While “I Stand Here Writing,” might not immediately jump out as a translingual text—the entire article is written in Standard Edited American English—Nancy Sommers fluidly moves between different registers and discourse communities. At times, she writes very personally and informally, discussing her personal habits of writing; then, she shifts toward more elevated academic prose. This piece helps to complicate the divisions between personal and academic writing. Sommers also explicitly discusses her development as a writer, which undergraduate students can relate to. In the most academic terms, this article can open up a conversation about the use of sources.
I also like to relate this anecdote to students. At a local conference on college composition, I went to a session that explored the use of the personal pronoun in academic writing. While I assumed the question in the title—”Can I use “I”?”—wouldn’t be the actual question of the workshop, this, indeed, was the discussion. I was surprised to hear many in the room argue that students should never be encouraged to use the personal pronoun. Eventually, some said, “Well, Nancy Sommers uses ‘I’ in her academic work!” To which someone else responded, “Our students aren’t Nancy Sommers. It took her years to be able to use ‘I.’ Students don’t have her authority.” After students read the article, I like to ask them how they think Nancy Sommers would respond to this exchange.
I used the following freewrite and guided questions for group work with students at Wheelock College. These exercises focus on understanding the main argument and key concepts of the piece, relating Sommers’ piece to perceptions of academic writing, and finally connecting the article with their own experiences as students and academic writers.
Freewrite: When Sommers writes that texts “will give me insight, but not answers” what distinction is she drawing between the two things? In your own experience, have you been encouraged to look at texts as sources of insight or sources of answers, and why do you think this is? Do you want to look at sources for insights or answers? Why do you prefer one or the other?
In groups, answer the following questions:
- How would you state the “problem” that this article addresses? In other words, why is Sommers writing it? What issue is she taking up here, and why?
- Consider Sommers’ distinctions among personal, academic, and autobiographical: “Being personal, I want to show my students, does not mean being autobiographical. Being academic does not mean being remote, distant, imponderable.” What’s your understanding of the distinctions she is trying to make between these terms? What does it mean to be “personally academic” or “academically personal” or to be personal without being autobiographical?
- Early in the essay, we get Sommers’ account of a “lesson about borrowing someone else’s words and losing my own.” What does she mean by this? Why does she give this anecdote? How can you prevent this from happening in your own writing?
Sommers, Nancy. “I Stand Here Writing.” College English, vol. 55, no. 4, 1993, pp. 420-428.