Monday, June 7, 2010

"With a Little Help from My Friends"

I finished the paper I'm presenting at the Children's Literature Association conference in Ann Arbor on Thursday. Hooray! I am quite fond of the paper at this moment, perhaps because I'm so fond of the books I'm writing about: Double Date, Double Feature, and Double Wedding, published in the 1950s by Rosamond Du Jardin. I love spending time at the "Teen Hangout" with Pam and her "smooth" friends, and spending time with Penny on the Headlines Club sleigh ride!

The paper isn't very long, 10 pages or so, perfect for a 20-minute presentation slot at the conference. My writing system for scholarly papers always involves writing a short paper first to present at a conference, and then gathering comments on the paper from the conference attendees, and using those comments to expand and develop the paper more fully. If it's a children's literature conference, they tell me other books I should be reading, texts that resonate with my focus texts, critical commentary I've overlooked; if it's a philosophy conference, they raise devastating counterexamples to my argument and shower me with objections. Then I go home and read the recommended books and respond to the rigorous objections. The result is a much improved version of the paper that I can now submit to a journal for publication, knowing that I'll also be getting comments from the double-blind referees (they don't know who I am, and I don't know who they are), which will allow me to revise the paper into its final form.

In the philosophy department, our graduate students have to submit a "fifth-semester paper" which is supposed to serve as evidence that they can do work that is approaching a professional, publishable level. We debate in the department about how much help we should be giving the students with these papers: are the papers supposed to show what the students can do on their own? or are the papers supposed to assist in developing a mentoring relationship that will continue on through the writing of the dissertation?

As you may suspect, I'm solidly in favor of the second approach. I've never written a single paper "on my own" - why should my students have to do what I am unable and unwilling to do? I couldn't write or publish a successful scholarly paper without help from my friends - and my enemies! (Or at least, my critics and philosophical opponents. ) Every paper of mine is in that sense a collaboration.

I'm looking forward to hearing what my "collaborators" in Ann Arbor are going to have to say about my Du Jardin paper later this week.

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