English Professor Publishes Book on How We Really Read and Write
UNH professor of English Thomas Newkirk has written a new book on writing, to be published later this month by Heinemann. In Minds Made for Stories: How We Really Read and Write Informational and Persuasive Texts, Newkirk challenges commonly-held views that narrative writing and informational writing are different modes of discourse, consumed through different methods and for different purposes, and experienced in fundamentally different ways. Instead, Newkirk suggests that informational writing at its best is built on the causal relationships and timelines of narrative storytelling, what he calls the "mother of all modes" of discourse.
"To deny the centrality of narrative is to deny our own nature," Newkirk explains. "We seek companionship of a narrator who maintains our attention, and perhaps affection. We are not made for objectivity and pure abstraction—for timelessness. We have 'literary minds" that respond to plot, character, and details in all kind of writing. As humans, we must tell stories."
Minds Made for Stories provides an alternative to the compartmentalized approaches to writing instruction often promoted through rubrics such as the Common Core State Standards. Newkirk contends that effective writing instruction—for all modes of writing—is built upon innate cognitive processes and human desires to tell and hear stories.
Newkirk has studied writing and literacy at all levels of proficiency, from the beginning scribbles of four year-olds to the personal essays of first-year college students. His first book, More than Stories: The Range of Children's Writing (1987), demonstrated the range of writing young children could attempt. His book, The Performance of Self in Student Writing, won the David Russell Award from the National Council of Teachers of English, as the outstanding research monograph for the year (2000). His work on boys and literacy, Misreading Masculinity, has helped focus attention on ways to engage boys by allowing them to make use of their popular culture loyalties. Throughout his career at UNH, he has developed programs to support literacy instruction in schools, most notably The New Hampshire Literacy Institutes, which have run annually since 1981.