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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Assistant Professor of English Receives National Award for Writing and Research

Pamela VanHaitsma was recently awarded the Rhetoric Society of America's 2015 Charles Kneupper Award.

The RSA brings together scholars of rhetoric in communication and English for study, research and multidisciplinary cooperation. The Charles Kneupper Award is given annually to recognize the essay published in that year's volume of "Rhetoric Society Quarterly" that the editorial board and editor consider the most significant contribution to scholarship in rhetoric.

VanHaitsma's article, "Queering 'the language of the heart': Romantic Letters, Genre Instruction, and Rhetorical Practice," examined the letters of two 19th century African American women, Addie Brown and Rebecca Primus. Letter-writing manuals of the day included sections on the romantic letter genre, helping to teach not only writing conventions but cultural norms, which Brown and Primus subverted with their rhetorical practices, VanHaitsma said.

Historians agree Brown and Primus were in a same-sex romantic relationship. But "queer," in this case, refers not to sexual identity but the dynamics of bypassing cultural norms, VanHaitsma said.

The letters are notable not only for the relationships they describe, but because they are surviving romantic letters of two African American women of the time, which is rare.

Because there is no nomination process for the award, it came as a complete surprise for VanHaitsma when her name was announced during the recent RSA Summer Institute gathering.

The Editor's Note, which describes the award process, stated:

"The committee observed that VanHaitsma's essay is a complex and innovative project that illuminates the genre of romantic letters as well as the rhetorical education and writing practices that supported this genre... The exemplary and multifaceted archival research and inventive arrangement of the essay only furthers its significance."

The article grew out of her archival research for a dissertation completed at the University of Pittsburgh, and has been expanded into a book manuscript currently under review.

VanHaitsma, who is currently teaching an introductory class and a graduate-level seminar in rhetoric, is in the early stages of new archival research at the Jean Outland Chrysler Library. The library moved last year to the new Barry Arts Building on Monarch Way.