Writing with Elbow
Writing with Elbow
At one point in the process of editing this collection of essays, we thought we were going to have to create a section devoted entirely to “When I Met Peter” stories. With few exceptions, the essays we received began with an account of the author’s first meeting with Peter—at CCCC, in a classroom, at a conference, in a workshop, or in a book. Whether the meeting was casual or formal, the experience was recounted with humor, affection, and, in some cases, awe. Peter, we concluded, is not a person to go unnoticed, much less a person to ignore. In fact, Peter Elbow may be the only composition theorist we know with what amounts to a core of academic groupies, all wanting to meet him, all wanting to know him. Many people feel they do know Peter, whether they’ve met him or not. The accessibility of his writing creates the illusion that he’s talking directly to his reader, an illusion that pulls most of us into his discussion. Peter is also a member of the teachers’ club, not pretending to understand fully the pedagogy or the practice that he writes about. For Peter, the processes of learning to write and learning to teach never end. He’s not one of those theorists burdened with the need for closure, convinced that there is one true method that will unfailingly produce the perfect article, book, or comment on a student paper. This awareness of the impossibility (and even the potential pitfalls) of creating the apparently perfect theory or practice makes him both credible and endearing to practicing teachers of writing, who struggle to help student writers discover what they think and compose their thoughts for an audience.
Each of the four of us has been a colleague of Peter Elbow’s at one point or another. Each of us has collaborated with him—shared writing, editing, program administration—in an ongoing attempt to understand better the business of composition and of English studies in general. Because collaboration often leads to friendship, we all have spent time with Peter and with each other talking, arguing, traveling to conferences, eating, and hiking. For all of us, in truth, our personal connections to Peter are primary; as a consequence, our . . .