Graduate Writing Award in Literacy, Pedagogy, and Rhetoric

Every year, the English Department's Program in Composition, Literacy and Pedagogy offers an award for graduate student work. This competitive award recognizes superior graduate writing that investigates questions relating to literacy, pedagogy, or rhetoric.  We welcome writing that takes any number of critical approaches: theoretical, historical, pedagogical, ethnographic, empirical, aesthetic, and/or multimodal.  Submissions may be seminar papers, scholarly articles, work developed from conference presentations or dissertation chapters, digital or online projects, or projects composed specifically for this competition. Submissions cannot exceed 25 pages, including references. For work longer than 25 pages, please excerpt and provide contextual information for deleted portions. Dissertation chapters or parts of larger works should include a short description of the context of the larger project. Each student may submit only one project for consideration. Graduate students from any discipline may apply for the award. Submissions will be judged on the level of critical engagement with the topic, the significance of the argument, and the quality of the writing and composition. The team of judges for the award are usually graduate faculty with expertise in composition, literacy and pedagogy, not all of whom are associated with the Composition Program. The winning graduate student will receive a $200 award. Occasionally, a second-place prize is offered, or the prize is offered to co-winners.

Submissions for the 2023 award will be accepted March 27 until April 7, 2023. Please send a pdf or doc/x attachment with all personally identifying information removed to with the subject line: Composition Grad Writing Award Submission. For digital projects, please send a link to a website or project uploaded to a server such as Pitt Sharepoint. In the body of your email, please provide the title of the project/essay, your name, and your departmental affiliation.

We will announce the winner(s) of the award in April. Please direct questions about the award to Annette Vee,

Past Winners of the Graduate Writing Award in Literacy, Pedagogy, and Rhetoric



Nelesi Rodriguez, "Intimacy and Confrontation: Black and Transnational Feminist Pedagogies of Writing and Movement"

The committee—Steve Carr, Ryan McDermott and S.L. Nelson wrote of this essay:

  • This essay deftly adjudicates the history of a disciplinary conflict over “basic writing” pedagogy and contemporary critical theory with special attention to the pedagogical influence of CUNY’s SEEK Program on national writing curricula. The author stresses the contribution of three political activists--Bambara, Lorde, and Jordan--to the arguments about composition pedagogy informing the development of “Basic Writing,” and builds a strong case for the ongoing importance of these teacher/theorists/activists to composition practice and lends the piece narrative. The project displays an impressive command of the relevant archives while maintaining the primacy of the author’s own voice and arguments. This piece is logically structured, beautifully written, and actively contributes to the field.

Yasmine Anderson: "Paying Attention, Taking Care: Repetitive Return as Archival Practice" (Honorable Mention)

The committee—Steve Carr, Ryan McDermott and S.L. Nelson wrote of this essay:

  • By analyzing their father’s photos as rhetorical artefacts, the author imbues the piece with personal affect while engaging with relevant socio-historical issues. The introduction of the photos through separate group chats adds to the unsettling nature of the piece. The author’s decision to describe the photos before including them is especially effective as it invites the reader to view the photos through the author’s perspective before allowing them to evaluate them on their own. This piece is creative and compelling.


CE Mackenzie, "Harm Reduction as Pedagogical Praxis” 

The committee—S. Brook Corfman, Xiqiao Wang, and Steve Carr--thought that this was a stylish, thoughtful essay and wrote: 

This essay bridges personal experience in community based drug programs based on an ethos of harm reduction with practices of composition pedagogy. It is sure in its commitments but thoughtful in its choice of action, taking an open stance to the relationship between harm reduction, pedagogy, and the act of writing itself. It usefully disrupts normative practices that aim for mastery and outcomes at the expense of risk-taking, care, and engagement with uncertainty.


Co-winner: Ariana Brazier, ““Were you here for the commotion?”: Institutional Racism, Neighborhood Violence, and Black Children Deprived of Play”

Comments from judges: This writer provides a compelling ground-up perspective on how the institutionalized terrorization of African American children functions matter-of-factly by denying their humanity and citizenry. The essay explores how those very targets of disciplinary white power—the bodies, expressive play and imaginations of Black children—are also sites of resistance and survival. The judges valued the essay’s handling of questions of authorship, collaborations, and the “taking of sides” in a community while conducting urgent qualitative ethnographic fieldwork, and were particularly moved by its innovative and moving representation of highly charged events in the community.

Co-Winner: S.L. (Sandra/Avey) Nelson, “Pittsburgh 10”

Comments from judges: This essay is tightly written and humorous. The writer was in the essay in ways that illustrated and embodied its overall argument just as its building of an alternative game enacted (and tested) its queer politics and theoretical commitments. We valued its technical precision about different forms of coding and its articulation of both a personal and a community-specific experiences of gaming.

Honorable Mention: Nick Marsellas, “Off Scaffolding and Into the Deep End”

Comments from judges: A compellingly written and thoughtful essay that questions the necessity of teacher’s providing extensive contextual information before students’ take up potentially unfamiliar and politically charged writing.


S. Brook Corfman, "Composition Studies and the Rhetorical Situation of Transgender/Students"


Laura Feibush, "Gestural Listening and the Writing Center's Virtual Boundaries"


Noel Tague, “Resonance Chambers & Industrial Nightmares: Big Wind in the St. Lawrence Valley"

Kerry Banazek,  “Visual Ecologies: Imaging and Imagining Landscape Ideas through the Work of David T. Hanson’”


Lauren Rae Hall, “Machines Always and Only Give Rewards”: Teaching Writing and Teaching Machines

Carrie Hall,  “Where Subject and System Intersect: Student Writing and Ngai’s Theory of ‘Stuplimity’” 


Trisha Campbell, “Composition from the Middle-Distance: Computation as the ‘Potential Poetry of Life’” 

Ellen Defossez, “Between Control and Constraint: Charting Three Rhetorics of Patient Agency”


Moriah Purdy, "The Case of the 'Grace Face': Gestures Toward a Theory of Embodied Genre"

While it is not asserting much to say that there is some inherent difference between naturalized gestures of everyday conversation and performative gestures such that the dancer, orator, or other aesthetic culture creator enacts, many studies in gesture take this difference for granted. If, however, we take Adam Kendon's definition of gestures as bodily utterance to be salient then we must also consider the shapes these utterances take, given the cultural and social contexts of their use. As such, is it possible to conceive of genres of gesture? 

This project takes a closer look at a particular performative gesture as one instantiation of this possibility through an unconventional use of the Prezi platform in two interlocking parts: 1) a gesture map with over 300 screen captures of the YouTube entertainer/vlogger Grace Helbig's so-called "Grace Face," a gestural performance that has become an iconic identity marker for Helbig and her community of viewers who return the gesture to her via social media interaction, and 2) textual interludes that rhetorically situate the gestural exchange within the contexts of gesture, affect, and genre studies via Quintillion, Kendon, Berlant, Massumi, Devitt, and others. This project observes that bodily movement and its ritualization provide the means for mutual inclusion and participation in identity-affirming group dynamics, which retain their vitality through the reenactment of embedded genres that construct and are constructed by groups. This observation is powerful for both gesture and genre studies insofar as it is attuned to the affective impact of encounter as made possible and fostered through gestural/generic exchange.

Link to Moriah's Prezi in its current form:


Jessica Isaac, “Youthful Enterprises: Amateur Newspapers and the Pre-History of Adolescence, 1867-1883”

In the 1870s, hundreds of young people printed their own newspapers. Calling themselves “amateur journalists” and the sphere in which their papers circulated “Amateurdom” (or, affectionately, “the ‘Dom”), these young people wrote, edited, printed, and circulated thousands of issues across the continental United States, eastern Canada, and Britain. They used their newspapers to reach out to one another, but they also used their papers to imagine a new kind of age-based identity. The idea of adolescence that was taken up by social scientists, institutions, and the popular imagination of the twentieth century was articulated most powerfully by G. Stanley Hall in 1904, but the category had already begun to emerge decades earlier in response to changing social and cultural conditions. The young people living through those changes experienced an emerging version of adolescence as real and used their newspapers to begin to articulate an adolescent perspective.

This essay argues that the amateurs collectively developed a peer culture that functioned as a public, and that the amateurs’ ability to create a public youth culture ought to alter our understanding of the kinds of collectives young people can create. The first section contextualizes the emergence of adolescence as a life stage and argues for conceptualizing Amateurdom as a youth public. The second section describes the characteristic style of that youth public, bombastic and overly defensive of character and reputation, and situates it as a response to the ill-defined social and cultural status of teenagers in the 1870s. The concluding section describes changes to Amateurdom in the late 1870s caused by increasing numbers of aging amateurs and changes to the postal code that raised the cost of circulating an amateur paper. It ends by suggesting that these factors caused amateurs to turn towards educational goals for their papers, fundamentally altering the nature of Amateurdom as a public.

Citation: Isaac, Jessica. “Youthful Enterprises: Amateur Newspapers and the Pre-History of Adolescence, 1867-1883.” American Periodicals 22.2 (2012): 158-77. Print.

Pamela VanHaitsma, "Queering 'the language of the heart': Romantic Letters, Genre Instruction, and Rhetorical Practice"

While romantic letters are usually understood as unstudied and natural expressions of heartfelt love, I argue they are learned through genre instruction and crafted through rhetorical practice. In the nineteenth-century U. S., manuals taught generic conventions for epistolary address, pacing of exchange, and rhetorical purpose, embedding within this instruction a heteronormative conception of romantic relations. Yet these same conventions were susceptible to queer adaptation, particularly in the epistolary practices of writers composing same-sex relations. Addie Brown and Rebecca Primus were African-American women who learned but reinvented the conventions, by negotiating category-crossing forms of address, timing exchange with urgency rather than restraint, and repurposing the romantic letter to erotic and even political ends. Analyzing Brown and Primus’ letters alongside manuals thus underscores the dynamic ways both instruction and practice shape romantic letters and life.

Link to publication:


Jean Bessette, “Composing the Daughters of Bilitis: the Rhetorical Collectivization of Lesbian Memory and Identity”

In this essay, I employ a non-event-based collective memory framework to investigate the rhetorical activity of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian organization in the United States (1955-70). Focusing on their monthly periodical, *The Ladder*, and founders Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon’s book, *Lesbian/Woman*, as collective memory texts, I examine how the rhetorical strategy I call “anecdotal clustering” helped the group cohere as a distinct sexual identity in a historical moment before lesbian identity had become visible or exclusively named. I argue that the rhetorical strategy of anecdotal clustering—the assemblage of numerous, brief memories—helped these collective rhetors shape a conservative, yet complex, lesbian identity against the dispersing effects of McCarthy-era containment and against popular associations of lesbians with gender subversion and casual relations. Finally, I conclude by considering the implications of this study of rhetorical constructions of lesbian collective memory for invigorating and queering feminist historiographies of rhetoric.

Link to publication: Rhetoric Society of America

Peter Moe, “Revealing Rather Than Concealing Disability: The Rhetoric of Parkinson’s Advocate Michael J. Fox”

Parkinson's advocate (and patient) Michael J. Fox will often not take his medication before seeking funding for Parkinson's research, thereby revealing rather than concealing his disability.  This article examines the rhetoricity and implications of this display, asking that both audiences and rhetors rethink the relationship between disability and rhetorical practice.

Citation: Moe, Peter Wayne. "Revealing Rather Than Concealing Disability: The Rhetoric of Parkinson's Advocate Michael J. Fox." Rhetoric Review 31.4 (Oct. 2012): 443-60.


Erin Anderson, “The Olive Project: An Oral History Composition in Multiple Modes”

The Olive Project emerged out of my personal struggle to document and share the life story of my grandmother, Olive, as a reflection on the complex contradictions inherent in the drive to narrativize personal history and identity. Through this interactive webtext, I explore potential applications of multimodal composing to memory work and oral history, critically engaging with the materiality and form of new media in order to re-imagine the possibilities for meaning-making in the digital age. By experimenting with a framework of “post-documentary oral history” (Frisch, 2006), I seek to transcend the limitations of alphabetic text, disrupt the inevitability of linear narrative, and challenge traditional notions of authorship and audience. Resisting the urge to reduce life's complexities to neatly packaged, closed, and consumable chronology, The Olive Project opens up the experience of reception to new opportunities for flexible, intersubjective storytelling and interpretation. Bringing together segments of visual, audio, and textual memory in an interactive space of networked digital assemblage, the project invites the user to enter into a story that has no beginning, middle, or end, and to find herself—and her sense of self—implicated in the construction of its meaning.

Link to publication: