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Composition Forum 23, Spring 2011

Growing Our Discipline: An Interview with Malea Powell

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Andréa D. Davis

Abstract: In this interview, Malea Powell discusses the importance of keeping the discipline of composition and rhetoric growing, vibrant, engaging, and contestatory. While arguing for the value of interdisciplinarity through the example of her own theoretical work that considers making as rhetorical scholarship, she extends this concept to the larger webbed relation of our field and addresses many of the issues surrounding the 2011 CCCC theme she established.

Scholars and teachers in college composition often must face the continual discomfort of growth and change as our field continues to advance and expand as rapidly as do the various technologies we employ. Sometimes our efforts at keeping up with this growth allow us to accept change with grace, and in other moments we commiserate with one another over our discomfiture. Part of the issue in this growth and change is the interdisciplinary nature of writing studies that allows us to blend with and inform myriad fields and disciplines. How, then, might we gracefully embrace and acknowledge this growth and freedom that such interdisciplinarity brings us? To answer that question, I interviewed the 2011 Conference on College Composition and Communication chair, Malea Powell. Her conference theme has sparked much discussion and debate as many scholars and teachers respond to the conference call that has exposed our field’s growing pains.

Malea Powell is an Associate Professor in Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures and the American Indian Studies Program at Michigan State University where she just completed her five-year term as director of the Rhetoric & Writing graduate program. Her research focuses on examining the rhetorics of survivance used by 19th century American Indian intellectuals, and on the material cultural rhetorics of American Indian artists. She has published essays in College Composition and Communication, College English, American Indian Quarterly, Paradoxa, and in several critical collections, including Race, Rhetoric & Composition, and AltDis. Her current scholarship includes Rhetorical Powwows, “a critical book that examines the relationships between American Indian material and textual traditions.”

Andréa Davis (AD): You often begin many of your publications and presentations with the words “This is a story.” To me, these words are a reminder that our experiences and the stories we carry with us through our lives shape who we are and what we do. What are the stories that led you to composition and rhetoric?

Malea Powell (MP): There are a lot of stories that led me to rhetoric and composition. There’s a pretty standard story that I tell about working for Westinghouse and not being very happy about the electrical engineering program that they had me in. And I remember complaining to my mother who said, in true mother fashion, “well just quit and come home! Go to IUK and do something you want to do.” And I did. And so that’s one story.

The other story is more complicated. I was going to Indiana University, Kokomo (IUK) and living with my parents. My daughter was in kindergarten and I was working on an Education degree to be a high school teacher. I wanted to coach drama and forensics and the program at IUK at that time was very good for secondary education and I felt very supported in that program. But my actual on-the-ground experiences spending summers working with high school forensic and drama teachers were different. I loved the kids, but I was really struck by how frustrating it was to watch the teachers and coaches try to work within the rules of the school, which were vastly different from institution to institution. I’m pretty self-aware and it was pretty clear to me that, constitutionally, that wasn’t going to be a good fit for me any more than being an engineer was going to be a good fit for me.

I was working in the writing center, having been rescued from cocktail waitressing by a kind faculty member. So, I was doing that and there was an opportunity to go to the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) and I went. And I liked it. I liked the way I felt supported by the faculty who were in the Peer Tutoring workshop that I took, and I liked the way that people talked about students. I made that decision and just started taking all of the composition courses that I could. There were a few being offered because IUK was offering graduate-level courses in Composition, both for Education majors and for folks who were enrolled at places like Purdue and wanted to take night classes.

I liked the courses and there were two things that really made me decide to go to graduate school. The first was that I needed to be able to make enough money for my daughter to go to college in a fairly reasonable time frame. It made more sense to do that, and the kinds of people that I was reading like Jackie Royster convinced me that there was space for me.

The other reason was a story that I fought against and that was that no one who ever came out of a place like IU Kokomo would ever get into a good graduate school. The lore was that it didn’t matter what we wanted to do, that we’d end up at a second-rate graduate school and maybe not even end up with a job; we’d be adjuncting all over everywhere. That was how they talked to us about it. And, you know me, never one to believe other people, I just applied to the best schools in the country that I could locate and got into Miami with the help of Bob Johnson. I decided I wanted to live down that lore about what kind of future was in store for people who went to community college. And I think I’ve done pretty well for myself. But I can’t complain. I can’t complain about the way they educated me, but they certainly did make it clear to me that my future might be limited.

AD: So you saw a challenge and took it.

MP: Yes. I think the whole process was about me trying to rewrite particular stories about myself and about those of my family as well as about larger institutions. You know, at 27 years old as a single mom, most of the stories written about you aren’t very positive. I spent a lot of time trying to counter those stories.

AD: In your 2008 Diversity Blog for CCCC, you discuss your current scholarly project Rhetorical Powwows, which ties your historical and material scholarship together, stating, “The second piece of the project radically challenges those traditional notions by investigating parallel rhetorical practices engaged in by Native “makers”—basketmakers, beadworkers, quillworkers, etc. – and understanding those practices as part of the same rhetorical and intellectual traditions being enacted in print.” Can you explain a little about how these material practices are part of the same rhetorical and intellectual traditions as print?

MP: Actually, while I was giving a talk at Purdue this last weekend, I had an epiphany about this and I don’t think that they are parallel processes. The argument that I make in this book is that what characterizes Native Rhetorical Traditions across tribes and across time is an orientation to making that is attuned to carrying traditional values and ideas forward, but that is not trapped under the mistaken anthropological notion that new materials make them somehow corrupt. So, for example, I’m looking at this Cherokee river cane basket-maker (Robin McBride Scott) who is practicing Cherokee cane traditions and I’ve learned a whole lot of very traditional things from her about a kind of rhetorical orientation to basket-making that ties the land and the body of the maker into a historical imaginary of Native people and Native makers all connected through those baskets.

On the one hand I see her doing that, and I also see folks like Charles Eastman doing the same kinds of things. They are really trying to tap traditional knowledge and values in order to make an argument for new ways of being Indian or doing Indian or understanding Indian to the world. But one of the things that Robin does, is she found a cane fragment that she wanted to recreate—it’s an ancient fragment. Because cane is expensive and hard to process and rare (it’s quite hard to find a stand of cane that you can work to make a basket), but she was also not a fan of using commercial cane because, again, it’s expensive, so she got a bunch of file folders that she painted some of the brown so she could see the pattern stand up off of them. She then put them through the shredder and wove that first process mat replicating the ancient fragment out of those file folder fragments.

I’ve been doing these talks about her and making these claims about the link between 19th-century Native writers and 20th- and 21st-century Native women artists and, of course, the flaw in my logic with Robin is that my work around her has emphasized the very traditional aspects of her work and ignored the fact that she does this sort of thing with the file folders. And I realized that in doing that—in taking that ancient fragment and trying to recreate it and extrapolate it in really non-traditional materials – she’s doing precisely what Eastman and Winnemucca and La Flesche and Blackbird are doing. She’s taking that process of making and all the rhetorical processes that surround it, including orientation to the land and to the materials and to her body, and she’s trying to re-create them in another material. This is what some people in the discipline would call an available means, or what I would call a practice of survivance. She’s doing precisely that, as are all the other makers in my study. I feel like it took me years to “see” it. I kept working at it.

AD: You’re weaving your own tapestry. That’s a really big picture.

MP: Right. So, that sort of orientation to tradition and materials and the body has set me up to understand the body, place, and culture as a triad around which Native Rhetorical Practices always circulate and constellate. In fact, I think I’m at a point where I can say that all rhetorical practices constellate around those and it’s the different patterns of constellation that tell us something about individual cultures. (laughs) That’s a big claim.

AD: Even though that’s a big claim, it makes a lot of sense. It reminds me of my own scholarship in storytelling as an embodied rhetoric because of its use. But, of course, the idea of rhetorical use comes from you as well.

Is there a relationship between the material practices or makings you discuss and participate in as an artists and your scholarship that prompts you to continuously weave the interdisciplinary threads of your research areas, including American Indian Rhetorics and Literatures, Rhetoric and Composition, Critical and Cultural Theory, Material Rhetorics, and the History of Rhetoric?

MP: I think scholarship and making are absolutely connected. I’m just now starting to understand, in a critical way, my own position in terms of that big continuum of Native Rhetorical production, but it seems to me that the choices I’ve made as a scholar have everything to do with the choices that the people I’ve studied have made to deliberately engage things that seem unusual to one another in order to find the connections. In my mind they’re connected, so I spend a lot time backtracking to find where the connections are. So, this new idea of a triad—space, body, culture—helps me explain how our discipline created the narrative about our history that we have, what’s at stake for people to inch away from that history…I can see how those things are connected and it’s just a question of literalizing it in a more critical way. I don’t know how to not do it. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to pursue what I know is right.

AD: In my experience of you, you’ve brought that in really critical ways into other areas of your scholarship as well. I know you just recently completed your term as director of Michigan State University’s Rhetoric & Writing Program; do you feel that your interdisciplinary approaches and accumulation of stories, and even this triad of space, body, and culture have served you as an administrator?

MP: Absolutely. It served me especially in the earliest days of program-building when I just stepped into the directorship to keep that kind of balance that we wanted, between the kind of things certainly our discipline would expect that we do with graduate students and the kinds of things I think are important to do with a whole group of humans that you’re going to spend a lot of time with around pretty tough intellectual matters. As I got used to being an administrator and understood the job in particular kinds of ways, it comes back again. There’s an onus on administrators to answer to people further up the line than them about numbers and placement and things like that, but there’s also the necessity, at least in my mind, to protect the environment of communal and collaborative learning and thinking. As a rhetorician you learn to make arguments to protect that environment because, in fact, that’s the environment that makes the numbers show up the way you want. I don’t think you can get the numbers you want if you spend all your time dehumanizing people. So in some ways, I got to see the payoff for establishing a particular kind of intellectual community and being an advocate for that intellectual community and the connection between that and the kind of hard numbers that the university wants. I also think I can speak pretty persuasively about the intellectual components of administrative work; it’s not just a paper-pushing job, it takes real thinking to do it well and to do it humanely.

AD: I want move this discussion a bit to talk about the way you bring interdisciplinarity, story, theory, and Native rhetorics to bear in the classroom. In your article “Resisting Exile” with Tony Clark, you quote a passage I find quite relevant to your teaching practices: “knowledge of places is closely linked to knowledge of the self, to grasping one’s position in the larger scheme of things, including one’s own community, and to securing a confident sense of who one is as a person” (2). In essence, this is what you just said in describing establishing a particular kind of intellectual community. Although you’re quoting this passage, it resonated with me about the way you invite all students to understand not only their “home” community, but especially their academic community. Would you say more about how that works?

MP: I think that in the academy we’re way too quick to believe the popular critique of our field that says the university is not the real world. I have yet to meet a person who is not a real person in the university—all of them have mortgages, rent, food, doctor bills, kids, parents, pets. That seems pretty real world to me. It’s just the fiction of it as not the real world that helps us rationalize behaving in ways that I think we would not otherwise behave towards our neighbor. Understanding the place—the land and the institution—is really critical to being able to have a real, honest, honorable, respectful relationship with yourself as a scholar who lives inside the academy. It’s harder if you think of what happens inside the walls of the academy as this thing that is separate from human life and then you go home on the weekends and have this human life, and then you come back. If you separate them, It is easier, then, to turn adjunct faculty into numbers, to turn graduate students into numbers, to turn your undergraduate students into these amusing, but not all together smart, people who show up in your class. When you orient to place and community, it forces you to have real relationships with both (academic and human) and to acknowledge the real needs of humans.

I’m teaching in the residential college this semester in a first-year Writing class and my students are doing a research paper on Michigan Indians and, like everything I was ever assigned, they don’t have to actually write a research paper; they have to do the research and create a product that represents or shares their research. It occurred to me that we might want to go to the Nokomis Center, a local Native American Culture and Learning Center located less than ten minutes from campus. The problem is that MSU undergrads are not allowed to have cars their first year of residence, so how do you get twenty 18-year-olds a couple miles up the road? So, we got on the bus. Even if you don’t like this class and don’t feel like you learned very much in it, here are some real life skills. They learned how to take the bus to get somewhere to buy something.

AD: No kidding. That CATA bus system isn’t exactly easy to navigate.

MP: It’s not. And you have to sort of walk through the mall or around the mall to find the Nokomis Center, which is hidden behind the police department. I think a lot of teachers do that; they engage that way beyond the boundaries of the academy with their students. There’s also a lot of them who don’t because they don’t feel like they get paid enough, or they don’t get enough credit, or enough approval, or they’re not valued highly enough. That’s just some of it. We’ve all had those faculty members in our life who honored us as humans, and then we’ve all had those who really treated us like we weren’t. I don’t ever want to be that person who seems to think that students don’t have an important life outside of me or my class.

AD: Your myriad and richly faceted research areas and rhetorical and pedagogical practices create a very dynamic interdisciplinarity, but one that is connected in a larger relationship like we’ve just discussed, including orienting to space, body, and community or even several communities. Is this the kind of “accumulation of stories” that you refer to in your chapter in Beyond the Archives?

MP: It’s definitely part of it, that sort of layering. There’s a sense of complexity of the world being captured in this layering of stories. I was thinking of this when I was driving home from West Lafayette this weekend driving towards Bowling Green to see my daughter and Qwo-Li (Driskill), Boni Nelson, and Robin Scott were there for their Native American week. And so I was driving across northern Indiana basically following a pathway along the river that is ancient for Miami people. I was trying to talk to the people there about the river and how significant that river is for me and how it feels to me like a relative, like you can feel the thickness of stories and ancestors there in a way I can feel it…I feel it in a few other places, but that’s just one of those places that grabs me and holds me and it does literally feel like layers. It feels like walking through layers and layers and layers of leaves up to your hips. Driving that path along the Wabash had that same feeling for me. There were a lot of times I really wanted to just pull over and get out and sit down and just feel it wash over me. I think most people who are driving through on highway 24 in Northern Indiana would not feel that way. (laughs) But I’m driving it and I feel it and it’s that sense of being immersed in those stories that, as I get older, becomes more important to me to establish in every part of my life, not just in that kind of…I used to think of that as my poetic self and now I think of it as myself that my ancestors give me and I want to maintain that. I think other cultures have other ways to talk about it, but that sense that when you stand in a place, you stand in a place that has stories and has history where people lived and died and that your responsibility to yourself is to honor your responsibility to them. You can’t do that if you treat people poorly. I haven’t always been very good at keeping that kind of accumulation in mind, and I’m trying to get better at it.

AD: Mindfulness is a hard thing. It really is.

MP: It’s really a hard thing and there’s not very much reward for it. There might be people who discount what I’m saying because I have obtained this position and can say it, but there are things in my personal life that have made me realize I need to get better about honoring that. When I die, I don’t want people to say about me that I was a really good scholar. I want them to say I was a really good person.

AD: Well… and our scholarly selves can sometimes shadow the totality of who we are, so that’s a really important idea. In this idea also of accumulation of stories, you are known for, I would say, your longstanding advocacy for honoring the interrelatedness of story, human experience, material practices, and scholarship, especially theory. You’ve always made a point of the fact that story is theory. You’re certainly not alone in this. Many scholars have joined with you in this prospect, so I’m wondering if you can say a bit about how the chorus of voices for interdisciplinarity and for this integrated experience have given rise to the 2011 CCCC’s call “All Our Relations: Contested Space, Contested Knowledge.”

MP: I’ve been going to the CCCCs for twenty years, and because of the kind of work that I do and the kind of people who have supported me throughout that twenty years, I’ve spent most of that twenty years at the convention talking to people who feel like their work is not welcome at the CCCCs or that they don’t belong at the CCCCs. Initially, as a beginning scholar, I would say for the first decade, it was frustrating and I was pretty enraged and my work reflected that rage. But, because I have the privilege of being a sort of mid-career scholar, in the last ten years some of the CCCCs leaders have really started to hold my feet to the fire—what are you going to do about it, Malea? Duku [Akua Duku Anokye] can be single-handedly blamed for me being in this position because she’s really the one who said “hey, if you have complaints, maybe you should be in charge.” She’s the one who convinced me to put my name on the ballot and I’m going to give her credit ((laughs) or blame, whichever people feel) for that.

It really started to disturb me. At first, I was spending a lot of time with folks of color, mostly women of color. And women and people of color felt really outside at the CCCCs, like their work didn’t matter and in order to make it matter they would have to remove all things about it that were important to them. That was upsetting enough. But the longer I went, the more it seemed to me like a lot of the most interesting work—work about language, work about digital environments, work about the body, work that wanted to view assessment in newer ways, work that wanted to honor particular rhetorical traditions or that wanted to push up against boundaries, even in some ways that I wasn’t particularly fond of myself, but that were important—folks like that were starting to say “I don’t really belong here” or “I don’t really like this.”

So when I got elected, I did a really informal survey of about 800 of my Facebook friends, scholars in the field, asking if they go to the CCCCs, if so why, and if not, why not? I was really surprised to find young scholars doing work around visual media and race say to me that their work didn’t belong at the CCCCs. And I was shocked to see people who are interested in methodology and theory and history say that their work doesn’t belong at the CCCCs. I was not surprised, but was really sad to see writers who publish in what we would term the “creative” venue say that no one cares about their work at the CCCCs, to say that people at the WPA understand what they’re trying to do even though they’re talking about first-year writing. This was really disturbing. It’s really disturbing. So, I wanted to take what all of these scholars told to me and try to create a space where they would feel like their work was welcome at the CCCCs, because I think a discipline can’t walk away from 1/3 to 1/2 of the folks who work in it. In fact, if you look at the submission of the CCCCs it does mention composition, and teaching, and it does mention rhetoric. We haven’t been doing a good job of representing the fullest breadth of intellectual production across those three areas. So, I did it. I had a lot of feedback and I had a lot of help. All the folks who talked to me, and all of the officers, and NCTE members, and a lot of other folks all helped to make it happen.

AD: One of the things that I wanted to speak with you a little bit more about has to do with perception of this call for CCCCs as perhaps a “Native” call. And yet, Native scholars have been doing this kind of interdisciplinary academic work for decades, leading the way with geography and political science, ethnic and gender studies, and a host of other areas. With this particular call for the CCCCs, you’ve provided an avenue and an opening for everyone —Natives and non-Natives alike— to think about how space and place relate to self and to resistance. What is the scholarship that you hope will come from opening up spaces like this for academia and for CCCCs?

MP: This is one of those moments where I find myself to be a complete idealist and totally Polyanna-ish (laughs), which some people will find hilarious when they think of me, but others will not be surprised by. I hope that what people see is a program where there is something for them, and I mean that in terms of everybody, including the folks who never felt like the CCCCs was a home for them. And I also hope that what they feel is that it is a space where there is something for them, but that something for them may be coming at them in a little different way than they’ve experienced it before. It’s not like there aren’t going to be hundreds of panels on teaching first-year writing and all the regular topics. It’s just that a lot of that, a lot of that work, came in under category 113 specifically in order to, I think, have an opportunity to do something differently, whether that’s not to present a regular paper, or to bring undergraduates to the table, or to really mix things up thinking about what those who teach Technical and Professional Writing have to teach folks who teach Composition and vice versa. What can we learn from each other’s experiences about teaching in the classroom? Those things are all there, they just don’t always look the same as they’ve always looked and I count that as a good thing. I think it means the field is going to move forward and have a rich future for its own culture. But I know that there will be people who do things like count. A former program chair told me that she was approached by someone who said to her, “Wow! You didn’t have any white men as featured speakers” and she had to get out the program and show him. The presence of people of color in a critical mass kind of way frequently makes folks feel like white people aren’t being represented. I think that you can use that as a metaphor; the presence of more complicated, diverse, boundary-crossing scholarship frequently makes people feel like the stuff for newcomers about how to teach first-year writing isn’t being represented, but that’s just not true. It’s not true in either case. I understand that peoples’ perception of things can be different and I understand they’re nervous and I’m sorry they’re nervous. Then again, I also think it’s funny because on the listservs people seem to be really worried, but the data doesn’t prove them out in terms of the composition of the program or in terms of the submissions that we received and the categories they were in. I don’t actually think the body of the membership is concerned in that way.

AD: Although the complaints about the CCCCs—their calls, their acceptances, their controversies—seem to be an annual event, this year’s “backlash” on the various listservs has been interesting to observe. As you and I have discussed previously, I see that you’ve enacted the same kinds of rhetorical “opening up” of space for the CCCCs that you do in your classrooms. Through your call for the CCCCs, you’ve created a space where all people can tell and hear “revelatory stories that open space for counter-stories and resistance, mixed-blood stories told from the borders of Indian-ness, American-ness, Scholarly-ness” (“Blood and Scholarship” 8). Because of this opening up of this kind of space, I’ve been observing closely, waiting to see if anyone would just run with the kind of space that’s been opened up and yet there seems to be resistance on every side.

MP: Yes. This is one of those moments for me when I was like, “Wow! How should I feel about that? Should I take this personally?” But this isn’t really about me, it’s about something else entirely. At this point, though, I’ve seen the proposals several times as we went through them, made decisions about them, put the program together, had conversations with people and there are a lot of folks who are really taking advantage of this. I feel really gratified to know that people like Anne Wysocki and Johndan Johnson-Eilola are going to do a digital installation. It takes a little bit of extra work on everybody’s part to make that happen, but it’s not really that much extra work. And Peter Elbow is going to give a big talk on Saturday, because we’re having a lot of events on Saturday and hoping to get people to stay through, but what he’s going to talk about is completely within the kind of atmosphere that I’m trying to setting up. Duane Roen is leading a panel on the dual-credit issue that really is occupying a lot of time for people who teach in colleges and community colleges. There’s also a panel on the Arizona House bills, and there’s a panel on Cherokee literacy. There’s also a panel on Cherokee Studies at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah. All of that is there and to me it makes sense for all of it to be there. I mean, that’s what our discipline does. Seeing it from my side, where I see all of the things that are going to happen, I’m just not worried about the perception that some people may have about it right now. People go to the CCCCs and they either love it or hate it. I hated it for 90% of the twenty years that I’ve gone, but I go because I belong to a professional community and I have that community life participation.

AD: Right. And, in a sense, this is another opportunity for us to orient to academic communities and to the community at large, which we maybe see once a year at various conferences.

MP: Yes. Yes, I think so. And if that means that people talk about it through the year, that makes me happy.

AD: I was thinking about this and we’re sort of talking about the next question I had for you which is about what outcomes might come from this massive scholarly encounter with “contact zones.” This is what we’ve been talking about in terms of all of these disciplinary areas having a space to “talk” to each other. You have a chapter in some of your earlier scholarship where you were responding to some of your early experiences with the CCCCS. I’m thinking of “Blood and Scholarship” in particular where you state:

[I]t’s possible to go to every section generically marked “methodology,” for example, and never encounter a single session in which issues of difference are being taken up by scholars of color. This “tolerated-margins” approach to dividing up disciplinary knowledge must change if the discipline of rhetoric and composition is ever to become more than just another site of Academic imperialism. (11)

I thought that was a kind of prophetic statement about what this CCCCs call is doing for 2011. In a sense, you’ve finally taken that step to create a space and to say, “Okay. Well now this call is inclusive and is allowing folks of color to speak right alongside and to and with everyone else.” I think this is really exciting.

MP: People can still make their way through the convention in a way that’s very comfortable for them, but I also think that there’s a lot there for folks to learn from and to think about. That’s what a scholarly convention should do, especially for folks like us who have so much contact with so many different kinds of people in our students. To learn from one another should be the minimum that we do. If we don’t do that, we don’t have a future.

AD: You mentioned a moment ago the new area cluster, 113: Contesting Boundaries and you mentioned some of the different responses to that, but what kind of overall response was there? Were there a lot of responses to that new cluster?

MP: Yes. Category 113 drew 33% of all of the submissions to the convention. It is the largest category of submission response – ever.

AD: That is fantastic!

MP: So, for people who tell me that new category leaves them out, I have to say that 33% of all submissions for one category with twelve other categories for the other 2/3 of the people leaves a lot of space for the other 2/3.

AD: That actually seems more equitable than I think I’ve ever seen it.

MP: And category 101 still has about 19% of the submissions, so pretty much half of the program will come from 113 and 101, which seems to me to reflect pretty well the kinds of things that people are interested in at the convention. We also had an extremely high overall submission rate, which the organization views as meaning a high turn out. I am really excited and gratified. I was hoping to get 10% of submissions in the new category, so to get over 30% really tells me that I hit a nerve.

AD: Excellent. I think it’s very exciting and very timely. I can still imagine, though, that there may be some people who feel alienated by this process, as we’ve talked about. I just want to give you an opportunity for a minute to talk about the inclusiveness of your scholarship and the way that you invite that in the classroom and in this conference. This year’s theme somehow seems to resonate with a few people, or at least the most vocal ones, because it is not the “traditional” or the “mainstream” way of doing rhetoric and composition. However, in your scholarship, you’ve always been inclusive. Even as you open spaces for American Indian Rhetroics and Literature, you acknowledge their relationship to and with “traditional” rhetoric and composition. For example, in your article “There’s Still More Digging To Do,” you write a moving story to honor the work of A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff, a non-Native scholar, pointing to the positive ways that non-Natives can work within and for Native communities. What would you say to the scholars who are currently feeling like their subject positions have somehow been shifted?

MP: I don’t think that any of us can afford to be static. I said this in the call, I say it all the time when I’m teaching, you’ve heard it a million times: cultures that don’t change, die. My love/hate relationship with my discipline still means that I have responsibilities to make sure that it lives. The next program chair might do things completely different; he might bring things back to where more people feel comfortable or he might push them in a completely different way. When people say this isn’t traditional, that’s not an insult to me. But you know, you take an issue that seems very far removed from my scholarship like the dual-credit issue that is happening as high school students end up in college classrooms. I don’t teach at an institution where this is going to happen and I no longer have a child in high school, so you would think that this wouldn’t be a very important issue to someone like me. But it is important and there are a couple of reasons why. One is that it is important to my colleagues. It would disrespectful of me to not see that important and make sure that they have space to talk about it. And, two, it makes a difference to how we think and talk about writing when we talk about writing, and I don’t mean just first-year writing. It can start some conversations that might be incredibly positive in the relationship between college writing teachers and high school writing teachers. I understand that it’s an issue that’s being pressed by legislature and money is at the heart of it, but we need to take a minute to unpack those issues to determine that everyone who works in rhetoric and composition should be paying attention to this because for some of our colleagues it is an incredibly important issue and it’s going to have real import for us in terms of how we theorize and think about our work. Now, I wish that what I do was thought of in the same way by more of the people in our discipline, and since I wish that, then I don’t have any choice but to behave that way. You have to put out the very best kind of behavior and collegiality, even if what you’re getting back is “you’re leaving me out, this isn’t traditional.” Our field has changed incredibly since it was argued for and created all those years ago, and I think that’s a good thing. I can’t think that those folks who made those arguments and went through those struggles would want us just to maintain it exactly as it was as if it was a museum. They want it to be vibrant and contestatory and engaging and diverse, and so I feel like I’m doing that.

AD: That’s awesome work. I think it’s hard for people to accept change and that’s mostly what I’ve observed in the sort of resistance to the CCCCs this year. It is change and that’s something our whole field needs to do.

MP: There are many ways that I have taken all the feedback and resistance. One thing is resistance to the theme. The truth is, the program chair really has control over very little. The theme is the only thing that you get all the control over. This is the year that you’re really learning what your responsibilities are going to be as an officer for the CCCCs and NCTE and so the thing that you have in the palm of your hand is choosing that theme and trying to arrange it. Some people are going to not like anything that anybody puts together. On the other hand, that so many people feel so threatened by this tells me that they know I’ve hit a nerve. Otherwise, why complain? It’s just a theme.

AD: Very true. So, one last question as we close this interview: In the call for CCCCs, you state, “I invoke "all our relations" here to allow CCCCs scholars and teachers the chance to consider how such a concept of balance and webbed relationality might help us build a scholarly community in which knowledge and space are always contested;” while this call itself is certainly a way to contest such boundaries, what productive ways can we expect the CCCCs experience in Atlanta this year to push at the boundaries of rhetoric and composition as a maturing field?

MP: That’s a good question. That’s a hard question. Well, there are lots of people from other disciplines that I’ve invited to come and be a part of our convention. There are still all of the regular things. There’s still a jam. There are still all of the regular things. And there are also some unusual things that we’re working on. I have invited people from a lot of other disciplines to be part of the convention and there are folks who, in my imagination of the discipline, are part of our discipline but have never seen a central place at our table and they will be represented. For example, there will be a panel on digital humanities by Dean Rehberger who runs MATRIX, one of the most important digital humanities centers in the country. There will be a talk by Les Hannah who is the director of the Cherokee Cultural Studies program at Northeastern State University at Tahlequah and some people may ask what that has to do with rhetoric and composition. And that’s a good question to folks, what does it have to do with Rhet/Comp? You tell me how what he’s doing has import for what he has to do with your work. There are going to be literary folks and folks talking about politics like the Arizona bills and the chilling effects that has on particular kinds of education. We’re going to try to get some local artist demonstrators to come in and be in the book exhibit and who aren’t just about selling their stuff, but about real engagement through art. We’re going to do the visual digital installations. We’ve tried really hard to do a lot of things that I consider to be just good manners like making sure we have child care options, and having the disability studies committee check out the hotel and give us a report on it so we can figure out ways for people to navigate those spaces. Lots of folks might say that those are just things that you should do when you run a convention, and that’s true, but all of those should actually be ways that we think about our work—about our classrooms, about our scholarship. It’s not just that we were able to get technology to everyone who asked for it, it’s that that’s an acknowledgement of the important place that particular kinds of technologies are having in our discipline. There are functional answers to questions that could come from any convention organizer, but I would hope that folks would engage with them intellectually as well to kind of push themselves. Is it possible to go to the convention and not go to any of the fun, cool, happy stuff? Yes it is. It’s not recommended, but it is possible. We are going to do Saturday afternoon events. We’re going to have a poetry workshop, we’re going to have a graduate student forum to talk about the possibility of starting graduate student caucuses or SIGs to include the folks who really make up some of the most innovative thinkers in our discipline. And all of it is there: it’s all on the table where people can pass or do what they want. I think in a basic way, having elected a Native person to this position helps our organization take tiny baby steps forward into imagining what it could be.

Works Cited

Clark, D. Anthony Tyeeme, and Malea Powell. "Resisting Exile in the "Land of the Free": Indigenous Groundwork at Colonial Intersections." The American Indian Quarterly 32.1 (2008): 1-15. Print.

Powell, Malea. "Blood and Scholarship: One Mixed-Blood’s Story." Race, Rhetoric, and Composition. Ed. Keith Gilyard. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1999. 1-16. Print.

———. “Dreaming Charles Eastman: Cultural Memory, Autobiography, and Geography in Indigenous Rhetorical Histories.” Beyond the Archives: Research as a Lived Process. Ed. Gesa Kirsch and Liz Rohan. Carbondale, Ill: Southern Illinois University, 2008. 115 – 127. Print.

———. "Rhetorics of Survivance: "Recovery" Work for American Indian Writing." CCCC. NCTE, 26 June 2008. Web. 12 Dec. 2010. <>.

———. “”There’s Still More Digging to Do”: A Story in Honor of A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff.” Studies in American Indian Literatures 17.2 (2005): 5-9. Print.

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