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One of my family’s traditions at Thanksgiving was to work our way around the table, with each of us saying what we were most grateful for. I remember one year, during the doldrums of being thirteen, when I snarkily remarked that I didn’t have anything at all to be thankful for, and stared down, or tried to stare down, my aggrieved parents. How wrong I was, of course—and in my heart of hearts I knew it: even during the darkest days of my life filled with grief and loss, I have known I had much to be thankful for.
So Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday for me. I like to send cards or notes to people I’m especially thankful for, I contribute to Thanksgiving dinners for those in need (and deliver whenever I can), and I try to find some quiet time that day to reflect. This year I’ve been looking back to some of my earliest years in the profession—the mid-1970s—and to three people I was grateful for then, and now.
One was my teacher and mentor, Edward P. J. Corbett, who taught me about rhetoric (or the received notion of rhetorical history at the time) and about composition (by a huge stroke of luck, I was in grad school when Ed was serving as the editor of CCC, and I read every submission along with him and helped put the issues together). But I am grateful for much more I learned from Ed: his enormous curiosity, generosity of spirit, sheer decency, and wry wit made a lasting impression on me, as did his devotion to students.
Two others I am thinking about this year, with thanks, are Mina Shaughnessy and Geneva Smitherman. I was incredibly fortunate to be introduced to their work and to meet both of them during those years. In fact, I read Talkin' and Testifyin' and Errors and Expectations practically back to back, and I was electrified by what they—especially read together—had to teach me. It was their work that led to my study of “basic” writing and writers and to my dissertation. I often think of what more Mina could have contributed to our knowledge had she not left us so early (she died in 1978). Geneva—Dr. G, as I’ve heard students call her for years—is still teaching me lessons every year. My gratitude to both these scholars runs very deep.
But this Thanksgiving, as always, I give thanks for my family and friends—and especially the students I’ve had the privilege of knowing over the course of nearly 50 years of teaching. As I have often said, students in all their vivid differences, their rich histories, and their willingness to learn along with me—these have been the gifts of a lifetime. For them I will always be giving thanks.
So Happy Thanksgiving to all—and here’s wishing your day is deeply satisfying.
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