English teachers are sexy. That’s the first thought I had when I arrived at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) in Atlanta today. Not only are we a sexy group, we are also a brainy one, which makes this assemblage even more interesting. This is my first time at the 4 C’s. I’m here to present a paper on a panel titled “Contested Relations: Strategies for Overcoming Student Resistance in Nontraditional Writing Communities.” I may post my paper as Friday’s blog, depending on how my presentation goes. Today, I focused on attending sessions, networking, and visiting the exhibit hall (which is significantly smaller than the vast AWP book fair).
American Indian Literature and AI Studies professors have a huge presence here. Yesterday there was a panel called “Trading Ideas about American Indian Rhetorical Texts.” On Friday morning there will be a panel on locating Indigenous Languages in English Departments, and on Saturday, Craig Womack will give a talk on Tribally Specific Literature. This morning, I attended Les Hannah’s talk “If the Subaltern Speaks in the Woods….” Dr. Hannah argued for the inclusion of American Indian languages in all Language departments. He says native languages are just as important as the canonical languages maybe even more so, considering some of them are alive but endangered. He cited an aging native population that may speak their languages but that are also quickly dying. He closed by reminding those of us that value and work in American Indian studies that we must continue to make our presence known to a resistant academy: “It is time to set off the alarm and awaken the academy: American Indian studies has a place here. Why are we bound by a canon? Canons explode, you know.”
One of the most exciting moments for me during this session was the opportunity to meet Christopher Teuton. I had been sitting near Dr. Teuton and overheard him greet his friends and introduce himself to new people. His name sounded familiar, and the only possible explanation to me was perhaps I had read his work for my Georgetown graduate thesis, Shaping an Audience in American Indian Women’s Literature. I pulled out my laptop and quickly opened my thesis and searched for his name. There he was. Of course, I had to meet him. “Excuse me,” I said, “Are you Christopher Teuton who wrote ‘Theorizing American Indian Literature: Applying Oral Concepts to Written Traditions’?” He said he was, and I gushed. “I cited you in my thesis,” I said, and we talked a bit about how I used his work on orality. He knew Lucy Maddox “of Citizen Indians fame” who had been my trusted adviser, so we talked about her, too. He has a book on the topic, he said in the end, so I have something to look for when I get home.
I also attended a really great talk on how to confront ageism through rhetoric. Akua Duku Anokye, an Arizona State University professor, worked out a program between her students and senior citizens from Sun City, Arizona. At first, before the program began, there was resistance on both ends, she said. The students thought old people were generally mean, always yelling at kids, and did not understand them. The seniors thought teenagers were generally loud, rude, and never listened. “The ageist rhetoric lingered in the air,” she said. After a semester of interviews, though, both had changed their minds about one another, and both had formed lasting and meaningful relationships. I like Anokye’s idea very much and might make interviewing senior citizens an assignment. (One of her first assignments includes having seniors give students photos from their youth so that the students could analyse them and form stories about them before meeting the real person in order to practice critical thinking skills but also to see how close or far the imagined narratives are to the real stories.)
The last session of my day was titled “What Historically Black Colleges and Universities Can Teach Us About Writing Instruction.” Spelman professor Zandra L. Jordan spoke of the importance of giving her female students a foundation in the history of black women writers so that they continue that history through their own writing. She also spoke about the need to combat the claim that HBCUs no longer have any relevance, especially after the election of President Obama (which allegedly places us in a “post-racial” era). After Jordan spoke, Syracuse University’s Reva Sias talked about her frustration in not finding African American literacy sources. She said she felt like Pookie from Spike Lee’s movie “Do the Right Thing”. She asked, “Where all the black people at?” The talks were provocative and the question and answer portion turned into testimonies from black women professors who teach at HBCUs or who were educated in HBCU English programs. One professor spoke of her overwhelming workload but also underscored the importance of telling their stories. The audience nodded in agreement, some shouted yes, and there were occasional bursts of applause. It was like being in church, which means I left feeling armed and inspired.
The last thing I did today was raid the exhibit hall. I couldn’t resist the $3 bookstore (shameless plug for Random House). I’m an English teacher, after all, and that means coming away with new ideas and new texts to explore with rejuvenated enthusiasm in my writing classes. My first day at the conference reminds me that I’m not just a pretty face.