On "canon"

In a nutshell, we're pro-canon. We love many Great Texts and believe they are worth sharing with young students because they are great works of art and a form of social capital. They might be tough, but they're worth the effort.

We also believe that the canon has limitations and it's worth teaching texts that contribute other points of view.

And we're also pro-junk and ephemera. We believe that value can be wrung from just about any cultural material if you approach it from a craft and social point of view.

It's a good question.

Let's say we want to "write like the greats". Which greats?

Shakespeare is a canonical example of a great English writer.


But do we want everyone to write like a 16th-century dramatic poet? Maybe it would be cool, but it's not a priority.

How about writing like Herman Melville?


Everyone loves the opening of Moby Dick ("Call me Ishmael!")—should we all learn to write like that?

It's great, but we probably don't want to go overboard (as it were) on subordinate clauses and elaborate turns of phrase?

And we haven't even started talking about broader cultural and demographic representation.

Where are the women writers? The LGBTQ+ writers? The Black, Asian, African, Middle Eastern, Hispanic, Indigenous writers? The disabled writers?

Zora Neale Hurston

We need a diverse, modern canon for diverse, modern times—but that leaves us with a challengingly long list of perspectives to cover in a limited amount of time.

And while we're considering that, we have another issue to deal with, which is the pressing concerns of a market-based society in which stakeholders want economically valuable skills.

Does that mean we should ditch both William Shakespeare and Toni Morrison and instead sample the best resumes from around the world?

Designer resume


On the other hand, Writelike is a complicated way to teach resume writing, and resumes don't necessarily teach higher-order writing and thinking skills.

Choosing texts is clearly complicated. So how do we decide?

Cover of The Rattle Bag

Since there is no straightforward list of 'greats' to write like, we try to be consciously eclectic.

We sample diverse texts from diverse perspectives, from canon to ephemera, Shakespeare to cereal boxes.

While acknowledging that some writing is richer and more rewarding than others, we try to create a sense that approaching any piece of text analytically can yield rewards (even if only as fuel for parody, insight into a culture, or a cautionary tale).

We believe in a blend of push and pull: helping students explore texts with which they are already familiar and interested, as well as introducing them to texts which are unfamiliar and challenging. 

Ultimately we want to broaden students' frame of reference, help them see a wide range of texts as being part of 'their world', and give them the skills to navigate those texts independently and proactively, like treasure-hunting pirates on the high seas of prose.

(The ultimate success would be a student pointing at that last line and saying, "That metaphor's a bit much, don't you think?")