A Q&A with Ellen Carillo

28 August 2018 Written by   Ellen C. Carillo

A Q&A with Ellen Carillo

University Press of Colorado Blog Q&As share the perspectives of scholars working within their disciplines, bringing readers closer to their knowledge, research, and voices. Join us today, as we talk with Ellen C. Carillo, associate professor of English at the University of Connecticut and the writing program coordinator at its Waterbury Campus.


What outcomes do you hope will spring from your research?

I hope my research will support instructors at the postsecondary level as they develop pedagogies that help their students become better readers and writers.

Best professional advice you’ve ever gotten?

The best advice came from Dave Bartholomae at the University of Pittsburgh, where I earned my graduate degrees. I was nervous about the publication requirements that went along with the tenure-track position I had just accepted. He told me not to think about publishing as an obstacle standing in the way of tenure. Publishing was part of my job, he said, and I needed to fold it into my life as an academic and teacher.

What is your research process? Do you have a specific writing strategy?

I still work from hard copies of books and articles. I read and reread them, pencil in hand, so I can annotate them thoroughly. I then surround myself with these as I write. My writing strategy hasn’t changed much in twenty years.

I write out as much as I can and put the abbreviation “TK” where I need to fill in additional information. I picked up the use of “TK” as an intern working at a magazine after my sophomore year of college. “TK” was initially used by printers and stood for “to kum,” meaning that additional information was to come. I have found it to be enormously useful because it allows me to move forward as I am writing while simultaneously creating a placeholder reminding me that I need to come back to wherever I have written “TK.” I do a quick search for “TK,” and I immediately know where I need to begin filling in information.

Have you observed that your discipline has had an impact on current events, or vice versa? If so, how?

There are certainly some folks in Rhetoric and Composition that have worked hard to create a public presence, and I applaud them. Unfortunately, there are not enough. Admittedly, I have not done my part even when I have meant to. For example, when I sat down to write what would become a chapter in Teaching Readers in Post-Truth America, I imagined a more public audience. But, as I began discussing specific pedagogical practices, the intricacies of the Common Core State Standards, and the disciplinary history of the field, it became clear that I was writing for a more specialized audience, and so I went with that. I can imagine ways that the arguments I make in that book could be made in more public forums, and at some point, I hope to have the opportunity to share them in those venues. I do think that current events have not only impacted but made books like Teaching Readers and Bruce McComiskey’s Post-Truth Rhetoric and Composition necessary in that these books outline ways that our field can and must respond to our contemporary culture.  

What do you think is the most common (or most irritating) misconception about research in your field?

People often conflate the teaching of writing with the teaching of grammar so I often get asked obscure grammatical questions.

What concerns do you have as you look toward the future of your field?

I have some concerns about the term “writing studies,” which is increasingly invoked as a synonym for “rhetoric and composition.” In some instances, writing studies is used as an umbrella term that encompasses rhetoric and composition, as well as other fields. More and more, though, it is uncritically applied as a synonym for rhetoric and composition.  While I recognize that the term “writing studies” is far more understandable to other disciplines and to the public than “rhetoric and composition,” my concern is that the term “writing studies” obscures the very act of composition. In doing so, I worry that reading—writing’s counterpart in the composition of meaning—will be further neglected. We are just now seeing a revival of attention to reading in composition and rhetoric, and I worry that with this new nomenclature we may see writing eclipse reading, an equally important form of composing meaning, particularly in our information-saturated culture.

Ellen C. Carillo is associate professor of English at the University of Connecticut and the writing program coordinator at its Waterbury Campus. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in composition and literature, and her scholarship has been published in Rhetoric Review; The Writing Lab Newsletter; Reader: Essays in Reader-Oriented Theory, Criticism, and Pedagogy; Feminist Teacher; Currents in Teaching and Learning; and in several edited collections. She is the author of Securing a Place for Reading in Composition, A Writer’s Guide to Mindful Reading, and Teaching Readers in Post-Truth America.

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