English Department to Revive Elbow Symposium

Peter Elbow
Peter Elbow

The department of English will revive a long-running symposium devoted to the study of the teaching of writing, founded and endowed in 1999 by professor Peter Elbow. In recognition of his generosity and dedication to the field, the symposium is now re-named the Peter Elbow Symposium for the Study and Teaching of Writing.

The first symposium in this new iteration of the project will be held in the summer of 2018.

In 1999, Elbow donated $100,000 to the University of Massachusetts Foundation to establish a yearly symposium “to foster interchange” among scholars and teachers in the field of composition and rhetoric. As the endowment’s original agreement stated, “The central activity for the group will be to share ideas, research findings, and writings, as well as to do their own work in a relaxed and close environment.”

Matched by $50,000 from the Commonwealth, the fund was meant to provide stipends for symposium participants, helping defray their travel and accommodation costs.

Nearly every summer for the next 15 years, Elbow hosted a week-long gathering in Amherst dedicated to the study and teaching of writing, inviting 8-10 scholars and teachers from around the country to spend time together sharing their work and discussing relevant issues, as well as enjoying free time for writing and relaxation.

It has been a unique project for the field of composition and rhetoric, animated not only by Elbow’s extraordinary influence and his inspiring vision for the teaching and study of writing but also by the many attractions of New England summertime.

After Elbow’s retirement and move to the west coast in 2014, the symposium entered a period of hiatus. Now, after much conversation among Elbow, the English department, the College of Humanities and Fine Arts and the UMass Foundation, the symposium is being re-dedicated and re-inaugurated with fresh energy and enthusiasm.

Its directorship has passed formally from Elbow to the composition and rhetoric faculty of the English department, who will jointly oversee it. They have pledged to continue to organize the project in the spirit with which Elbow endowed and ran it.