The spring of 2019 marked the retirement of two of IU’s English faculty: Dr. John Schilb and Dr. Christine Farris. Throughout their careers and time at IU, John and Chris have worked to build connections among literature, composition, and rhetoric. Inside and outside the classroom, in IU’s English department and in Bloomington high schools, John and Chris have fostered communities of writing, positivity, and support. Here, we celebrate John and Chris by reflecting on some of the highlights of their teaching, research, and years at IUB.
Dr. Christine Farris and Dr. John Schilb Retire
Christine joined IU’s English Department in 1990, where she has served as department Associate Chair and Acting Chair, and as Director of Composition, for fourteen years on and off. She has taught classes on contemporary theories of rhetoric and composition, feminist rhetoric, and composition and literature pedagogy. Christine has made “connection-making” the focus of her teaching, service, and scholarship, and she has worked to build connections among composition, rhetoric, and literature; between English and other disciplines; and between high school and college literacies.
In addition to connection-building, Christine has focused on the role of English in public education. She has participated in projects such as the Writing and Reading Alignment Project through the IU Center, which worked with high school English and history teachers on fiction and nonfiction texts as the basis for more analytical writing, and IU’s Advance College Project, which works with high school teachers in Indiana. Over the years, she has remained critical of the standardization of school, and some of her most rewarding projects and scholarship have centered on pedagogy in composition classrooms.
From founding an alternative school at the start of her career to teaching and researching at IU, Christine has contributed significantly to composition and pedagogy scholarship. She has published four academic books and about 40 articles and book chapters. She has delivered about 160 papers, workshops, and conference keynote addresses at CCCC, MLA, RSA, and other national and regional conferences. Her awards include the IU President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching in 1998, the Provost’s Distinguished Service Award in 2012, and the IU George Pinnell Outstanding Service Award in 2013, and her book College Credit for Writing in High School: The “Taking Care of” Business won the 2012 Best Book Award from the Council of Writing Program Administrators.
Among Christine’s favorite classes to teach are those that bring together print and visual texts from “high” and popular culture. In Literature and Public Life: Confession Culture, for example, Christine combined theoretical, literary, and public discourse for students to study St. Augustine, Foucault, J.M. Coetzee, Bill Clinton, and O.J. Simpson. Christine has also taught a number of undergraduate and graduate courses on women and feminism, from feminist rhetoric to women and literature, with a focus on “women’s work.” When it comes to teaching, Christine will miss the “delight when both graduate and undergraduate students expand [her] understanding of texts and ideas.” Outside of the classroom, she will miss curricular innovations with her colleagues and with graduate assistant directors of W131.
John Schilb came to Indiana University in 1998. Since then, he has served as the Culbertson Chair of Writing, the Director of Writing and Rhetorical Studies, the Director of Composition, and Acting Director. He has taught undergraduate and graduate courses on composition, twentieth-century fiction, editing and publishing, film, media literacies, and the contemporary novel. He has worked with the IU Advance College Project, which partners with high schools throughout Indiana, and he has worked, inside and outside the classroom, to build connections among literature, composition, and rhetoric.
John Schilb’s favorite classes to teach are ones that bring together different perspectives from the English department. In addition to his recent course Contemporary Fiction and Its Rhetorics, which he taught to a group of literature, rhetoric, and M.F.A. graduate students, John fondly remembers a graduate class fifteen years ago on Genre. The class, like many of John’s classes, worked to define something that “many of us were unsure of” as John and his students traded experiences, insights, and outlooks on the amorphous concept of genre. John also enjoys classes that bring together rhetoric and contemporary fiction, as well as classes that build bridges between literature and rhetoric.
In terms of research, John fondly remembers working on his second book, Rhetorical Refusals: Defying Audiences’ Expectations, about moments when rhetoricians defy audience’s expectations. The project began when John noticed Arlene Croce, a dance critic for the New Yorker, denounced the piece “Still/ Here” though she had never seen it. He wondered if there was a historical precedent for critics refusing to watch things, and, more importantly, he wondered how we ought to evaluate those refusals. Rhetorical Refusals marked the beginning of a long career of projects that begin when John “notices some text doing something.”
Over the years, John has found a home in IU’s intellectual community, which he describes as “friendly and congenial.” From his students, he has learned how to spot publishable writing, sharpened his sentence construction feedback, and discovered that Eminem is an artist, not a candy. His interests in movies and contemporary fictions have found their way into his classes, and his efforts to foster positive and supportive learning have not gone unnoticed by students.
In the years to come, John expects he will continue to work on Making Literature Matter, his editorial project, which releases a new edition every three years. He is also excited to have more time to work on his current project on writing and teaching nuance. And while he will miss “the chatter in the hallways,” above all, John would like to emphasize his contentment, that he enjoyed teaching in the department, and that it was a good, lively atmosphere.