We’re back after the summer, and after the university’s changeover to a new web-site that left this humble blog off the internet for a few days. Our blog on the persuasive and public writing of college graduates will start off this academic year with a familiar feature—writer profiles. But these will be different from the profiles of graduates of Slippery Rock’s writing programs we posted last year.
Between April and July, 2006 I interviewed five speechwriters, thinking that would be a good way to learn how one kind of political discourse was executed and why it took the forms that it did. As I have reflected on what those interviews reveal I came to recognize that what the speechwriters told me would be most useful for the career paths they revealed and the genres of writing they discussed. To some extent their experiences were narrow, in terms of the worlds they inhabited and the kinds of writing they had done. Moreover, their work for the most part was the public discourse of “political and cultural elites,” to use David Fleming’s words. While it was fun to hear from people who had written for Presidents Carter and Clinton, Senator Bill Bradley, a CEO or two, and the chief administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, I knew that the persuasive and/or public writing of our recent graduates may have a different function while still contributing to the country’s civil discourse. Still, I believe the profiles derived from the interviews I conducted in 2006 add to knowledge of the forms of the literate practices of citizenship, and place my more recent investigations of writing by Slippery Rock graduates in a larger context.
The first interview took place in April, 2006 and was of a non-traditional undergraduate student who had become involved in various forms of political discourse in Pittsburgh through her interested position as the mother of three school-aged children. (There is some parallel, therefore, between the initial impulses for her writing and that of the single mother graduate student we last featured in a writer profile, who writes letters to the editor of a local newspaper and conducts an ongoing correspondence with school district officials about her son with chronic asthma.) The undergraduate, in turn, connected me with an organization called the DC Speechwriters’ Roundtable in the Washington area. I was allowed to send a general e-mail to the Roundtable members, explaining my interest and my desire to interview a set of speechwriters.
Through this process I obtained four recruits, who initially responded to questions via e-mail and supplied an example of their work. (They also signed release forms which allowed me to use their responses and materials, while I pledged to preserve their anonymity in any work I published or presented.) Then I drove down to Washington, D.C. and interviewed all four in one day—July 7, 2006—beginning at 9:30 in the morning and ending around 5:20 that evening. The two morning interviews took place within walking distance of each other in downtown Washington, at the headquarters of the Washington Metro and of the Federal Aviation Administration. The first afternoon interview took place in a private home at the extreme northern end of the district, practically across the street from the state of Maryland. The final interview took place at another private home, in a residential area of Arlington, Virginia.
During the next several weeks, I will post these speechwriter profiles, beginning with that for the mother in Pittsburgh, who has since received her baccalaureate and enrolled in graduate studies. Watch for it early next week.