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History of the Symposium

In 1999, UMass Amherst English Professor Peter 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 of Massachusetts, 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, Peter 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 Peter’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 Peter’s retirement and his move to the west coast, the symposium entered a period of hiatus. In 2017-18, after much conversation among Peter, the English Department, the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, and the UMass Foundation, the symposium was re-dedicated and re-inaugurated with fresh energy and enthusiasm. Its directorship has passed formally from Peter to the Composition and Rhetoric faculty of the UMass Amherst English Department, who will jointly oversee it; they have pledged to continue to organize the project in the spirit with which Peter endowed and ran it. And, in recognition of both his generosity and his dedication to the field, it is now officially re-named the Peter Elbow Symposium for the Study and Teaching of Writing.

Peter Elbow
Peter Elbow

Professor Emeritus

Peter Elbow, Professor Emeritus of English, is the author of many books on writing, including Writing without TeachersWriting with Power, and his most recent book, Vernacular Eloquence: What Speech Can Bring to Writing. More information about his writing can be found at his website.

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Everyone was incredibly smart, thoughtful, and had such exciting projects! I was able to get a lot of work done, make connections, and get feedback on my project.

I am so glad to have been invited, and found the experience to be rigorous, interesting, affirming, and restorative.

What an inspiring and uplifting experience! A chance to be in a room full of dedicated, brilliant people all week.

It was a carefully-planned meeting that allowed for rich conversation among a great cohort of scholars representing a diverse range of theoretical and methodological orientations.

I loved it. For the first time in a while I felt fully engaged in ways that I was not expecting.

It was just right: the amount of time spent sharing and discussing projects, working independently, and socializing made this a productive but not exhausting experience. I learned a lot and wrote quite a bit.