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A Taste for Language: Literacy, Class, and English Studies

Studies in Writing & Rhetoric (SWR) series. 181 pp. 2009. College. NCTE/CCCC and Southern Illinois University Press. ISBN/ISSN: 978-0-8093-2931-1

Listen to the Podcast Interview with author James Ray Watkins Jr. and interviewer Lindsay Rose Russell:

Purchase A Taste for Language from Southern Illinois University Press.
Book Description

In A Taste for Language: Literacy, Class, and English Studies, James Ray Watkins Jr explores the value of college-level education in literature and language.  Using a blend of genres (biography, autobiography, history, manifesto), Watkins traces a family past in order to imagine a more democratic future for English studies, both within the academy and in America at large. Watkins’ opening analysis of the influence an English composition textbook had on his accountant father’s professional writing gives way, in chapters two and three, to a theorization of English studies as inculcation into language for both pragmatic and aesthetic ends.  As Watkins argues in chapter four, the late twentieth century has witnessed an internal imbalance within English such that pragmatic writing is both academically and institutionally undervalued and aesthetic writing is only implicitly understood as imparting crucial cultural competencies and skills.  In his fifth and final chapter, Watkins imagines a future for English that not only acknowledges American class differences but intercedes in them to advocate for the equal importance of pragmatic and aesthetic languages within student, instructor, and citizen communities.  Watkins insists that English studies is central to the professional and cultural worth of a twenty-first century college education.

Author Information

James Ray Watkins Jr. is an online educator working full time for the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. He also teaches for the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University. His website, Writing in the Wild, includes a blog and resources for writers and teachers.


Reviewed by Victor Villanueva in CCC 62.4 (June 2011)

Reviewed by Chanon Adsanatham in Teaching English in the Two-Year College 38.3 (March 2011).


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