began in 2010 at CCCC and continued in Commerce, and thus to further examine the possibilities for creating a national network that could link existing local projects and give rise to new ones. Participants will be invited to submit textual, video, and/or audio representations of local projects two weeks before the conference at writingdemocracy.org. Through this portal, workshop leaders will facilitate an online discussion regarding a wide range of projects nationwide, analyzing commonalities and differences and drawing conclusions about how they might form the basis of FWP 2.0.

Part I of the proposed workshop will feature a brief presentation by Jerrold Hirsch (Truman University), a historian who will set the current initiative in the historical context of the FWP’s achievements and impediments. Hirsch’s emphasis on what we can learn from the FWP in the 1930s will set the stage for contemporary examples of how we can contribute to a people’s history of the U.S. in the 21st century. Contemporary local projects will be featured in a short video montage drawn from depictions provided by participants before the conference via the Writing Democracy portal.

For Part II of the workshop, invited Respondents will offer 5-10 minute prepared remarks in response to local projects featured on the video and at writingdemocracy.org within a broader context, setting the stage for a plenary for the development of a productive plan for FWP 2.0, utilizing the interactive, collaborative, user-generated capacities of the Web to collect, curate, disseminate, and archive multimodal writing about communities, places, and people that might be to future generations what FWP narratives are to contemporary scholars. Respondents will help guide the discussion of potential “linkages” and overarching goals from different angles, including community publishing, digital humanities, and writing across communities.

The Workshop concludes with a plenary on the mission, structure, and goals of Writing Democracy and FWP 2.0. Small groups will explore and debate methods, theories, goals, and outcomes of university-community projects, extrapolating best pedagogical, rhetorical, and research practices and identifying key themes. Discussion leaders will help facilitate small group discussion. Reports to the full group will be used to draft a mission statement which will then form the basis for a final discussion about building the Writing Democracy network, envisioning FWP 2.0, and generating new questions about the potential for linking existing and future projects across disciplinary, geographical, and social gateways.

Framing Questions:

1) Using the FWP as a model, can we develop a typology for what these projects look like now?
2) What pedagogical methods best support university- community projects? Are the goals of such projects compatible with the goals of college writing instruction?
3) What outreach and collaborative methods best support partnerships with communities? How can academic partners best meet the needs of community partners?
4) How can Writing Democracy/FWP 2.0 create a national— or even international—network of local projects (guides, ethnographic studies, oral histories, and multimodal essays)? What resources and support will be needed to sustain such an effort?

Through these framing questions, we hope to formulate an overarching set of methods, goals, and practices, while generating new questions about existing and possible projects. During the CCCC Workshop, we will use this knowledge from the field to envision a network that might replicate and go beyond the FWP’s achievements seventy- five years ago.

Half-Day Session Schedule:

Part I
1:30-1:40 Welcome and Introductions
1:40-2:00 “Historical Context of the FWP” (Jerrold Hirsch, Truman University)
2:00-2:15 “Scenes of American Life” Video Montage (Shannon Carter, Texas A&M-Commerce; Deborah Mutnick (Long Island University-Brooklyn)
2:15-2:30 Small Group Discussions – Relevance of the 1930s FWP to Contemporary Projects

Part II
2:30-3:00 “FWP 2.0: Writing Democracy in the 21st Century” (Stephen J. Parks, Syracuse University; Laurie Grobman, Penn State Berks; Brian Hendrickson. University of New Mexico; David Jolliffe, University of Arkansas)
3:00-3:30 “Learning from the 1930s FWP; Envisioning FWP 2.0” (Catherine Hobbs, University of Oklahoma, Harvey J. Graff, The Ohio State University; Jeff Grabill, Michigan State University; Kathi Yancey, Florida State University)
3:30-3:40 Break
3:40-5:00 Plenary: Mission Statement and Next Steps (Small Group Discussions, followed by Report to Large Group)

Names of additional presenters and descriptions of local projects will be available online (writingdemocracy.org) and at the workshop. Workshop organizers commit to continued communication and requests for involvement, posting mission statement, goals, and forum for next steps, which will likely include the organization of Writing Democracy 2013 in Brooklyn, NY (Long Island University).

Participant Affiliation Speech Title (if known)
Deborah Mutnick
(Chair) Long Island University Scenes of American LIfe
Shannon Carter
(Co-Chair) Texas A&M-Commerce Scenes of American LIfe
Jeffrey Grabill
(Respondent) Michigan State University Dewey, Pragmatism, and Assembling a Writing Public
Kathleen Yancey
(Respondent) Florida State University Dewey, Pragmatism, and Assembling a Writing Public
Jerrold Hirsch
(Speaker 1) Truman State University Historical Context of the Federal Writers’ Project
Stephen Parks
(Speaker 2) Syracuse University Resisting Democracy: Grassroots Activism Meets University/ Community Partnerships
Laurie Grobman
(Speaker 3) Penn State Berks Community-Based Undergraduate Research and the Writing of Local Histories
Catherine Hobbs
(Speaker 4) University of Oklahoma History in the Red: Radical History and the FWP
Brian Hendrickson
(Speaker additional) University of New Mexico As Taproot, As Heart: Writing Across Communities and the Democratizing Function of the Community Writing Center

1 Response to 2012

  1. Michael Mitchell says:

    Sounds great. I am working on my PhD at UNISA ( Jerry Hirsch is the chair of my committee) on the FWP in Texas.

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