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'Gravyland' chronicles urban university writing program

April 07, 2010

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In his new book “Gravyland” (Syracuse University Press, 2010), Stephen Parks, associate professor of writing and rhetoric in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences, chronicles the history of an urban university writing program and its attempt to develop politically progressive literacy partnerships with the surrounding community while having to work within and against a traditional educational and cultural landscape.

Parks details the experience of the New City Writing program at Temple University from its beginning as a small institute with one program at a local public school to a multifaceted organization, raising millions of dollars, and establishing partnerships across the diverse neighborhoods of Philadelphia. In doing so, the author describes classrooms where the community takes a seat and becomes part of the conversation—a conversation that is recorded and shared through a selection of the writing produced.

While Parks celebrates classroom success in generating knowledge through dialog with the larger community, he also highlights many of the obstacles the organizers of the New City Writing program faced. He shows that writing alliances between universities and communities are possible, but they must take into account the institutional, economic and political pressures that accompany such partnerships.

Blending the theoretical and practical lessons learned, Parks details New City Writing’s effort to offer a new model of education, one in which the voice of the professor must share space with the voices of the community, and one in which students come to understand that the right to sit in a classroom is not just the result of war, but of peaceful civil disobedience, of community struggles to gain self-recognition and of collective efforts to seek social justice.

Parks is the author of “Class Politics: The Movement for the Students’ Right to Their Own Language.” He is also executive director of New City Community Press and editor of Reflections: A Journal of Writing, Service-Learning, and Community Literacy. In addition, Parks has published a recent article with Nick Pollard in College Composition and Communication (February 2010): “Emergent Strategies for an Established Field: The Role of Worker-Writer Collectives in Composition and Rhetoric.”

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