English Professor Rebecca Lorimer Leonard Discusses the Realities of Multilingual Literacy for Women who Cross Borders in Her New Book
By Shannon Chan '18 | Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Shannon Chan '18
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Professor Rebecca Lorimer Leonard of the Department of English at the University of Massachsuetts Amherst recently published a book titled, Writing on the Move: Migrant Women and the Value of Literacy. In her book, Professor Lorimer Leonard explores the struggles and celebrates the triumphs of multilingual migrant women as migrants’ literacies are revalued when they cross borders around the world. The issue is particularly relevant in today's society as more and more borders are being crossed—and blocked—resulting in a mix of languages, cultures, and identities. Literacy and its significance play a part throughout this movement as it travels with migrant writers going from border to border.
Professor Lorimer Leonard specializes in literacy studies, language ideologies, multilingual writing, and comparative rhetoric. In addition to her new book, she has published Written Communication, College English, WPA: Writing Program Administration, and Research in the Teaching of English. Professor Lorimer Leonard won the Outstanding Teaching Award from the College of Humanities and Fine Arts at UMass Amherst in 2017. She has done extensive research on the topic of literacy and the significance of literacy as it travels from place to place with people from different backgrounds.
To celebrate the publication of her new book, Professor Lorimer Leonard held a book launch at Northampton’s International Language Institute of Massachusetts where she also currently volunteers as a tutor. The International Language Institute, or ILI, is a private, non-profit language school founded in 1984 with the goals of teaching students how to communicate in different languages in classrooms that allow for everyone’s voice to be heard. Professor Lorimer Leonard has worked with many students who have passed through this institute and have recorded their accounts on literacy and its significance to them.
At the start of the book launch, the Executive Director of ILI, Caroline Gear, described that Professor Lorimer Leonard’s book “details the complicated realities of multilingual literacy, which is lived at the nexus of prejudice, prestige, and power.” Professor Lorimer Leonard’s inspiration stemmed from “talking to [these women] because I was noticing, as a teacher and as a tutor, that migrant women in particular carried around important multilingual literacies that were being missed in the teaching of writing, which is what I study.” This interest motivated Professor Lorimer Leonard to conduct a research study that resulted in interviewing “twenty-five migrant women in the Midwest from seventeen different countries speaking in twenty-two languages among them.” The focus of her book is not only on literacy and its implementations, but also on the societal issues and assumptions that are attached to literacy, especially when dealing with migrants. Professor Lorimer Leonard delves deep into the understanding of “literacy practices, the reading and writing [migrant writers] do, how they moved with them.”
Using a special coding pattern, Professor Lorimer Leonard analyzed the transcriptions from the interviews conducted with all twenty-five women and developed three main ideas for Writing on the Move: Migrant Women and the Value of Literacy. She explains that “this book tells the story of writing on the move in three turns: 1) literacy practices do actually move among languages and around the world in very interesting and important ways, but 2) sometimes they also don’t because writers feel stuck, stopped, or lost when schools, workplaces, or bureaucracies shut them down after migration, and in fact 3) many migrant writers feel stuck even as they move; a writing phenomenon that has friction, like a car skidding, the tires stop, but the car slides forward.”
Moving beyond the superficial layers of literacy, Professor Lorimer Leonard’s book makes readers consider the importance of being aware of the experiences of other people, and in this case migrant writers. She describes that “what these research participants told me is interesting and important, I mean that their experiences and questionings at work with their families and their communities should matter to all of us in understanding about how multilingualism and migration can add and enrich conversations and communication.” Writing on the Move deals with the larger message of communication and how effective communication can happen when you become aware of the experiences of others, especially through writing. Professor Lorimer Leonard speaks to all as she stated that “we are all responsible for pushing back on public conversations that misunderstand, degrade, or speak ill of migrants, immigrants, refugees, and their savvy beautiful and smart everyday writing.” She hopes that through her book, readers will gain “vocabulary and some examples” for being able to do just that.
Caroline Gear added more to the discussion by quoting a review on Professor Lorimer Leonard’s book, “Writing on the Move is an important contribution to transnational literacy studies, and not only complicates our understanding of literary repertoires performed in everyday life by migrant women with rich and resonant lives, it also extends our vocabulary of motive by critically examining how fixity, friction, and fluidity inform their literate values.” Writing on the Move: Migrant Women and the Value of Literacy teaches readers not only about the struggles and triumphs of migrant women as they cross borders, but also what that means when considering communication between people from all different backgrounds. Readers can integrate the worldly messages conveyed in this book into the interactions and communications that they encounter in society today.
Writing on the Move: Migrant Women and the Value of Literacy can be acquired through the University of Pittsburgh Press. Half of the profits made from this book will go towards the International Language Institute and their language programs.