Writing Beyond Borders:
an Inter-Genre Collaborative for Faculty
Participating Institutions: Middlebury College, Vassar College, DePauw University, Denison University, Harvey Mudd College, Scripps College, and Furman University.
This initiative brings together faculty from diverse disciplines who feel compelled, at this stage in their career, to communicate aspects of their scholarship with audiences beyond their discipline, their division, and/or the academy at large. Considering such audiences requires attention to matters such as voice, genre, discipline-specific vocabulary and concepts, cultural self-awareness, and relevant historical, local or global trends in writing, storytelling and research. The initiative also serves faculty less focused on audience who are nonetheless interested in cultivating connections in writing between the critical and the creative and/or the personal and the professional as these pertain to their scholarship, their teaching, and their citizenship.
The project consists of two to fifteen faculty members per campus who collectively represent eighteen different disciplines in the humanities, social sciences, sciences, arts and languages. Participants have individual writing goals, such as to write an essay or article on a particular topic for a particular audience, focusing on elements of writing such as voice or genre. Participants will work within an established timeline to 1) produce first drafts, 2) gather feedback, 3) revise, 4) seek additional feedback, 5) revise again, and 6) submit work for publication. Feedback will be exchanged within workshop groups that consist of three to six participants per group (small groups are important so as not to burden participants with responding to too many texts and to ensure quality and depth in feedback); these groups will be determined by topics and/or genre expectations. For example, faculty members of diverse disciplines writing about race or gender might form one workshop group, while others writing about sustainability might form another.
The initiative has one to two central organizers per campus who typically have a background in the field of writing, interdisciplinary or inter-cultural studies, and/or who work in faculty development. There are a total of eight coordinators and thirty-five participants (the number of participants includes the coordinators). All participants will receive a stipend and in return must agree to conform to basic project timelines, such as deadlines for drafting and peer review. Participants have initially identified and will continue to clarify what they hope to get out of the project in terms of interdisciplinary collaboration with participating colleagues (identifying the need for feedback on their topic from those in the arts, say, or the social sciences, or, more specifically, from chemists or scholars of American literature). They have also articulated preliminary writing goals in terms of audience, voice, and genre, and explained the social, scholarly and/or curricular/pedagogical significance of their topic.
In the spring of 2010 campus organizers will send out electronic resources on writing and hold a meeting for on-campus participants. Resources on writing will not assume previous knowledge of creative non-fiction skills but will be sophisticated enough to engage experienced writers of creative non-fiction. A good example is the first chapter of Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative, which emphasizes the role of persona in selecting and structuring material in a first person essay (Gornick, 6-9). Participants will briefly reflect on the resources on writing, go over the project timeline, and establish initial writing goals for the summer. Attending this spring meeting and writing over the summer will reduce pressure during the academic year. The meeting will also serve to create a sense of community among campus organizers and participants. Campus groups, however, will not be the same as writing groups, which will be inter-institutional.
Inter-Institutional groups will be determined in a 1.5 day workshop at a fall, 2010 Institute on the Middlebury College campus. Out of town participants and organizers will stay for two nights on Middlebury’s Bread Loaf campus; all participants will meet on the main campus in the library. The agenda for this institute will include: 1) reporting on summer progress and determining the various inter-institutional writing groups, 2) gaining familiarity with the password-protected social software these groups will use, 3) engaging in deeper discussion of texts on writing in order to establish a common critical vocabulary for interdisciplinary peer review, 4) collectively identifying basic principles of cross-cultural communication, and 5) establishing writing group methods/protocol. Most importantly, participants will hold their first inter-institutional small writing group workshop at this time, sharing professional backgrounds, writing goals, and partial drafts produced over the summer.
Over the course of the year, using social software, participants will share drafts, revisions, feedback on work, and, as desired, literature from their disciplines with their writing group. Each campus organizer will participate in a group. Groups may seek additional feedback from other groups or start new writing projects as desired. At the close of the year, participants with a goal of publication will send out their essays or articles. Others may have already begun publishing online or in print.
In addition to the individual publications, organizers will seek to collectively publish the works as a book of inter-disciplinary, inter-institutional essays: essays beyond borders that fuse the critical and the creative, the personal and the professional. This book should appeal not only to a wide audience outside of academia, but will serve as a model for faculty and students within higher education who seek to make their work accessible outside the ivory tower and who desire to articulate the connections they perceive between their scholarly interests, their lived experiences, and/or their responses to world problems.
• May, 2010: Organizers collectively select texts on writing, distribute them electronically to participants and hold meetings with participants on separate campuses.
• September, 2010: Organizers and participants collectively meet on Middlebury College Campus for 1.5 day workshop. Rooms on Bread Loaf campus are reserved for Sept. 17,18 (Friday and Saturday). Workshop space is reserved at Middlebury College’s Center for Teaching, Learning and Research and adjacent seminar and multi media rooms.
• October/November, 2010: In small groups, participants post initial, perhaps partial, drafts.
• November/December, 2010: Participant feedback due.
• January/February, 2011: Revisions/more developed drafts due.
• February/March, 2011: Next round of feedback due.
• March/April, 2011: Full, revised drafts due.
• April/May, 2011: Final feedback due.
• May/June, 2011: Articles sent out for publication
• August/September, 2012: Follow up: organizers pursue book publication and plan events at individual campuses to share project outcomes with faculty at large, exploring perspectives on interdisciplinary writing and possible impacts on teaching and learning within and across disciplines.
Benefits to Participants:
• Participants engage in interdisciplinary knowledge production through discussion of their texts-in-progress.
• Participants set aside time to reflect on their work and lives, to synthesize their personal and scholarly selves.
• Participants have an opportunity to explore aspects of creative non-fiction, the most accessible of creative writing genres, or, more simply, to develop their storytelling skills in writing.
• Participants pay special attention to their writing process and examine their assumptions about writing.
• Participants increase their skills and confidence in assigning and assessing interdisciplinary and inter-genre writing by their students.
• Participants engage in long term collaboration with faculty not only outside their discipline but outside their campus, putting them in touch with new circles of influence and activity.
• Participants convey meaningful academic research to larger and/or more diverse audiences, both local and global.
• Through new publication venues, participants come in contact with even more colleagues, both within and beyond the academy.
• Through all of the above, participants experience a revitalized sense of purpose in relation to their research, writing and teaching, finding themselves engaged in new frontiers within academia.
• In addition to their experiences as participants, project organizers will learn from one another by sharing resources and information about writing, interdisciplinary and intercultural dialogue, and/or from sharing models and practices pertaining to faculty development.
Addressing Mellon Cluster Project Objectives:
This initiative addresses project objectives in that it enhances the vitality of faculty careers by inviting faculty to combine modes of expression and giving them the opportunity to seek peer review on their work outside of their discipline. The deadlines will provide structure for projects that might otherwise get pushed to the “back burner” of faculty lives, thereby prioritizing attention to the imagination and to risk-taking in the context of routine demands on faculty.
Many faculty find themselves at a point in their lives when they feel called to do more, to be more engaged in public life. Yet they feel constrained not only by academic norms and demands, but by the pressure of habit and the established confines of their own expertise. We live in a time when the culture of specialization is evolving into a culture more integrated and collaborative, a culture that is sustainable both socially and environmentally. Faculty may feel the pressure to be interdisciplinary, cutting edge, and find themselves trying new things that challenge them as teachers and scholars. Perhaps they are bringing new technologies into the classroom; venturing into the community through service learning; team-teaching a class with a colleague from another department. These are stimulating, knowledge producing experiences. But contexts in which to reflect on these interdisciplinary experiences, or these campus-community experiences, are hard to find or create time for. And many faculty feel that these initial ventures into the “new” are just that: initial. They seek ways to develop their understanding of these new ideas and experiences; to integrate their areas of specialty with their areas of risk-taking.
Writing provides us with an opportunity to reflect. In joining a well-defined writing project and pursuing the work, we turn our energies inward, harnessing the powers of focused attention. Writing draws not only upon our rational abilities, but upon our intuition, mobilizing multiple aspects of our intelligence. Communicating with others about our writing, and theirs, provides external stimulation in relation to that inward process, creating balance and perspective, increasing clarity and complexity. These are opportunities we create for our students, but that we often don’t have time to create for ourselves. I have had the opportunity to engage in three different small writing groups with diverse Middlebury faculty over the last ten years. My colleagues report that these interdisciplinary groups are critical to their professional development as they understand it, but that they are hesitant to reveal their inter-genre writing activity to colleagues in their departments. The intimacy of sharing one’s writing engenders layers of trust and collaboration. In this way writing nurtures not only one’s solitude, but ones sense of community, both of which are critical components of an academic community.