Remembering W. Ross Winterowd

Our celebration of the 30th anniversary of TWI concludes with a memorial tribute to W. Ross Winterowd, who died on January 21, 2011. As the Director of the Ph.D. program in Rhetoric, Linguistics, and Literature at the University of Southern California, Ross mentored the many dozens of graduate students who served on the Editorial Board for The Writing Instructor from 1981 through 1996. We have included contributions from a half dozen of them below, and others will be forthcoming in the weeks following the official publication date of this anniversary issue.

We invite all of Ross’s many friends and colleagues to contribute to this tribute. Instructions for posting a contribution are provided at the bottom of this page.

On Ross

October 16, 2011

Ross was the director of my dissertation, and in order to get a handle on the thing, I arranged to meet him, at his home in Huntington Beach, every two weeks until I had finished writing. For this, he was a steadfast and caring mentor, loyal to his commitment to me—and a great host! In the two years of our work together, he cancelled just one time, to attend a USC football game.

When I had completed my dissertation, I was touched by Ross’s comment on my work overall: He said, “Although you aren’t the smartest student I’ve ever had, you’ve grown as a thinker. You should feel good about that.” Ross certainly was one to speak his mind, yet he was right about me—I had grown. And he said all this in a way that didn’t downgrade my work but, rather, acknowledged it.

He paid the same focused attention to the work of the journal, not always in agreement with the choices the editors made but always respectful and supportive of the time and effort entailed in making their decisions. In my year as Managing Editor of The Writing Instructor, 1985-1986, he and I sometimes didn’t agree, but he was always available, and he always took his role as advisor seriously, as he had his role as dissertation director.

M. Kathleen Massey, professor emerita, Cal Poly
TWI Managing Editor, 1985-86

Outsider and Intellectual Innovator

October 24, 2011

Ross Winterowd did not fit the image of a stereotypical English Professor. His background, the often-mentioned childhood in a saloon in Nevada, his choice of dress, the turquoise studded belt buckle and so forth, made him something of an outsider in the literary establishment. But perhaps it was just this outsider status that enabled him to be such an intellectual innovator.

Ross took an outsider field, composition, and helped it develop into a vital, significant academic discipline. And he did it without conforming to the rules of the establishment. Ross's early collections of essays on composition introduced students like me, who had been teaching composition, to research that could underpin pedagogical choices. His work with the writings of Kenneth Burke helped give the field a strong philosophical foundation. His leadership in both scholarship and pedagogy inspired many students as evidenced by the creation of The Writing Instructor, a direct product of the USC RLL Program under his direction.

Ross was a charismatic, unique scholar who liked to stir things up. We need more academics like him to help us move away from convention and discover new avenues of research and teaching.

Sandra Mano, Editorial Board Member

Ross Winterowd and TWI

November 30, 2011

In thinking of Ross and TWI, what I find interesting is just that I don’t think first of his role with the journal, but I instead recall, before anything else, the “founding mothers,” the seven graduate students who conceived and pasted-up (in the truest sense of literally: with glue and tape and razor-bladed passages of text) all the earliest issues. I think instead of the open and free-wheeling attitude that seemed to instill everything from staff meetings to article selection to (especially at first) the ever-receding production deadlines. I recall how much fun it was and how convivial, and at the same time I remember the hard work put in by those most centrally involved (among whom I do not number myself) and even more the sense of commitment and shared responsibility, not only to the journal but to the values that motivate responsible writing instruction. If an article was not accepted, the author received not a rejection slip but a short and encouraging critique; if an article was accepted, that was just the beginning of a painstaking process of discussion and evolution, a writing process in the truest sense of the term. Editing an issue of TWI or serving in any other capacity was not a simply a way to “get your ticket punched” in terms of an item to add to your CV; rather, it was another, and particularly significant, means by which students in (and even outside) USC’s Rhetoric, Linguistics, and Literature Program (RLL) were inducted into the discipline of COMP/RHET.

That is where I would locate Ross’s connection with TWI. As Consulting Editor, he, along with Betty Bamberg and Louise Witherbee Phelps, certainly provided welcome guidance and advice, yet he plainly (and I believe quite intentionally) remained in the background. Ross was neither addicted nor adverse to the limelight: he enjoyed, quite deservedly, his salience in the profession. But as he was wont to say, “meaning is radically scenic,” and he was wise enough to recognize that his agency would change the scene of TWI, diminishing the agency of the graduate students and thus shifting the purpose of the journal as a means by which those without professional salience could begin to establish themselves. Ross never saw TWI as either a platform or a pedestal.

Despite this wily and willing distanciation, however, I nonetheless believe that Ross’s attitude, and the attitude of RLL, deeply imbued nearly everything that made working on TWI memorable and at times inspiring. The thoroughness and care and freedom that I associate with the journal are fully resonant with Ross’s dedication to COMP/RHET as a significant discipline, with his tolerantly comedic Burkean ethos, and with his commitment to the ethical and critical use of language as the most reliable means by which humans may attain to what Habermas called “the unity of reason in the diversity of its voices.” Along with these resonances, some of us may also recall the simple pleasure of late afternoon sunlight slanting through the windows of his office, the taste of Trader Joe’s sherry or wine, any number of wonderfully appositional discussions syncopated with outbursts of laughter, and always the presence of Ross’s own (largely) genial spirit.

Jack Blum, Associate Director, The Writing Program, University of Southern California; Editorial Board Member

Dear Ross

December 6, 2011

When I heard that you had passed, I was quite surprised. I actually had not spoken to you in several years, and I had not been attending the yearly CCCC as I used to. Since I took a position in administration at the University where I work, I also had lost contact with several colleagues in the rhetoric and composition field. So news of your passing startled and saddened me and prompted a flood of memories about my time in the Rhetoric, Linguistics, and Literature (RLL) program at USC in the 1980s.

You directed my dissertation. You taught the very first graduate course I took at USC. You introduced me to rhetoric and composition, among other new scholarly fields. You opened doors for me, and you gave me the only “C” grade on any assignment I completed in all of the courses I took while in the RLL program (oh, except for that one linguistics course on Chomsky’s theory of government and binding you advised me to take, which I ended up barely surviving but subsequently discovered was a course I didn’t need anyway. We had a good laugh about that one—much later, though).

You fathered a program in creating the RLL PhD, you were able to attract some outstanding graduate students—and I am not talking about myself, because we both know that I was not outstanding. No, I am talking about scholar-teachers that I came to know and work with in my time at USC, good people like Shirley Rose, Judith Rodby, Sandra Mano, Lee Ann Carroll, among others, and Barbara Gleason, Faun Evans, and John Edlund who became good friends. You worked with several local school districts and promoted the teaching of writing and the training of teachers of writing based on research. I took this latter practice particularly to heart and applied it in my own work with local high schools.

You also recruited some very talented promising scholars to teach us in the RLL program—Louise Wetherbee Phelps, Marilyn Cooper, and Michael Holzman. And because of you, I met and got to know Stephen Krashen, Ed Finegan, and Dallas Willard. You introduced me to a discipline, to people, to scholars, to ideas that really did change my life. No hyperbole here either, Ross. Since I had been a literature major and had no idea what rhetoric was, your class and the way you talked about rhetoric and literacy, their power to liberate or oppress, was exciting, inspiring—and challenging. The RLL program helped me be both a better teacher and find common ground between literature and composition, literature and rhetoric, rhetoric and composition.

Reading and discussing Paulo Freire, Walter Ong, Kenneth Burke, James Kinneavy, and your own work pushed me intellectually to challenge disciplinary boundaries. On a personal level, these scholars and theorists, among others, others showed me that teaching writing was really doing work promoting the common good and helping students see that the way language and writing functioned was not so mysterious as they previously may have assumed. You showed me, Ross, that teaching writing is noble, and you made teaching writing and literacy a vital part of an excellent English Department.

When I began to develop my dissertation project, I had to battle with you about my topic. I wanted to pull together the fragments of knowledge I had accrued through my former training in American literature with my new found love of rhetoric and literacy. I wanted to study Emerson and the possible influence of his work on current thinking about composing and the use of language. In our back-and-forth arguments, you forced me to refine my thinking, and, of course, the energy of our debates only made me want to pursue the topic even more passionately, just to show you that you were wrong. On reflection, I think you knew what you were doing. You knew what buttons to push.

But what was a real surprise for me to see in working with you on my dissertation those six months, was how much you enjoyed the mentoring. You invited me over on Saturday morning once a month to review my progress, chapter-by-chapter. Norma served us coffee and donuts while we chatted in your study. All of your former students’ dissertations lined the book shelves above us and beckoned me to get mine up there along with them. And you were pushing me to do that. I did need that pushing. But sometimes when I would bring my 3-year old daughter with me to our one-hour sessions, which you encouraged me to do, you would sit with her on your lap for about 45 minutes talking to her, letting her play on your computer, showing her interesting objects in your study while I looked on wondering when we would get to the latest chapter I had drafted. With about 15 minutes left in our session, you would say to Gabby, “Well, I need to talk to your dad about his chapter, so we’ll have to stop now.” In turning to me, you would say something like, ”It’s coming along, but I wrote some comments on your draft you can look at when you go back to revise after you have completed the entire dissertation. Let’s meet again next month. Oh, and bring Gabrielle…. “ You loved children, Ross. You loved your students. You loved what they accomplished after they left the RLL program. You fathered that program and you fathered many successful PhD’s. You were generous with your time, and you and Norma opened your home to your students. You even invited us over for Christmas morning potato pancakes. Which I have to admit I didn’t acquire a taste for. I loved my time at USC. I loved the richness of my education there. I thank you for giving that to me and to so many others. You counseled and you cajoled when necessary but always with good humor and with love for your charges in order to bring out the best in them. You were not tall in height, Ross, but your influence on your students and the field is beyond measure. You live on through your several books and through the many lives of those past students you taught and mentored and pushed to become “professors.”

I won’t wish you a peaceful rest in eternity. That would not be the way you would want it anyhow.


Mark Wiley

Practical Poet

December 16, 2011

By the time I met Ross Winterowd—in a gradate course on teaching composition in 1989—he was nearing retirement towards the end of an illustrious career. In class, he would share his own poetry on topics ranging from the MLA to his wife and family. Along with the other descriptions of Ross that are sure to appear—witty, poetic, devoted to family—I remember in him a dogged practicality. Exasperated and energized by his constant sparring with traditional English and Literature departments and the complicated relationship they had with the field of Composition, he would repeatedly (and more than half seriously) remind his students that a degree in literature was wonderful—if one needed a hobby. All his students heard his lament for both fields that “literature had been refined TO theory, and composition had been refined OF theory.” Then he would circulate lists of recently hired graduates, underscoring the number of Rhetoric students featured. His advice for dissertation students was always to write a “Janus-faced” dissertation, one that could be marketable as either rhetorical or as literature focused.

Ross’s ongoing determination to secure and maintain a place at the academic table for rhetoric and composition studies energized him, but never, as far as I could tell, interfered with his collegiality. Long after retirement, he remained eager to chat with students on ideas for bringing rhetorical studies into their papers and dissertations, and he always kept a good humor about life, family, and the academy. I recall my last meeting with him, at CCCC in 2009. I introduced him to my daughter, then a junior in college, and he insisted on rising to greet her, despite his health and mobility issues. I could see the same wry smile and pure enjoyment in socialization, and we joked about the strangeness of seeing our children grow up taller than their parents.

His advice, his attitude, and his practicality still guide those of us who were his students, giving us a clear-headed sense of perspective in navigating the demands of the academic world and our teaching duties.

LauraAnne Carroll-Adler
Assistant Professor, Teaching
The Writing Program
University of Southern California

Thirty Years Later

December 29, 2011

In 1981 IBM had released its personal computer to compete with the Apple II, but most of us graduate students on the board were pounding out responses to authors of manuscripts and answers to inquiries on electric typewriters. I wrote most of my dissertation longhand to get a version I could type into a fair copy for my committee. Now, many computers, cell phones, and an iPad later, one of the most remarkable changes in our profession has been in technology. And it has introduced its own versions of pedagogy, research, problems, and opportunities.

The profession itself has grown markedly in thirty years. My first experience attending a 4Cs conference was in 1982 in San Francisco. Ed Erdmann and I drove from LA to the Bay Area, flopped on a friend’s floor, and attended sessions. I was in my third year of graduate school, and, as I looked at the program, I felt I had some knowledge of what each session was focusing on. Now the 4Cs program is so varied and expansive that it is largely a mystery to me. By the late 1980s I was attending the Rhetoric Society of America, a society that Ross helped found, in a dingy hotel in Arlington, Texas with maybe two hundred attendees. This year the conference will be in Philadelphia and the number attending will be more than six times that number.

More significant, in my opinion, than the number of students and scholars of rhetoric and writing are the many writing programs that have sprung up. As a graduate student I had the opportunity to host Jim Gray, founder and director of the Bay Area Writing Project, whom Ross had invited to USC along with others to speak at a conference on writing programs. Today there are two hundred such national writing projects in every state and protectorate of the United States. In addition to national writing projects, many writing programs now exist as part of the university curriculum in English departments or as independent programs or departments. These university programs offer certificates, minors, and majors in writing. This change in the profession was Ross Winterowd’s vision and his genius. He advocated and fought for the place of writing in the university curriculum. I hope he was aware of this remarkable change in the profession wrought by his efforts and those of many others.

Through all the changes over the thirty years that The Writing Instructor has been publishing articles, many of us on the original board have been teaching composition along with our other courses. Now, near the end of my career as I look back, I believe the most important work I have done has been in the classroom teaching students how to write. To its credit, The Writing Instructor has been focused on this same goal for thirty years.

Grant Boswell
Brigham Young University

Invitation to Participate in Memorial Tribute

We invite Ross Winterowd’s many friends, colleagues and former students to participate in this ongoing tribute to his work as a scholar and teacher.

To participate, submit your contribution as a “comment” on this page. To submit a comment, login if you already have a TWI account or click on “register” below to create an account. If you wish to participate, but would prefer not to have a TWI account, please email your contribution to Shirley Rose ( for posting here.


This text was accepted for publication after an anonymous peer review process.

Publication date: 


Average: 5 (1 vote)


Thanks to all who add their tributes to this memorial.-- Shirley Rose

For introducing me to the field of composition and rhetoric by making possible my inaugural trip to CCCC in Cincinnati;

For demonstrating to me through myriad examples what it means to mentor—
for endless book lists,
for a “my office is your office, use it when you like” attitude and reality,
for making possible my first academic publication by handing off to me an invitation you received to contribute to a rhet/comp encyclopedia,
for grad student spaghetti dinners in your home with Norma,
for teaching me how to write conference proposals,
for that Red Badge of Courage as I wrote my qualifying exams,
for Saturday morning phone calls to see how the writing was going,
for joining me on conference panels,
for advocating for TWI and its graduate-student-led staff,
for sage advice as I reviewed job offers,
for supporting my first book by writing its foreword and teaching me a thing or two about book contracts,
for annual lunches at CCCC,

For lively seminar classes that demanded that we reconsider Romantic epistemologies;

For uproarious laughter and political advocacy;

For loving ice cream and Fiddle Faddle;

For teaching me the difference between typing and thinking;

For showing me through example how to carry our work from academe into our communities;

For showing me the privilege of engaging in work we love, even if we are “the cream of the scum,”

I thank you Ross.

Dawn M. Formo,
The Writing Instructor, Co-Editor
Associate Dean, Cal State San Marcos

I met Ross in 1968, at the first meeting of the Rhetoric Society of America. What a dynamo! Our friendship grew over the years through dinners at the CCCC with a small group of colleagues interested in fostering rhetoric within English Studies and the academy: Ross and Norma, Dick Young, George and Mary Yoos, Ed Corbett, and me. Through the decades, Ross was a force helping to spearhead that development through his kairotic books and essays, the program at USC, his lectures at the summer Rhetoric Seminars and at many institutions, and his jovial personality.

The Ross I knew was also a great host. He and Norma took my late husband David and me on an enjoyable visit to Ensenada, Mexico and treated us to stays with them in Huntington Beach. To console me after David died, he and Norma and Dick and Joyce Young took me on an adventure in the Mohave desert where we got stuck in the sand and howling wind. After several hours, Ross hiked miles to rescue us.

In his retirement, I was impressed that he showered his talents on a group of senior citizens, whose session I visited once. He not only forged an impressive set of writers able to shrewdly critique each other, but also published their work, and formed a social group who had parties at his home. After Norma’s stroke, he cared for her through increasingly difficult times, heroically keeping up her spirits. For example, on one of my visits, he wheeled her to a favorite restaurant at the beach—a daily visit.

We were fortunate to have such a pioneer for our field, whose contributions will continue to benefit us down the decades. I was blessed to have such a friend, whom I will greatly miss.

posted by Shirley Rose on Janice Lauer Rice's behalf.

As a member of the original editorial board of The Writing Instructor, I am pleased to help mark the thirtieth anniversary of its publication and to remember and celebrate the role Ross Winterowd played in bringing the journal to life. His encouragement and financial support were in keeping with his celebration of the teaching of rhetoric. I raise a glass in gratitude. – Shirley Rish