The MLA Publications Committee
and Reinvigorated Opportunities for Rhet-Comp

By Deborah H. Holdstein

There seems to be a pervasive sense among those in the field of rhetoric and composition that the MLA isn’t interested, doesn’t care, and doesn’t represent their important set of scholarly and pedagogical interests. As I complete a three-year term on the MLA Publications Committee—and reflect on my many years of membership and participation in the organization—I’m pleased to have this chance to comment.

Indeed, representing rhetoric and composition on the Publications Committee has been a distinct privilege, and I’ve had the privilege of doing so twice, serving one term in the early 1990s and another now. The Publications Committee has for over twenty years held a slot devoted to representation in rhetoric, composition, and related areas. Everyone on the nine-person committee has to be an educated generalist, however, even though each person represents a specific field within the MLA, so it should not be unnoticed that rhet-comp has one of those coveted positions. And keep in mind that the MLA represents a wide number of disciplines and interdisciplinary fields.

Now some general information about the MLA book publications program as it relates to rhetoric and composition: books published by the MLA are usually concerned with the study and teaching of language and literature (which, by the way, also gives the lie to the often-expressed sentiment that the MLA is concerned only with theory). The MLA also publishes on topics related to the profession. The program has been, since 2011, part of the office of scholarly communication, under the leadership of Kathleen Fitzpatrick. Consulting with the Publications Committee, the office tries to achieve a balance of titles that will serve the needs of the profession and the varied scholarly and pedagogical interests of the (rather huge) membership. The process for approval has been streamlined recently but still is exacting in a way that ensures the high quality of MLA publications. The Publications Committee has as part of its charge the responsibility to “[a]ssess[ ] prospectuses and approve[ ] final manuscripts for book publications” and to “consult[ ] on policies and priorities for the scholarly communication program.”

The topics of recently published and forthcoming MLA books range from entire areas of pedagogy (Service Learning and Literary Studies in English, edited by Laurie Grobman and Roberta Rosenberg) and wide-ranging topics of pressing importance (Teaching Human Rights in Literary and Cultural Studies, edited by Alexandra Schultheis Moore and Elizabeth Swanson Goldberg) to individual works of literature. The Texts and Translations series publishes volumes for use in classrooms. The MLA also publishes volumes focused on foreign language teaching. The MLA continues to work on developing more books on topics from outside Europe and the United States, to join recent volumes on the modern Turkish novel, Naguib Mahfouz, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and The Story of the Stone (Dream of the Red Chamber).

In addition to these projects, the MLA has also published a number of important books on rhetoric and composition, including, among others, Writing Theory and Critical Theory, edited by John Clifford and John Schilb, and Feminism and Composition Studies: In Other Words, edited by Susan C. Jarratt and Lynn Worsham. These titles were part of the Research and Scholarship in Composition series, which had its heyday in the 1990s. The last book explicitly on rhetoric and composition published by the MLA, Disciplinary Identities: Rhetorical Paths of English, Speech, and Composition, by Steven Mailloux, came out in 2006. In 2007, the MLA published Integrating Literature and Writing Instruction: First-Year English, Humanities Core Courses, Seminars, edited by Judith H. Anderson and Christine R. Farris. Several of these volumes were the result of proactive work and recruitment on the part of former members of the staff. These days, the MLA has not received many unsolicited inquiries about possible books from scholars in rhetoric and composition, and part of my purpose here is to make clear that the MLA publications program would welcome such queries and that staff members have been actively pursuing such projects.

I can affirm through my own participation in these conversations—and, I might say, my having initiated some of these conversations—that the office of scholarly communication and the Publications Committee have recognized that there is an ongoing and urgent need to develop new titles in rhetoric and composition. This recognition provides a tremendous opportunity for the field as other venues for publication contract or disappear. MLA staff members have corresponded with members of the field to start the development process for at least three new titles (of which I am aware) in rhetoric and composition and are in the early stages of developing other possible titles. The intention is to rejuvenate the frontlist so that volumes on rhetoric and composition appear more regularly among the new titles.

The Publications Committee and our other colleagues at the MLA hope that the appearance of new titles in rhetoric and composition will encourage other scholars in the field to approach the publications program with their proposals for possible new volumes. I find these ongoing developments exciting; they, along with the fact that all three candidates for second vice president of the MLA have deep experience in rhetoric and composition, show that work in our field is receiving renewed attention at the MLA, providing renewed opportunity for those of us in rhetoric and composition.