I’m just back from Tampa and the 2015 CCCC meeting—what I always think of as “the other March Madness.” If I’m counting correctly, this was my 45th Cs, consecutive except for 2012, when I was on a round-the-world Semester at Sea adventure. The earliest meetings I attended were quite small and relatively brief: it truly did seem as if everyone there knew everyone else. This year, over 3000 scholar/teachers coursed through the Marriott Harborside and Convention Center from Tuesday evening through Sunday morning. I felt as though I’d been there a month as I rushed from session to session and met with friends and former students from across the country.
Joyce Carter’s program was especially rich this year, each time slot offering at least a dozen sessions I desperately wanted to attend. Thanks to Joyce’s leadership and planning, the whole conference was extremely welcoming to newcomers and had a very conversational feel: dialogic sessions replaced the traditional plenary “featured speakers,” multiple round tables left more room for discussion and sharing of ideas. And there were highlights, of course, a method in all this madness:
- The Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition, now in its 21st year, was a tour de force, organized by the group’s intrepid chair, Jenn Fishman. This year’s event featured a “New Work Showcase,” with eleven scholars presenting poster sessions of their exciting new work. This format helped establish the conversational tone I mentioned earlier, as attendees drifted from one display to the next, talking with the authors and trading sources, anecdotes, and methods. I was especially impressed with Tamika Carey’s “‘I Apologize’: What Rhetorical Missteps Reveal about the Risks of Contemporary Black Feminist Discourse,” which revealed that when a Black woman makes even a small misstep, the consequences can be quite severe, ruining careers and blocking further advancement. These sobering findings indicate how badly we need research like Carey’s. Another fabulous presentation was Patty Wilde’s “Cross(dress)ing the Mason Dixon Line: Recovering Rhetorical Histories that Disrupt Narratives Notions of Gender,” a study of some of the five hundred to a thousand women who crossdressed in order to participate in the Civil War. The fascinating and very complex stories of some of these women were illustrated with archival photos showing them as women—and as men—and raised questions about the way gendered identities can and do shift over time and circumstances. This showcase was a veritable feast of exciting new research!
- And all this before the conference even opened! That happened Thursday morning with the General Session calling the meeting into being, presenting various awards, and featuring Adam Banks’s Chair’s address. These addresses, in my experience, are always more than worth the price of admission, giving the current leader a forum to discuss the issues he or she sees as most salient to our organization and ideals. Over the decades, I have heard marvelous Chair’s addresses, but Adam’s talk—“Ain’t No Walls behind the Sky, Baby: Funk, Flight, and Freedom”—took this difficult and challenging genre to a new level. Mixing hip hop, funk, and jazz elements of African American sermons, personal stories with analytic critique, lyrical incantations with bullet-point lists, and great wit with great passion, Banks asked everyone there to join him in meditating on three key words: “funk, flight, and freedom.” His talk was a brilliant embodiment of all three concepts, eliciting the longest and loudest standing ovation I’ve ever seen at our annual conference. I can’t wait for this presentation to be published—and to be posted on the CCCC website and/or on YouTube. Do not miss it!!
- I attended a number of standout sessions, including a very informative panel on current issues of intellectual property and their implication for writing and the teaching of writing, and a terrific set of talks on the history and mission, working conditions, and successes and challenges of HBCUs. Listening to Faye Maor, Dawn Tafari, Hope Jackson, and Karen Keaton Jackson reminded me once again how instrumental these institutions are to higher education in the United States and to the lives of their students. BRAVA to all.
I could go on and on about all I learned at this conference and how good it felt to be with this group of people. When I got back to California, Jaime Mejia wrote to me about his experiences, saying that CCCC simply “feels like home.” It does indeed, and for thousands of us. But it’s a home full of challenges and wake-up calls, including Adam’s injunction that we not be too tidy, not too antiseptic and proper, but that we take to heart the lessons of funk—to be a little messy, a little way beyond the lines and boundaries, a little “wild.” As Emily Dickinson puts it, “A little madness in the Spring / Is wholesome even for a king.” If this other March madness is good enough for Adam Banks and Emily Dickinson, it is certainly better than good enough for me. So I plan to heed this call and to bring some of that madness, that wildness, into my thoughts and actions.