Write Like Your Life Depends on It

1 0 3,158


Greetings dear friends and colleagues: I took a few weeks off from posting in order to finish revisions of some of my textbooks and to get caught up on other writing commitments. I even took a day to read Louise Penny’s latest mystery! But throughout the holiday season, I was looking forward to putting 2020 behind me (good riddance to this terrible, pandemic year!) and to being able to say “Happy New Year” to you and to your students.

Alas and alack. The white supremacist and anti-Semite and QAnon assaults on the Capitol and on Congress have left me stunned—though not completely surprised since violence had been called for throughout social media leading up to January 6. I grew up in the segregated South and have feared “good old boys,” like those I saw breaking down doors and beating guards with flagpoles, all my life. They and their brand have been a thick thread in the American fabric throughout this nation’s history, but to see them so thoroughly embraced (“we love you”) by the President of the United States, so completely entitled, and so easily able to breach the Capitol, overwhelm those police officers who tried to resist, and cause the death of six and counting—well, that was a new low. And as we approach the inauguration of a new president and vice president, these same people are threatening more insurrection, more violence. (And, of course, the virus rages on, killing one person every 30 seconds—with federal leadership on the vaccine nowhere in sight and states struggling to manage distribution as best they can.)

So 2021 is not the “happy new year” I have been so long anticipating. But it is here and it demands our attention, and our action. Most immediately, we must engage our students in projects that will help them understand not just this moment’s crisis but the deep roots of the crisis—the origins and development of the militia movement; the relationship between law enforcement/police and the tradition of slavery and its continuation; and the complex, dense web of groups devoted to white supremacy. All of these call out for investigation and research, from tracing the historical roots to identifying their presence in our local communities today.

My students of color know some—sometimes a lot—of this history. My white students. . . not so much, though those who don’t flinch from hard truths are willing, even eager, to learn. If I were teaching full time, I would scrap my plans for this term and work with my students to carve out research projects on these issues and to publish the results of their research in every possible venue, particularly on social media sites—this work could help counter “the big lie” continuing to spread there and to educate others. I would also encourage at least one group to devote the term’s work to learning about just how an African American pastor and a young Jewish person won election in the deep southern state of Georgia: Digging in deep to the work Black women have been doing to fight voter suppression and to register voters of color could teach a lot about the power of the vote, about citizenship, and about creating a blueprint for more fair and just and inclusive elections in other places.

In short, I would ask students everywhere to do everything in their power to understand those forces that have brought us to the present moment—in all their tremendous complexity—and to share that knowledge, to insist on sharing that knowledge, as widely as possible. I’d ask them to write as if their lives depended on it. Because they do.

Image Credit: "Washington DC - Capitol Hill: United States Capitol" by wallyg, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.