Presenting at CCCC 2015 in Tampa: My Abstract and Bibliography

This year, I’m presenting at the annual Conference on College Composition and Communication. Held annually since 1949, the conference “has provided a forum for all those responsible for teaching composition and communication skills at the college level… For over 50 years, CCCC members have charted new courses in the teaching and scholarship of composition and rhetoric, helping to shape [] academic community and professional practices.” This year’s CCCC is being held in Tampa, Florida, and I’ll be blogging about my experiences as a first-time attendee. Until then, I want to share the abstract and bibliography for my presentation, “Reading to Understand, Writing to Know: The Risks of Mis/Remembering in Writing Memoir.” 

“Reading to Understand, Writing to Know” is a product of not just “the classroom,” but also many classrooms. It was inspired by a semester-long, creative nonfiction workshop I taught in the fall of 2013. In that class, students read Art Spiegelman’s Maus I and II, and my presentation explains how students used the graphic novel to consider important craft and ethical issues related to memoir writing. In fact, Maus has shown up on this blog before when  I taught the book in an introductory literature class and discovered some things about re-reading. Finally, “Reading to Understand, Writing to Know” also reflects what I learned as a student myself in Susan Gubar’s graduate course on poetry and proxy-witnessing in the context of the Holocaust.


In “Reading to Understand, Writing to Know: The Risks of Mis/Remembering in Writing Memoir,” I discuss using Art Spiegelman’s Maus to help creative nonfiction writing students explore the risks of mis/remembering, first by looking at Spiegelman’s negotiation of these challenges and then by confronting these dilemmas in their own writing. Maus is an excellent site to begin such work. Because it depicts his parents’ internment in Nazi death camps and its effect on his life, Maus encompasses the personal, familial, and historical.

An earlier unit on stories of place lays the groundwork for students’ study of Maus and the inherent risks of mis/remembering in memoir. Travel essays on Antarctica and Chernobyl introduce students to two modes of writing about memories: factual recall and factual invention. In a travel essay of their own, they reproduce these modes by combining a specific scene (“here is a sunset I saw last night”) and a representative scene (“this is a sunrise that evokes sunrises I have seen”). Students discover that although the representative scene is invented, it is authentic and could be considered “true.”

With this work behind them, students begin Maus with a basic understanding of how nonfiction writers paradoxically recall past events. They build on this knowledge by entertaining the notion of emotional truth. An emotionally true memory may not be entirely accurate, but it can be authentic because of what it preserves about the writer’s past experiences. In memoirs about family, such as Maus, emotional truth has consequences; it can be seen as misremembering. Students further explore the boundaries and risks of emotional truth by composing a mini-memoir that incorporates oral testimony from family members.

Because Maus is a memoir about family as much as it is about the Holocaust and its legacy, it prompts students to consider the wider, ethical implications of factual invention and emotional truth in memoir. Through a series of multimodal activities, students consider (1) the constraints Spiegelman faces as a memoirist and proxy-witness to the Holocaust, and (2) his attempt to address these responsibilities in the narrative itself.


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Posted in Blogging My Research, Creative Non-Fiction, Lifewriting

Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon at FMU

I’m co-hosting a Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon on my campus in conjunction with a week-long event called “G-Week” (or Gender Week). 

The post below has been re-blogged from my department’s website. I wrote it to publicize and explain the event. Before I share the post, I’d like to pause to say:

As a newbie to the editing side of Wikipedia, I’m indebted to the pathbreaking work of my graduate school colleague Dr. Adrianne Wadewitz. I’d venture to say that one my co-organizers, Dr. Mica Hilson, who was a dear friend of Adrianne’s from graduate school, also feels the same way. Adrianne passed away last year following injuries sustained during a rock climbing accident.

Adrianne was a prolific Wikipedian and worked tirelessly to combat the site’s notorious gender gap. She also championed Wikipedia in the college classroom. It was her Wikipedia copyediting assignment that first got me thinking about how I could use Wikipedia to improve students’ writing, research, and digital literacy skills in my composition and professional writing classes.


FMU will host a Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon on March 11 from 12-5 PM in the Rogers Library. The event is part of FMU’s “G-Week” or “Gender Week,” which is aimed at getting the campus thinking (and talking) productively about gender and sexuality–in all their expressions.

Wikipedia Logo

The goal of the edit-a-thon is to increase the presence and participation of women and GLBTQ on Wikipedia, one of the world’s most visited websites.

Attendees will write, edit, index, and/or add references to Wikipedia articles about issues associated with women and GLBTQ, especially those related to South Carolina and racial and ethnic minorities.

The edit-a-thon is open the FMU community; no prior Wikipedia writing or editing experience is necessary to participate. However, attendees must register for the event and get a Wikipedia account in advance.

Wikipedia’s lack of diversity is well-documented. Women make up only 8-16% of Wikipedia contributors to the site according to various estimates. Some have argued that this gender gap creates a coverage gap on the site: entries tend to focus on men or stereotypically masculine topics. Wikipedia’s race- and sexuality-gaps are even more pronounced than its gender gap.

Wikipedia’s gender gap is improving. A recent study has shown that the English-language Wikipedia has roughly the same number of entries about women as it does about men. The entries about women, though, tend to focus more on their family, children (or lack thereof), and relationship status.

The FMU edit-a-thon is part of a larger, international effort that Wikipedia itself supports. Subjects on the site should be represented accurately, objectively, and evenly. As professors Sarah Adams (Yale) and Hannah Brückner (NYU of Abu Dhabi) explain, given the sheer volume of traffic to the site, Wikipedia is perhaps the “most important reference tool and information clearinghouse” in the world. Moreover, Adams and Brückner point out that “[Wikipedia] is widely used in American and other countries’ secondary schools and universities. It is an important go-to site for many students who are trying to learn about topics that are new to them.”

FMU English Studies professors are well aware that students of all ages consult Wikipedia when completing research projects. Composition classes like English 200 often ask students to compose a research-based, argumentative essay. During these assignments, professors help students evaluate the objectivity and credibility of sources. Wikipedia often does not qualify as an appropriate source for many types of college-level academic writing, including English 200 essays. However, many professors teaching college composition endorse consulting Wikipedia during the initial research stage. During this part of the process, the researcher seeks a broad overview of his subject as well as keywords that relate to it. She then uses this information to conduct more targeted, informed research using library-based resources, such as peer-reviewed journal articles and books.

Ultimately, increasing the presence and participation of women and GLBTQ on Wikipedia will create a more objective, complete resource that is popular the world over. Adams and Brückner say it best: “Knowledge is power, as the adage has it, and a well-informed citizenry is the basis of a vibrant economy and strong democracy.”

If you’re in the FMU community and have questions about the event, email co-organizers Dr. Mica Hilson and Dr. Amy Rubens of FMU English Studies or public services librarian Ms. Tammy Ivins, MSLS.

Note: The organizers are indebted to the pioneering work of scholar and prolific Wikipedian Dr. Adrianne Wadewitz. Dr. Wadewitz passed away following a rock climbing accident last year. Learn more about Dr. Wadewtiz and her work with Wikipedia, especially on college campuses.

Posted in Digital Humanities, Life of the Mind
Amy Rubens
Amy Rubens

I'm an Assistant Professor of English at a state-sponsored university in South Carolina and have over ten years of experience teaching at the college level.

I regularly teach courses in composition, professional writing, creative writing, and American literature.

My primary research interest is the medical humanities, particularly the depiction of contagious disease in American literature and lifewriting. I also have research interests in digital writing, social media, and the ways electronic environments shape notions of health.

I'm inspired by the great outdoors and enjoy hiking and backpacking. When I'm not reading, writing, or hiking, I like to blog and spend time with my family members (both human and animal).

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