Crystal Fodrey, Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing
Of all academic subjects and human activities, I have, for as long as I can remember, been most interested in writing. One of my best friends died when I was six, and I remember writing a short and oh-so-carefully drawn comic book about our friendship to process my grief. I then gave my writing as a gift to Sammy’s parents who in turn were powerfully affected by this simple act. That memory and many other early experiences of seeing what writing can do both within and beyond educational settings had quite an impact on me.
I “majored” in Communications and Media Arts at the magnet high school I attended in Kentucky. I was drawn to journalistic and creative nonfiction genres of writing in undergrad for the potential of those genres to translate the complexities of individual and collective experiences into accessible and engaging narratives. Learning about and writing in those genres then led me to pursue a master’s degree in creative nonfiction writing and a PhD in Rhetoric and Writing Studies.
The discipline of Rhetoric and Writing Studies explores big questions like: How does writing do work in the world? How does the definition of “good writing” and the expectations for “good writers” shift across different disciplinary, professional, civic, and (social) media contexts? How do prior writing/literacy experiences prepare writers for future writing situations? I find such questions endlessly fascinating.
What are your research interests and why are you drawn to them?
If I had to explain my research in one sentence, I’d say that I empirically study the activity of writing, broadly conceived, across disciplines within higher education and professional contexts; I study and help administer the activity of teaching writing at Moravian College; and I study and help develop curricula connected to that teaching.
All of this is predicated on the idea that, as Elizabeth Wardle says in “What Critics of Student Writing Get Wrong,” “there is no singular ‘writing in general’ and certainly no singular ‘good’ writing in general.” This thinking is foundational to the goals of the Writing at Moravian program, which includes First-Year Writing, the Writing-Enriched Curriculum program, the Writing Center, and the Writing Fellows program.
Because the research that I do as director of Writing at Moravian (WAM) includes all aspects of the program, I collaborate constantly with other members of the WAM team, undergraduate researchers, and other members of the Moravian community. All of the research that we do helps us better realize the WAM program’s mission: “Through a writing-enriched curriculum that emphasizes the transfer and iterative building of writing abilities across a student’s liberal arts education, the Writing at Moravian program seeks to foster rhetorically informed and reflective writing experiences within all academic units at Moravian College.” Details about my recent and forthcoming publications can be accessed here.
What is your favorite class to teach and why?
This is a tough question to answer because all of my classes are so different from one another—each covering a different focus about writing or genre of writing—and I like them all for different reasons. If someone asked me this a year ago, I would have confidently answered that there is a three-way tie among Rhetorics of Everyday Life, Creative Nonfiction, and Introduction to Writing Arts.
However, last year I teamed up with Meg Mikovits to teach English 214.2: Writing Studies Research Seminar. This course, based on the Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) model, builds upon existing Writing Studies research opportunities by inviting students to work with English faculty as co-researchers. Last year we coded a large qualitative dataset of first-year students’ conceptions of “good writing” pre- and post- First-Year Writing Seminar, building upon research that Gabrielle Stanley ’21 initially conducted as part of Moravian’s SOAR program and published in Young Scholars in Writing.
The research group from Spring 2020 recently found out that we will be presenting a panel (virtually) about our experience in the course at the national Conference on College Composition and Communication in April 2021. Our talk is titled “Inviting Co-Creation of Knowledge and Effecting Curricular Change through Undergraduate Research in Writing Studies.” I am particularly proud of what the Spring 2020 group was able to accomplish during the immense disruption caused by the beginning of the pandemic. I look forward to more productive collaborative research experiences with new groups of students in the future.
Share something about yourself that people may not know.
Some English majors and most English faculty know this, but I’m going to guess that few others at Moravian do: I love karaoke. In most public forums I am a tad glossophobic, but put a microphone in front of me and the lyrics of “Landslide” or “Bad Romance” or a Broadway showtune in alto range on a screen, and I’m golden.
What is your favorite spot on campus?
The second floor of Zinzendorf Hall because that is where you will find a convergence of Moravian writing sites: The Comenian (student newspaper) office, the Writing Center, and the Writing at Moravian program headquarters. Most of the faculty who teach writing courses in the English major also have their offices on this floor, myself included. The floor is usually abuzz with discussions of writing, this semester being an unfortunate exception.
Do you have a favorite college tradition?
My favorite college tradition is when we all shake hands with people around us during the last refrain of the “Alma Mater” because it is a gestural illustration of the strength and collaborative ethos of our community. I am very much looking forward to a post-COVID time when we can all stand close to one another and, as the instructions say, “extend the right hand of fellowship” with each other again.
What do you enjoy doing when you are away from campus?
Cook elaborate meals from scratch because, unlike the writing process, cooking (usually) brings immediate gratification to both the preparer of the meal and those who consume it. And eating brings people together, which is something I appreciate in any context.
I can never resist______.
Good serialized television. Some of my favorites, in no particular order, are Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, LOST, Battlestar Galactica, Orphan Black, The Wire, Mad Men, Six Feet Under, Atlanta, Downton Abbey, Arrested Development, Community, Parks and Rec, Better Call Saul, Adventure Time, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Maniac, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Watchmen, Fleabag, and Schitt’s Creek.
What is the best advice you have ever received or a quote that stays with you?
One of my favorite pieces of rhetorical theory scholarship is an article from 1985 titled “Argument as Emergence, Rhetoric as Love” by Jim Corder. In the article, he writes:
Argument is emergence toward the other. That requires a readiness to testify to an identity that is always emerging, a willingness to dramatize one’s narrative in progress before the other; it calls for an untiring stretch toward the other, a reach toward enfolding the other. It is a risky revelation of the self, for the arguer is asking for an acknowledgment of his or her identity, is asking for witness from the other. In argument, the arguer must plunge on alone, with no assurance of welcome from the other, with no assurance whatever of unconditional positive regard from the other. In argument, the arguer must, with no assurance, go out, inviting the other to enter a world that the arguer tries to make commodious, inviting the other to emerge as well, but with no assurance of kind or even thoughtful response. How does this happen? Better, how can it happen? It can happen if we learn to love before we disagree.
Share something that makes you feel happy through and through.
My partner, Brad, and I have eight-year-old twin daughters. Since the girls were old enough to walk, whenever one of us needed to get into a good mood, we’d start an impromptu dance party. I am a horrible dancer (as is my partner, which I don’t think he’d mind me saying), but that’s part of the fun of it. We all end up laughing hysterically at the ridiculousness of the scene.
Crystal Fodrey grew up in Louisville, Kentucky.