Date of Award

Winter 2010

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Thomas Newkirk


The influence of Peter Elbow's Writing without Teachers on Composition Studies and classroom-based writing instruction is indisputable, yet the central message of the book has been continually sidestepped. At the heart of Elbow's book is an inherent contradiction to classroom instruction: the original impetus for the book was based on self-instruction, or learning about writing outside of any course. For Composition Studies, Writing without Teachers, starting with its title, is a riddle or a Zen koan the discipline has delayed answering for over thirty-five years. This project examines Writing without Teachers as a self-help book on writing and thus as part of what scholars have called the "extracurriculum of composition": the powerful nonacademic tradition of learning about writing that has always existed alongside classroom writing education in the United States. As sparse attention has been given to writing self-help literature, this project situates Elbow's book in a continuum of such literature, beginning with Eliza Leslie's 1854 The Behaviour Book and continuing with twentieth-century self-help texts by Brenda Ueland, Dorothea Brande, Anne Lamott, and Natalie Goldberg. Through close textual and rhetorical analysis, connections in content and form are drawn between Writing without Teachers and these other self-help texts on writing. Elbow's subsequent 1981 publication, Writing with Power, continues to build off the self-help elements found in the earlier book chiefly in its discussion of freewriting, voice, and process. This analysis of Elbow's Writing without Teachers demonstrates the way in which Elbow brought the extracurricular approach to writing into formal classroom-based instruction, and it indicates the shaping influence of the self-help approach on process pedagogy.