Archiving the Literacy Narratives of Our Times

An Interview with Dr. Cynthia Selfe and Dr. H. Lewis Ulman

By Megan Adams, Bowling Green State University

Logistics and Planning
Broader Implications of the Project
Affordances of Digital Narrative
Importance of Narrative in the Field
Stories that Speak to Us
Future of the DALN

At the 2011 CCCC convention in St. Louis I had a moment. Like many other scholars, I had what some would refer to as an “aha” moment– that blip in time when you begin to find the place where you belong in a field.

Prior to attending the convention, I had met with and interviewed Dr. Cynthia Selfe and Dr. H. Lewis Ulman for this interview piece, asking them questions about their collaborative work with The Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives (DALN), a project that had piqued my interest for quite some time. Upon concluding the interview, Dr. Selfe suggested I volunteer at the DALN booth at the upcoming CCCC 2012 conference. I was excited about the opportunity.

When I arrived, I immediately volunteered to assist Dr. Selfe in hauling computer equipment, microphones, and release forms up to the second floor of the convention center to set up and collect narratives at the “Access: A Happening” session. We hurriedly slipped into the room and began reaching out to those attendees who would be willing to share their stories of access and literacy. The first participant was a young boy who entered holding the hand of his blind father. He sat down assuredly in front of the computer screen and microphone, thought for a moment, and proceeded to tell a story that detailed his literacy experience. His first memory of literacy consisted of listening to his father read books through the use of his hands (in Braille) and looking at the pictures as his father’s voice told a story.  As I watched this boy tell his story, something stirred in me.  I let this feeling sink in as more people came forward, sometimes reluctantly, sometimes proudly, to share their literacy narratives with the DALN, or in other words, with the world. Through this experience – of watching and listening -  I realized the incredible power of Chair Malea Powell’s words “We have no being beyond our stories. Our stories explain us, justify us, sustain us, humble us, and forgive us.” The stories preserved in these narratives are what Selfe referred to as “little glimpses of our times,” for they are reflections of culture, of moments, of realities.

Thanks to the relentless efforts of Dr. Selfe, Dr. Ulman, their fellow colleagues, and students, the DALN has allowed these stories to be preserved so that all of us “can do with them what we will” (Malea Powell, CCCC 2012 Chair's Address).