The Yellow Brick Road To Non-Fiction Opportunities

It may appear that fiction authors have more leeway in their writing and storytelling. Not true. The Writing, Rhetoric and American Culture (WRAC) department at MSU offers many doors in which students can open and step into professions that involve a variety of non-fiction writing. What opportunities lie in non-fiction? Memoirs, diaries, documentaries, journals, textbooks, photographs, newspapers, magazines, instruction manuals, flash fiction essays, and writing for WRAC are all examples of non-fiction works. Surprisingly, this list is short compared to the many opportunities related to non-fiction that are out there.

yellow_road123 copyBefore we walk down the yellow brick road and discover the different stops WRAC has to offer towards non-fiction, let’s take a look at Webster’s definition of non-fiction, “writing that is about facts or real events.” If we go off Webster’s definition, non-fiction may appear boring. Instead we will use “Dr. Bump” Halbritter’s definition, “Not suspending disbelief, but inspiring belief about things that are accepted.” Well said. Now let’s continue walking down the yellow brick road and begin to explore the possibilities in WRAC.

First Stop: Which Character Are You?

The Scarecrow: The Undergraduate: “Dr. Bump” Halbritter finds excitement in teaching WRA425: Advanced Multimedia Writing, which allows students to uncover the documentary side of non-fiction. Students are given the opportunity to challenge their brains and create amazing videos, for instance, “For the 25” was made by PW alumni. Research and use visual and audio technology to mediate, create and remix text. You will be able to collect, process and edit information to create dialogue and script. This course is offered every spring semester. It is a continuation of WRA225: Intro to Multimedia Writing taught by Alexandra Hidalgo every fall semester.

The Tin Woodman: The MA Student: AL854: Nonfiction Writing Workshop is taught by Dr. Leonora Smith. She provides a set of assignments, experiments and challenges that explore non-fiction techniques and apply strategies of poetry and fiction to non-fiction writing. You’ll develop practices that lead you to write rich, powerful, satisfying non-fiction. With all my heart I was able to compose pieces that were ready for publication or presentation this semester. I am looking forward to reading my piece at the Conference of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature in spring 2014. Students are free to choose any topics and write collective pieces that will allow you to tell your side of the story. This course is offered every other year in the fall semester.

The Cowardly Lion: The PhD. Student: WRA853: Academic Writing is a new course that is going to be taught by Dr. Malea Powell. This course has a curriculum that will allow students to take strategies from creative non-fiction writing into their academic writing. This course is currently known as the Development of the Essay, starting spring 2015 it will be a new course on academic writing. Build the courage and be the first to take this course and take writing techniques and strategies from various creative writing fields, such as poetry and fiction, and use them as ways to make your academic writing better and use other techniques to break through writing blocks. Look forward to this course every spring as a required core course for PhD students and an elective for MA students. Another similar special topic to look forward to in 2015 is WRA891: Workshop in Rhetoric & Writing.

It isn’t uncommon for students to come into college not knowing exactly what they want. There is a variety of creative and imaginative faculty in WRAC that are dedicated towards helping students make the right turn on the yellow brick road. There are great staff and advisors who listen and cater to what you need. Don’t be afraid, college isn’t intended to be a lonely experience. Professors are here to encourage a variety of all kinds of work. Do like Dorothy, network and meet remarkable people along the yellow brick road and establish an amazing team that will help you pick courses and create a concentration. WRAC may not have a concentration geared towards only non-fiction, but once you established what you want, on your crossing towards the end of that road, you can pick out the stops you will make along the way. (more…)

WIDE-EMU ’12

On a Saturday in October, scholars from all across the region assembled in East Lansing to attend the second annual WIDE-EMU ’12 (un)conference, an institutionally collaborative gathering sponsored by MSU’s Writing in Digital Environments Research Center (WIDE) and Eastern Michigan University’s Written Communication Program.

WIDE-EMU came to be on a car ride home from CCCC Atlanta in 2011. Bill Hart-Davidson, Steven Krause, and Derek Mueller took note of the cluster of smart people in the region, as well as a lack of informal opportunities to gather and share ideas. The creators challenged themselves to use the available resources at their institutions (EMU and MSU) to hold this gathering to foster the relationships and ideas of the rhetoric and writing scholars in the region.

From this emerged the foundational DIY ethic of the unconference, which is manifested as a conference with no registration free (*jaw on floor*); rather, attendees are asked to print their own schedule and program or download it to their laptops, tablets, or smartphones, as well as printing or making their own name tags, or reusing one from a previous conference. Another cool manifestation of this DIY ethic is as simple and attentive as providing a space on the conference website for attendees to communicate about room and couch sharing.

The entirety of WIDE-EMU is organized in three phases: Phase 1 is to propose; Phase 2 to respond, or to share an expansion of the proposal in the form of a blog post, slidedeck, video, podcast, etc.; and Phase 3 is the conference.

This year, in addition to folks from Michigan State and Eastern Michigan, participants came from the University of Michigan, Purdue, Bowling Green, Wayne State, Illinois Institute of Technology, Oakland University, Southern Illinois University – Carbondale, Illinois State, Eastern Kentucky, University of Detroit Mercy, and Saginaw Valley. The #wideemu hashtag was ablaze that Saturday. Check out this Storify slideshow of the 250+ tweets from the day of the conference.

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LiteracyCorps Michigan: A Project by Bump Halbritter and Julie Lindquist

For WRAC department faculty, the goal is to teach their students not only to write but to write well. Two professors, Bump Halbritter and Julie Lindquist, felt that they didn’t know enough about their students to teach them well. So they decided to do something about it.

“The project started as two teachers who were skeptical about how well they knew their students, and who wanted to figure out better ways to learn about this,” Bump said. “We wanted to know how much we could learn from students by talking with them.”

As a result, they launched LiteracyCorps Michigan, a series of interviews with students from across Michigan, to explore that question.

The project consists of four phases: first, they contact a student to do an interview and ask the student to bring in three artifacts – one each to represent their past, present, and future selves. The interview is based on the student’s artifacts, and from there some kind of story or narrative is created that serves as the foundation for inquiry throughout the rest of the process. At the end of this interview, they ask the student to choose a location that is of some significance to them for the next interview.

During this second interview, they discuss why the student chose this location and what it means to them, and they also watch some of the footage from the previous interview. At the conclusion of this interview, the student is given a camera and told to film in another location that is important to him or her. Thus far, most of the students have chosen their hometowns. While there, they shoot various scenes and interview family, friends, and members of the community.

After reviewing the footage filmed by the student, Bump and Julie plan with the student which stories to pursue. Then they return as a group to the area, and again, they film various scenes and interview family, friends, community members, etc.

LiteracyCorps Michigan is “helping to make visible the kinds of lives students live. Students have talents and abilities that aren’t recognized as relevant to their lives as students.”

The project has been going on for almost five years and so far Bump and Julie have presented films and talks at local, national, and international venues about Liberty Bell, from Flint, MI, the first student to have completed all four phases of the project. Here is a short clip of some of the footage from their work with Liberty:

Bump and Julie continue to recruit new participants and film interviews with existing participants, each in various stages of the study. Julie said the project has been on hiatus for the moment while she and Bump juggle other responsibilities. (Julie, for example, begins an appointment as director of the First-Year Writing program and Bump is editor of CCC Online). It’s also been a bit of a challenge to find the money and time for both of them to pursue the project with sustained effort. That said, Bump and Julie continue to work on the project whenever they can. They have even begun a collaborative study that combines data from LiteracyCorps Michigan with data from the Stanford Study of Writing, headed by Andrea Lunsford.

Bump said, “It’s the most drafts I’ve done for something. We’ve been revising this for four years.”

Julie added, “It takes time, not only to conduct the interviews but also to process what we already have. It’s a project that explores meanings and experiences of literacy–it’s about discovery, and that process can take a long time.”

If you or someone you know is interested in working with LiteracyCorps Michigan, either as a participant or an assistant, please contact Bump (drbump@msu.edu) or Julie (lindqu11@msu.edu).

WRA 417 Students Create Video Projects

In WRA 417 Multimedia Writing, students learn about the process of filming and editing a video, and ultimately discover another medium in which to write. Dr. Bump Halbritter explains it like this: “The class is all about taking something that can be considered singular, such as a video, and then breaking it apart and looking at the functional and rhetorical aspects of the component layers of media.  We focus on the layers in the our assignments early in the semester. Then it’s all put back together again in the final project.”

The students in his Fall 2010 class got an opportunity to shine in presenting their final projects. Each group of students had to come up with an idea for a video, storyboard it, and pitch it to the rest of the class. Once they received approval, it became a matter of shooting footage, editing it together with Final Cut Pro (a few groups chose to use iMovie, iMovie HD, and some PC-based programs as well), adding a soundtrack, and finally showing it to the rest of the class. A few groups chose to post their videos publicly on YouTube as well.

Dr. Halbritter said the final projects ranged from a documentary about The Blue Project (a local band), to a how-to video that explained the video game World of Warcraft, to a music video mash-up of Lisztomania by Phoenix with eclectic ’80s dancing from the popular John Hughes film The Breakfast Club. A few of the students chose to share some information about their videos with me via email: this is what they had to say.

Dave Johnson, a PW senior, produced a video about environmental issues in the East Lansing area entitled “Re:Think!,” which was a continuation of a project he had created for WRA 308 Invention in Writing. He said, “I chose this subject because I feel that it’s time we begin taking a serious look at what we are doing to the environment, and ways through which we can potentially turn that around.”

The video includes interviews with Lansing-area individuals involved in recycling/conservation and gives viewers different ideas for how they can help the environment too. Dave said he enjoyed the experience and that he “learned a lot about networking, how to interface with different communities and organizations, and how to construct complex multimedia driven arguments.”

Crystal VanKooten is a second year PHD student in English and Education at the University of Michigan. She had worked with Dr. Halbritter over the summer and was able to enroll in WRA 417 through the Big Ten Collaborative Traveling Scholar program, which allows PHD students from any Big Ten University to take courses at other institutions. “I took the course because my research is in new media composition, and I wanted to continue composing in diverse media environments.”

Her video was called “Writing with Sound: The Rhetoric of Music.” In it, Crystal interviewed a former student from her first-year composition course who talked about the composition of her own video, specifically her use of music. Crystal then laid clips of her interview footage next to clips from her student’s video composition, arguing that music is a powerful way to write with sound. Crystal composed this video because it continued a line of research and thinking she had done in her other work: “The medium of video also allowed me to show, in pictures and through sound, the ways that my students were using music. Video worked so much more effectively than, say, writing an essay about my student’s work” (Unfortunately, Crystal was unable to share her video online because of copyright issues related to the music her students had chosen to use in their videos).

Another project was the “Busby Legacy” documentary, which looked at the life/legacy of Robert Busby, a Lansing-area artist who was instrumental in the revitalization of Lansing’s Old Town. PW junior Brianne Ross said, “He [Busby] was an artist who dedicated his life to turning Old Town into a thriving art community. He was kind of the unofficial leader who helped clean up the area, helped gallery owners set up their businesses, encouraged people to come and help build up the area. And he was, unfortunately, killed as things in Old Town were just beginning to thrive.”

Brianne said her group was originally inspired to make their film after seeing another documentary on the same topic created by Noah Blon, a former PW student who had taken WRA 417 two years earlier. Blon’s video served as an introduction to Busby’s life, which Brianne’s group decided to continue. “We feel it’s kind of a second chapter to the story and we’re hoping that future students will continue to write the next chapters.”

The Lansing area served as a backdrop for other videos as well. Heather Hill and Rachael Hodder, both graduate students in the Rhetoric & Writing program, created videos that showcased Lansing’s REO Art Alley and REO Eats, respectively.

Rachael explained that “Heather and I worked individually on editing our videos, but worked together for the logistical aspect of the projects–setting up interviews, filming, determining the overall tone of our projects. Our work was geographically located in the same group of people and place, plus the actual work of filming is hard hard hard work!” Heather added that there was more to it than just location; they both shared an interest in what was happening in Lansing’s REO Town. “My friends are very involved in this revitalization effort, and I wanted to do something to help them and recognize their great work by using my rhetorical talents.”

Both students found the work to be rewarding, even life changing.

“417 has changed the way that I write by making me more attuned to issues of pacing, tone, and juxtaposition. Because I was so limited in space for my video, I had to make very shrewd rhetorical decisions. There were some cases where I could not use my favorite footage because it was not the most rhetorically effective–it did not deliver as impactful a message as it needed to. 417 brought me back to Aristotle’s three rhetorical appeals–ethos, pathos, and logos–and showed me how our rhetoric’s favorite old Greek guy is still relevant for 21st century composition,” Rachael said.

Faculty and Students Present at the 2010 Watson Conference

This weekend, many WRAC faculty and graduate students will be attending and presenting at the Thomas R. Watson Conference held at the University of Louisville.  This year’s conference is titled “Working English,” aiming to explore the many meanings of the terms “work” and “English” as they appear in American rhetoric and composition.  The questions the conference plans on addressing include: “How might we work English (that is, employ, construct, and redesign it) in the process of learning and using it?  How might rhetoric and composition disrupt binaries such as language/parole, global/local, native/foreign, standard/dialect, spoken/written, official/vernacular, private/public, and functional/critical literacy?”

WRAC faculty and students will be presenting many panels and individual sessions over the course of the weekend:

Individual Sessions

  • Elizabeth Keller, How to Establish Student Ownership Within the Composition Classroom
  • Marilee Brooks-Gillies, Creative Contexts of Learning & Writing: Developing Student Agency
  • Ann Lawrence, Knowledge Work, Affect Work: Teachers’ Becoming Education Researchers
  • Douglas Walls, Work Space in NonWork Places: Intersections of Cultural Rhetoric and Professional Writing

Panels

  • Bump Halbritter and Julie Lindquist, Learning How to Know Them: Videotape and the Patient Work of Literacy Research
  • Collin Craig, Nancy DeJoy, and Steven Lessner, Workin’ It: Breaking Down Literacy Boundaries

Faculty and Students Present at the 2010 Watson Conference

This weekend, many WRAC faculty and graduate students will be attending and presenting at the Thomas R. Watson Conference held at the University of Louisville.  This year’s conference is titled “Working English,” aiming to explore the many meanings of the terms “work” and “English” as they appear in American rhetoric and composition.  The questions the conference plans on addressing include: “How might we work English (that is, employ, construct, and redesign it) in the process of learning and using it?  How might rhetoric and composition disrupt binaries such as language/parole, global/local, native/foreign, standard/dialect, spoken/written, official/vernacular, private/public, and functional/critical literacy?”

WRAC faculty and students will be presenting many panels and individual sessions over the course of the weekend:

Individual Sessions

  • Elizabeth Keller, How to Establish Student Ownership Within the Composition Classroom
  • Marilee Brooks-Gillies, Creative Contexts of Learning & Writing: Developing Student Agency
  • Ann Lawrence, Knowledge Work, Affect Work: Teachers’ Becoming Education Researchers
  • Douglas Walls, Work Space in NonWork Places: Intersections of Cultural Rhetoric and Professional Writing

Panels

  • Bump Halbritter and Julie Lindquist, Learning How to Know Them: Videotape and the Patient Work of Literacy Research
  • Collin Craig, Nancy DeJoy, and Steven Lessner, Workin’ It: Breaking Down Literacy Boundaries

New Videos Describe Professional Writing Courses

Professional Writing faculty and students talk about some of the courses in the PW curriculum in these videos–produced over the summer of 2010 by PW alum Ben Froese with interviews conducted in April by PW alum Sarah Aldrich–that are now linked to the program’s website. The videos are an effort to get richer, more personal narratives and descriptions of courses to majors and other students interested in the major. Students in Professor Bump Halbritter’s WRA 417 are redesigning and producing five more videos this semester.

WRA 202 Introduction to Professional Writing, with Dr. Jeff Grabill and PW alums Ainsley Elder and Jennifer Wilkinson:

WRA 260 Rhetoric & Persuation, with Dr. Stuart Blythe:

WRA 308 Invention in Writing, with Dr. Leonora Smith:

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