National Writing Project

On the Experience of Writing Literacies, Lies and Silences

By: Heather E. Bruce
Publication: The Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 4
Date: 2004

Summary: Heather Bruce describes her experience writing and publishing her book.

 

See the related book review, by Shirley P. Brown.

Editors' note: The Quarterly editors asked Heather Bruce to write a few words about the experience of writing and publishing her book.

In the late 1980s, I taught a precocious sixth-grader named Mike. Mike didn't sit still. Writing workshop posed particular difficulties because he distracted his classmates while they tried to write. One day while I was conferencing with another student, Mike paced the floor muttering and gesticulating to no one in particular. Exasperated with the noise, I began to holler across the room, "Mike, will you please sit down and be quiet!" Then, brought up short by imagined admonishment from Lucy Calkins or Nancie Atwell, I shifted midsentence to say, "Mike, will . . . what are you doing?"

In the wake of this moment came a remark I have since treasured for its teacherly genius. "Prewriting," Mike blurted through a wry smile, as if the reasons for his behavior were perfectly obvious. "I call it `talk-walk.' Works great. Try it sometime."

"Talk-walk" uncannily captures the process in between the lines of Literacies, Lies and Silences. A wildly gesticulating, muttering, and persistent style of my own talk-walk paved my way through a project that began as doctoral dissertation research and finished with the book's publication eleven years later.

While the rest of my life swirled around me like loose reams of paper caught in the vortex of a dust devil, I talk-walked through potential sentences, paragraphs, and chapters by adopting an altered version of Mike's proffered prewriting strategy. "You can do this!" I muttered to the steering wheel, while flying down freeways to teach composition at five different university locations. I gesticulated "Yes, you can do this!" while directing my adolescent sons from my seat at the computer: "Finish your homework! I'm sure you've seen that rerun of Seinfield (or The Simpsons) seventeen times at least!"

Again and again through clenched teeth, I determined "You can still do this ..." while I talk-paced through a failed proposal defense, a change in advisers, a twenty-four-month wait for school district and institutional review board approval of the project. (They required me to justify "exclusion of boys" from my study: "For goodness' sake, I'm not excluding boys, I'm studying girls. Besides, I've produced and am raising two sons in less time than I've been working on this thing. Doesn't that count?") Eventually there was a 450-page dissertation, a doctorate awarded, and a contract for a 250-page book manuscript ("I have to cut it in half?"). Along the way came a woeful divorce, a contended remarriage, a breast cancer diagnosis, radiation and chemotherapy treatments, a cancer in retreat, two different tenure-track faculty jobs and cross-country relocations, and my sons' high school and college graduations.

I persisted by talking, walking, pacing, and writing, writing, writing over the cracks that emerged in the foundations of my life. In many ways, this process stands as a metaphor for the message Literacies, Lies, and Silences undertakes: Girls, if they are to be successful in school and beyond, need multiple opportunities to talk and to write to someone who will listen that they may walk strong through lives composed with intention and perseverance.

About the Author Heather E. Bruce directs the Montana Writing Project. A 1981 participant of the Utah Writing Project Summer Institute, Bruce taught for thirteen years in Salt Lake City public schools and co-directed summer institutes all over Utah before pursuing doctoral studies in composition, rhetoric, and literacy. She is now an associate professor of English education at the University of Montana-Missoula, where she teaches theory and pedagogy courses in composition/rhetoric, literature/reading, and literacy.

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