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Becoming authors: The social context of writing and local publishing by adult beginning readers

Marilyn Kay Gillespie, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In a small but growing number of adult literacy programs across the United States, adult beginning readers have begun to write about their lives and publish their work as individual books, newsletters and anthologies. The use of the writing process in adult literacy classrooms is part of a more general trend toward greater learner participation and has been initiated primarily at the grassroots level. Although this practice is spreading, to date no comprehensive studies of its history, nature or potential value to learners yet exist. This exploratory study begins by gathering together information about the history of writing and publishing by adult beginning readers in the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, England and Canada, based on expert interviews, a mail survey and collections of local publications. The second, central phase of the research involves a qualitative study of the experiences of authors in three literacy programs in New England. Eighteen authors were asked to describe their life histories with respect to literacy and how they had changed as a result of becoming an author. Specific indicators included: authors' purposes for writing, their audiences, their beliefs and self-concept in relationship to literacy, learning and knowledge, their beliefs about writing and how it is learned, changes in everyday literacy practices, and plans for the future. Factors which influenced these changes, including aspects of the writing context and people in the authors' lives who helped or got in the way of their literacy acquisition were also considered. Six authors' stories are presented as life history narratives. Findings indicate that authors used writing as a means to re-examine their life histories, reflect on the stigma of illiteracy, overcome internalized beliefs they are unable to learn and advise others. The writing process facilitated authors' growing ability to speak out and recognize the authority of their own knowledge. This was further validated by opportunities authorship provided for taking the role of teacher and expert. Finally, the wider implications and constraints to the entry of adult beginning readers into the public sphere are examined, along with the potential role of learners in the creation of knowledge about literacy.

Subject Area

Adult education|Continuing education|Curricula|Teaching|Teacher education|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Gillespie, Marilyn Kay, "Becoming authors: The social context of writing and local publishing by adult beginning readers" (1991). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9132854.