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    John Warner is the author of Why They Can't Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities and The Writer's Practice: Building Confidence in Your Nonfiction Writing.

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Guest Post: Remembering Mike Rose in Person and in Print

Another tribute to a hugely influential scholar and person.

August 17, 2021

At first, when I received the tribute below, I thought I shouldn't publish it because I'd already shared Rebecca Weaver's remembrance of Mike Rose, but then I realized that was silly. Why can't there be more than one? It's not as though the loss will be processed in a day and we'll all move on. As influential as Rose's work has been, it has not yet been influential enough to bring his vision for education that values the complexity of humans and learning to take wide root, so maybe I should turn this whole thing into a Mike Rose tribute blog. As I've spent some time over the last couple of days considering his influence on my own thinking, it's possible that it already is.

-- John Warner


I am stunned by the news of Mike Rose’s death. Mike was my friend and colleague for three decades and a scholar from whom I learned for years longer. My mentor and friend, Michael B. Katz, and Mike were close friends, writing buddies and co-editors of the landmark Public Education Under Siege (2013). My relationship with Mike began independently as we came together in our mutual concerns, research and writing about literacy past and present, education, and young people.

Although I knew Mike’s writing well, admired him and taught his work, and he wrote and spoke in praise of my books on the history of literacy, we did not meet in person or begin our correspondence and friendship until my first Conference on College Composition and Communications appearance in Minneapolis in 2000. Our mutual friend and colleague Deborah Brandt invited me to speak with her at a plenary session. Mike was in the audience and introduced himself. I remember a brief but intense mutual admiration exchange in front of the hotel.

From that time, we were in close correspondence. Mike was one of the most supportive academics and persons I have known in my 50 years in the academy and 72 years of life. I write that with no hesitation. He did this in person and in rapid-return letters and emails. We corresponded regularly, shared our work when relevant, shamelessly promoted each other’s books and hosted or shared in hosting each other’s visits to speak, respectively, at UCLA and Ohio State. We took pride in each other’s accomplishments. I remember walking around the Ohio State campus showing colleagues -- and the university president -- my copies of Why School? (2009) and especially Back to School: Why Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education (2012). I was honored to contribute to his co-edited Literacy: A Critical Sourcebook (2001).

Over the years, Mike wrote many letters of recommendation and nominations for me. He never hesitated or complained about his time. He readily offered to read drafts of applications and proposals and promptly returned his suggestions for improvement. He was unsparing in his constructive criticism and suggestions. I was not the only colleague for whom he did this.

Of course, he was a writer’s writer. His Possible Lives: The Promise of Public Education (1995), The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker (2004) and Back to School are all classics. People familiar with Mike only through his published work will not appreciate his many collaborative projects with Los Angeles community colleges and remedial programs attempting to put his research into practice. He spoke movingly about those engagements.

Our last (I do not want to write “final”) close collaborations came during the writing, publisher’s review and then publication of my book Undisciplining Knowledge: Interdisciplinarity in the Twentieth Century (2016). Mike wrote recommendations for the fellowships that sustained the research and writing read some of the manuscript in draft, reviewed the manuscript for Johns Hopkins University Press, and then promoted it to his circles. He shared in my pleasure of achievement.

Last but not least, Mike joined with other colleagues to honor my contributions to literacy studies in a special session at CCCC in 2017. Unfortunately, illness prevented each of us from attending. Mike’s lovely written tribute constitutes a lasting memory. I miss him professionally and personally.

Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History at the Ohio State University, where he was the Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies and founding director of [email protected]. He is the author of a series of path-breaking books on the history of literacy.

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