The Performance of Self in Student Writing

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9780867094398: The Performance of Self in Student Writing
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All too often when we ask our students to engage in personal writing, they represent themselves in ways we find unsatisfying. They may appear naive, sentimental, simplistic. Their writing may have a voice, yet rarely the voice we are looking for. But is it the writing that is the problem or the aesthetic standards we use to judge it? In The Performance of Self in Student Writing, Thomas Newkirk offers some insight.

Newkirk maintains that students' personal writing can provide a window into discourses that hold power in the wider culture, just not in the university. If we examine the roots of our own literary preferences, we might discover that our own sense of "quality" is arbitrary, timebound, culturebound, even classbound. "What if we viewed 'being personal' not as some natural 'free' representation of self, but as a complex cultural performance?" he asks. Newkirk puts student writing in this context, then examines some of the forms of self-performance students often employ.

Newkirk directly engages the critics of expressivism and by extension, the place of personal writing. He moves beyond the polarized and sterile debate that has been the norm so far, borrowing heavily from the cultural studies perspective of these critics. He locates students in literary traditions, often juxtaposing their work with canonical literary texts. At the same time, he shows that the cultural studies approach, as it has been applied to composition, has failed to acknowledge the moral power and utility of some of the discourses our culture makes available to students.

This is a book that will transform the way we understand the writing performance of students. It will have broad appeal to new and experienced writing teachers at both the high school and college levels.

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About the Author:

THOMAS NEWKIRK is a professor of English at the University of New Hampshire and the former director of that school's freshman English program. He has studied literacy learning at a variety of educational levelsfrom preschool to college. Newkirk is the coeditor of Taking Stock: The Writing Process Movement in the 90s (Boynton/Cook, 1994), and the editor of Nuts & Bolts: A Practical Guide to Teaching College Composition (Boynton/Cook, 1993).

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