Welcome to Praxis: Interview with Sarah Riddick

Let's open with that old interview chestnut: Tell us a bit about yourself!

I grew up in Virginia, a few miles outside of Washington, DC. While it was a lovely place to grow up, it never felt like a natural fit for me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I felt that way until I was thirteen, when I visited Richmond for the first time. It turns out I love cities! Richmond was the first one I’d ever properly seen, and I was enamored with it as soon as I arrived. I loved its colorful buildings, its local businesses, its intimate sense of community. So, a few years later I eagerly accepted an offer to the Honors College at Virginia Commonwealth University, where I earned degrees in English and Spanish and a minor in creative writing.

Spanish was a challenge for me because it felt like a daily foil to my other degree; I’d spend half of my studies reading and writing complex sentences structures in English—the language I’d grown up speaking—and then I’d have to switch into one I’d only been studying since the eighth grade. I felt so shy and frustrated about my limitations in Spanish that I was speaking it less than I should. Eventually and fortunately, I was able to challenge this fear productively by immersing myself in the language for a few months. After studying British literature in Scotland for a month, I spent a semester in Spain.

As with Richmond, my time overseas only left me wanting more. After I graduated from VCU, I went back to earn a master’s degree in comparative literature at University College London. Throughout this time, I began to recognize that my interests in critical thinking, ethics, and pedagogy were indicators of my interest in rhetoric. I was thrilled when UT Austin—an amazing rhetoric department in a city that sometimes feels like a warmer Richmond—admitted me into its PhD program, and I’m still thrilled every day to be here. Currently, my life at UT primarily features three activities: working at Praxis, serving as an Assistant Director of Lower Division Writing in the Department of Rhetoric, and researching online social networks for my dissertation. What the non-UT parts of my day tend to entail: running, cooking, endlessly polishing my playlists, and volunteering as much as possible.

And how did your interest in writing center work and pedagogy come about?

My interest in writing center work is a strong but latent one, largely because I didn’t know about writing centers until long after I realized my passion for pedagogy. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to teach writing; when I was in the sixth grade, for instance, I once spent my lunch period interviewing my teacher about her teaching practices because I admired them so much. As an undergraduate, my first teaching opportunity came through my Spanish degree, in which I was able to intern as a teaching assistant in a middle-school ESL program, as well as volunteer as an instructor for an adult ESL course. In London, I volunteered as the lead tutor for a program that tutored students struggling with English coursework. I wasn’t able to work in a writing center until I arrived at UT, but once I did I knew it was a perfect fit.

Are there any especially memorable moments in your time working at UT’s writing center that our readers might find interesting?

By far the most memorable and rewarding part of my time at the UWC has been working with my regulars. Sorry, my terminological habits from my days as a barista are still with me. As an instructor, I always try to create opportunities in which I can give individual guidance and support to my students beyond my written feedback, but there is only so much time in the semester. The writing center creates a more substantial version of that opportunity for me when students work with me throughout the semester. Here—as opposed to in the classroom—I am supporting them without evaluating them, and I can focus entirely on them and their personal development as writers for large blocks of time. It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone, but I especially love working with ELL writers. Writing varies across cultures and languages, and I love helping students feel like they can succeed in the particular writing culture we primarily support (i.e., one that is based in US academic culture and the English language) while also learning about their own cultures and existing writing practices.

If there’s one thing about Praxis you would like to change, what would it be?

Like you, I’d love to explore our digital opportunities. My research often involves the digital humanities, so it would be nice to find a way to connect that to Praxis. Before I joined the UWC, I spent a few years working in our Digital Writing and Research Lab, and I’m hoping to work with them to find some cool ways to do that.

What do you hope to get out of this editorship?

I’ve had a variety of editorial experiences in the past several years, but this is the first time I’ve been able to take the lead on one for such a long period of time, so that’s exciting. The fact that the journal focuses on some of my primary interests and passions only sweetens the deal. Essentially, I’m thrilled to be here as an editor, and a large part of that thrill is that I’ll get to spend a few years learning from others about their experiences and expertise, and as both an editor and a fellow writing instructor, I’m excited to be part of journal that shares that knowledge with others.