“Read. Read widely. Read beyond the syllabi. It will pay off in ways you can’t imagine.”
Program Area: Language and Literacy Studies
I was 25 when I entered the Ph.D. program, after having taught three years in a pretty desperate high school in
Boston. During those three years I was immersed in African American speech and forms of behavior that intrigued, puzzled, and (occasionally) tormented me. Graduate school, I hoped, would help me understand this situation better—particularly ways in which these oral performances and rituals could map onto reading.
I loved Austin from the moment I set foot there, and I loved the freedom of the doctoral program. Geneva Pilgrim, Jim Kinneavy, and Bob Kline were supportive and accessible, yet gave us all great freedom to find our way in a great and rich university. Kinneavy had recently published his magnum opus, The Theory of Discourse , which to this day shapes my map of language use. I also benefited tremendously from taking courses in the Speech and Communication Department, especially working with Beverly Whittaker who helped me understand the rhetoric of fiction.
Life After UT
In the years, now decades, since I graduated I find myself coming back repeatedly to the work I read there. It seemed to me an age of “big” thinkers—along with Kinneavy there was James Moffett, John Dixon, Wayne Booth, James Britton, and Louise Rosenblatt. I know that the term “foundation” gets thrown around a lot, but I truly gained a foundation at the University of Texas. For example, in my writing this week I revisited Kinneavy’s concept of “surprise value” in informative writing (timely because of the Common Core emphasis on non-fiction). It’s always with me.
Advice For Students
As for advice, I would say stay open to new directions; don’t get locked into a set project too early. Although I came to Texas with an interest in reading, it was writing and writing development that came to excite me—following that new interest was one of the best decisions I have ever made. And read. Read widely. Read beyond the syllabi. It will pay off in ways you can’t imagine.
Finally, for heaven’s sake, enjoy your time in graduate school, enjoy Austin. And if you can find your way to the Scholz Garten, lift a Pearl for me.
Photos by Melissa Cooperman
To read more about our Curriculum and Instruction Alumni, go to: http://www.edb.utexas.edu/education/departments/ci/alumni/