- Acknowledging Writing Partners by Laura R. Micciche
Fort Collins: The WAC Clearinghouse and University Press of Colorado, 2017. Pp. xi, 148. Paper: isbn-13 978-1-60732-767-7, us$21.95; digital version available at no charge from the publisher.
Writing studies—the field—has tendered many insights, including the concept of writing as an embodied process. Involving technologies, transactions, and temporalities, writing is not just a transcendent and agentless result. When writers understand how they ‘get there,’ improvements to [End Page 76] productivity, efficiency, fluency, and satisfaction can follow. Writers as embodied agents, in turn, act within environments populated by both hindrances and helpers. In scholarly texts, acknowledgements sections publicly record feelings of gratitude or debt to various enablers, be they situations (fellowships, academic leaves, retreats, symposia, conference gatherings, serendipitous encounters) or sources of inspiration and assistance (grants, colleagues, contributors, students, friends, family members, organisations, librarians, reviewers, editors, other publishing personnel). ‘Inspired by the afterglow of completion’ of a project (49), though, acknowledgements typically gloss over challenges and difficulties, thus distorting the ‘truth.’ After all, I’ve been advised that authors should thank their intellectual enemies in the acknowledgements to a scholarly book: that way, these nemeses would be disqualified from writing potentially deleterious post-publication reviews on the grounds of apparent conflicts of interest.
Laura R. Micciche does not mention me in the acknowledgements to Acknowledging Writing Partners (and we have never met), so I am safe to offer this review. Actually, Micciche, associate professor of English at the University of Cincinnati and editor of the journal Composition Studies, proffers no stand-alone acknowledgements section in her book (the pressure to perform was too high, she claims); instead she affords readers extended acknowledgements in the preface (vii–xi). Therein she thanks conference panellists and organisers, research fellowships, students, the National Council of Teachers of English, family members, survey participants, reviewers, editors, musicians (who provided aural stimulation), and even her ‘kitty companions.’ (Labels aside, if these aren’t acknowledgements, then I’ve been fooled.) Throughout the book—which, as the title could imply, is not about co-authoring—Micciche focuses on narrative choices in acknowledgements, not narrative veracities, reading acknowledgements as ‘paratexts’ that support a text but are neither obligatory to write nor essential to read. She argues that acknowledgements, as typical paratexts, offer windows into authorial impressions and experiences, imagined or otherwise. They are thus ripe sites for exploration and analysis, ‘a revealing lens through which to view writing as a practice of indebted partnerships in complex collaboration’ (6).
After her preface qua acknowledgements come an introduction, four chapters (averaging twenty pages), a conclusion, a postscript, a list of works cited, and four appendixes (most relating to the qualitative study [End Page 77] she describes in chapter 4). (Here I catalogue the additional paratextual elements of her work to emphasise the ubiquity of such constituents in scholarly texts.) The introduction, evoking the literature review of a dissertation, offers a primer on previous investigations into acknowledgements, situating the conventionalised genre as commonplace only from the 1960s.1 Micciche highlights critical views on acknowledgements; differentiates acknowledgements from formal citations (countable, indexable, traceable); identifies information scientist Blaise Cronin as the patriarch who has legitimised and furthered study of the genre; and introduces her exciting theory that ‘writing is contamination,’ in that it is ‘created through contact with and exposure to diverse influences and agents’ (23).2 Encountering this idea, which is presented as little more than an aside that I hope Micciche will explore at greater length elsewhere, proved a mini-epiphany to me.3
In the first chapter, Micciche articulates her core view on the embodiment of writerly praxis, namely, that writing is communal. This theoretical position undergirds her study, touching on the extremes of active partnerships, on one end, and hermetic seclusion, on the other.4 She invokes the liberating conclusions of Helen Sword’s latest book by remarking that ‘composing is capaciously inclusive’ (38) and by calling for ‘fewer imperatives for writing processes and practices’ (35).5 Amen.
Each of the following three chapters focuses on one topical theme that emerged from Micciche’s analysis...