Introducing Christopher Hazlett
Introducing Visiting Assistant Professor
What is your current project, and what led you to it?
My current project involves tracing the networked relationships formed by personal and professional writing inside prisons. I explore how writing is generated, how it moves, and how it acts in prison to better understand how the prison is bound together by these complex writing networks. My interest in this project stems from my experiences with prison education. Teaching a writing class in prison, I noticed how writing was far more prolific and active than previous literary and pedagogical descriptions claimed. I am currently focused on tracing two particular socio-historical genres: incident reports and "kites," kites being the short informal letters distributed illicitly between prisoners inside a facility.
What are you most looking forward to as you teach this fall? Can you tell us a little about your approach to teaching undergraduate composition, particularly with a cohort group such as the College Park Scholars?
I look forward to teaching a group of students who are as intellectually curious and engaged as the Scholars, but which are also as a group reflective of a diverse set of focuses and interests. As a writing teacher, I try to teach my students not merely what to write but also how to write and why for multiple settings and rhetorical purposes. To accomplish this goal, I invite students to become explorers and analyzers of their particular writing contexts so that together we can arrive at a collaborative environment.
You’re coming to us from the University of Florida; tell us a little bit about how this experience has shaped you as a teacher and scholar, and what you hope to bring with you as you start anew here.
The University of Florida was a very diverse environment where students represent many cultural, economic, educational, and language backgrounds. The writing program there taught many kinds of writing to this prolific student body. I also developed a strong theoretical background as a writing scholar. At UF, I came to understand that teaching writing to a diverse group is never [just] a challenge, but rather provides opportunities for powerful and productive collaboration. Teaching a diverse class of students allows all of us in that class to collaborate in truly productive ways as we work toward stronger and critical understandings and abilities as rhetoricians and writers. Furthermore, I was given the opportunity to explore writing in multiple situations, in particular prisons, and to consider the theoretical implications of that writing. My scholarly and pedagogical understanding of writing as a contextualized and networked thing emerged from my experiences at UF. I hope to bring my intellectual focus and my pedagogical excitement for collaboration within a diverse setting to the University of Maryland.
What was the last book you read that you really enjoyed? Why?
I recently finished reading two books; [the first was] an anthology of essays collected from Slate.com. These essays were on different subjects by over two dozen authors. Each essay was written with a different tone but all exhibited a mastery of style that was truly pleasurable to read. The collection revived my joy of the contemporary essay, especially the shorter form essay.
I also finished reading Prison Letters: My Life is My Sun Dance by Leonard Peltier. This is a book I read almost every year. It was written by Peltier years ago in prison (he remains incarcerated today) and expresses a defiant spirit and simultaneous joy for life that I find inspiring and moving. This is the kind of book that shakes you to your core. Each time I read Prison Letters I find some new aspect to appreciate.
How do you describe your work to non-specialists?
I explain that I study writing in order to better understand how we interact and communicate with one another in various settings so that we can learn to do so better. It helps to explain through examples, so I often point to the complex writing relationships of the accounting profession and compare that to the writing relationships in prisons.