As many people know, UWaterloo English committed a significant portion of the winter term to interviewing potential new faculty members. The process is bittersweet: you get to read about and meet the most exciting and interesting people, but can only hire a few. Then it comes time to extend a job offer, and there you are, on the edge of your seat, hopeful that someone will like you as much as you like them. In this case, we are ridiculously fortunate that Dr. Jennifer Clary-Lemon liked us! The co-author of Cross-Border Networks in Writing Studies and former editor of Composition Studies, Dr. Clary-Lemon has also contributed to Rhetoric Review, College Composition and Communication, Discourse and Society, and The American Review of Canadian Studies. And she agreed to an interview! Read on to find out more, and join me in welcoming her to the department.–JLH
JLH: Welcome to UWaterloo. If I have this right, you have Canadian west coast ties, and then were on the prairies–how does it feel to be relocating to Ontario? Will UWaterloo be a bit of a cultural shift on top of the geographic shift?
JCL: Thanks for your welcome! It’s true, I was born in Dawson Creek, B.C. and have lived many places West (Kelowna, Vancouver, Honolulu, Prescott, Tucson, Tempe) and Midwest (Chicago, Winnipeg). I guess I think of myself as a person from the west, though living in the longitudinal centre of Canada for the last twelve years has brought some cognitive dissonance to me thinking of myself that way. It’s going to be strange crossing that centreline, thinking of my geographies anew, and re-associating myself with a different region. Though you could say I’ve been drifting eastward for a long time!
Admittedly, I don’t yet know much about the culture of Ontario other than what makes the news rounds. But I’m used to working at a small, liberal arts inner-city university in an urban centre with Indigenization as a key strategic initiative. It will be a big shift moving to a much larger research university whose focus is on the STEM disciplines. For me, that’s the immediate cultural shift that I’ll be trying to get a handle on as I arrive.
JLH: Some of your research explicitly engages the Canadian west coast–can you talk a bit about that, and your research more generally?
JCL: My research about the Canadian west coast was entirely by accident—I wound up interviewing tree planters in Manitoba about their experiences, and many of them invoked time they had spent tree planting in B.C. and Alberta. That project, a book called Planting the Anthropocene: Rhetorics of Natureculture (out next March!), is a rhetorical look into the world of industrial tree planting, engaging themes of nature, culture, and environmental change. Bringing together the work of material ecocriticism and critical affect studies, it argues for a new theoretical framework that I call a new materialist environmental rhetoric.
Because that project is mostly done, right now I’m meandering down a couple of other new research paths. The first is about the tension between new materialism and cultural rhetorics (particularly indigenous rhetorics), and the second is about the ways that humans and non-humans make meaning and persuade each other in development projects, particularly as they apply to environmental impact mitigations for endangered species.
JLH: I’m really intrigued by your work with the University of Winnipeg Global College Institute for Literacy, Diversity, and Identity. Could you tell us a bit about it?
JCL: Directing the Global College Institute was a wonderful opportunity to support diverse initiatives on campus that were interdisciplinary, community-based, and flexible enough to want a launching pad outside of a traditional disciplinary department. My time as Institute Director brought together the three elements of Literacy, Diversity and Identity by choosing to support initiatives that creatively combined them: supporting the Finding Your Voice creative writing program for new Canadians; supporting practicum-based events in experiential learning courses like the 24-hour Read-A-Thon and Book social; assisting a student symposium that brought together students in English, Rhetoric, and Education to speak about their experience with community service learning; partnering with Amnesty International to host workshops on nonviolent communication; supporting the Tongues project with the NEEDS centre (an after-school program honouring diverse language approaches to art, writing, and music); and delivering a workshop on Critical Discourse Analysis to Young Leaders in Sustainability for the International Institute for Sustainable Development.
JLH: Where do you see yourself fitting within the department?
JCL: I’ve worked for so long in an independent department of Rhetoric, Writing, and Communications that sometimes I forget that my PhD is in English! To that end, much of the collegial work I’ve done in my past has been the work that brings together seemingly disparate disciplinary areas and finding common ground between and among them. I suppose I see my fit at UWaterloo in the same way—I love teaching writing, I love researching rhetorical theory, and I have always loved reading. Although we are all loyal to our own scholarly traditions, there is much common ground to bring to bear between them. I guess I see myself as a listener to those conversations, and someone who wants to have them in the best interests of students.
JLH: Finally–because I often ask–what pleasure reading do you have lined up? Even if you can’t get to it!
JCL: Some days pleasure reading and research reading is the same, as was just the case when I finished The Overstory, by Richard Powers. However, I will say that I often follow the whims of good pals who ask for suggestions on social media and then I lurk greedily in the comments. What this means is that I have many titles written down that I know nothing about and probably don’t go together, but that I have on good advice that they’re good reads—Invisibility is a Superpower, Dare Me, Excellent Women, Lay It On My Heart. Oh, and judge me as you will, but every time I wind up reading a YA novel when I didn’t know it was YA, I wonder, why doesn’t everyone write novels this well?