Every Conference Attendee Has a Story

Matthew Sansbury and Jennifer Carter, Georgia State University

In the true spirit of scholarly exchange, the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives joined SAMLA for its 85th annual conference. The DALN “is a publicly available archive of personal literacy narratives in a variety of formats (text, video, audio) that together provide a historical record of the literacy practices and values of contributors, as those practices and values change” (daln.osu.edu). Sharing stories is such a fundamental part of the humanities, and last year SAMLA members were able to add their tales to the DALN for future research and academic pursuits.

As staff members we were able to contribute to the DALN in various ways. We attended and live-Tweeted the DALN special session: panelists discussed preserving narratives as we were preserving bits of theirs. Just as the DALN archives literacy stories, live-Tweeting the sessions and capturing data via Storify.com were ways for us to record key moments and panels at the conference. We also volunteered alongside Cynthia L. Selfe and H. Lewis Ulman at the archive’s collection table—a special thanks to you.

What is most memorable about SAMLA 85?
Cynthia L. Selfe: Well, for me, the stories that people told about the role of reading and writing in their lives were the very most powerful part of the conference. We listened to women who admitted that their reading groups provided them both a social and intellectual home in academic communities which ignored the spouses of faculty; we heard from highly successful Ph.D.s whose lives were shaped by grade school or high school teachers with low expectations for Black children; we listened to stories about reading comic books, uncles who wrote “homegrown” poetry, the influence of Nancy Drew mysteries and westerns, the injustices of the Jim Crow South, reading and potty training, learning to read with the TV Guide, and reluctant writers. And these were just a few of the more than 70 narratives that SAMLA members contributed over the two days of the conference.

I also loved meeting those generous graduate students from Georgia State who volunteered to staff the DALN collection table–it “takes a village” to run one of these Literacy Narrative efforts, and the Georgia State grad students made this one possible! They rocked!

What words of encouragement might we include for those who have yet to contribute?
Cynthia L. Selfe: I always tell people that their stories form an important historical and cultural trace of literacy and how it was handled during the later decades of the 20th century and the early decades of the 21st. If we don’t capture these stories, we lose so much of the rich texture of this historical trace, so many of the voices that help us flesh out that cultural picture.

I also note that contributing a narrative about literacy provides a valuable gift to the profession–one that costs only a few minutes and a few memories to contribute and that retains and accrues historical and professional value as the years go by and as the collection grows. All these narratives are available for teachers and graduate students to use in their studies about literacy–and the IRB approval has already been granted for this use.

I also tell folks that their stories are worth preserving–especially when they are about people who played important roles in their development as a reader or writer. No one knows your stories except for you–and unless you preserve them in some form, they disappear when you do!