37. Imagining a Better Normal w/ Stephanie Renée Payne, P.T. McNiff, & Sarah Orem

In Episode 37, we reflect on the fall semester–and this tumultuous year–with USC Writing Program faculty members Stephanie Renée Payne, P.T. McNiff, and Sarah Orem. We discuss the unveiling power of 2020, the new approaches we’ll carry forward in our teaching, and the importance of self-care and rest.

Stephanie Renée Payne teaches writing in both the freshman and advanced writing seminars at the University of Southern California. Payne’s special topics include experiential and collaborative learning using the city of Los Angeles as an extended campus in her Food & Culture course in the Advanced Writing seminar. Payne’s aim in collaborative and experiential learning is to foster within her students a consideration of the self, the intersection of self with the other, and the self and the other within multiple environments to produce thoughtful, rich, and probing writing that is relevant in a 21st century context. Payne writes non-fiction and fiction. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals and commercial print publications. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Dr. Sarah Orem is a scholar doing research at the intersection of disability, gender, and race in 20/21st C American literature and performance. Dr. Orem’s writing appears in Modern DramaThe Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability StudiesAfrican American Review, and Women & Performance, among other venues. She holds a PhD in English from the University of Texas at Austin and an MA in Performance Studies from NYU. From 2016-2019 she was a postdoctoral fellow in American Studies at Smith College, where she designed and taught some of the first disability studies courses ever to be offered on campus. After completing a Mellon/Sawyer postdoctoral fellowship in the Humanities Center at the University of California, Irvine, Orem joined the Writing Program at USC, where she currently teaches.

P.T. McNiff is an Associate Professor in the Writing Program at the University of Southern California. He received a masters in fiction writing from USC and a bachelors in English & Communication from the University of Pennsylvania. He has been teaching both first-year and advanced writing for over a decade; for the last five years, he has also co-taught a summer workshop in creative writing for high school students. In addition, he has served on numerous faculty governance committees at the program, college, and university levels. He writes fiction, non-fiction, and overly long text messages.

People and Texts Mentioned in the Episode

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“A lot of the questions I see people wrestling with are questions that the disability community has been wrestling with for years.” -@s_orem

“I want to call this the year of equity and the year of unveiling…As a population, we’re different because we’ve had to look at ourselves differently and we’ve had to look at the world differently” -Stephanie Renée Payne

“I think there’s real hope…that in the push to get back to ‘normal,’ that it isn’t back to the ‘normal’ it was originally.” @ptmcniff

“Please, let’s not go back to normal. Let’s be better.” -Stephanie Renée Payne

“As frontline workers, we see that our students see, and we have to reflect that back to our administration…It’s a big boat to turn, but the students, they make that possible.” -Stephanie Renée Payne

“This moment requires us to expand and to see our students and to meet them where they are. I think that’s the mission.” -Stephanie Renée Payne

“I am borderline fascinated that there are people who still have energy to care about stuff like deadlines.” @ptmcniff

“I feel like the pushback on what we all agree is this sort of reassessing–realigning how we’re doing this–is that it’s gonna somehow inevitably lead to a lowering of standards, and that’s such a false dichotomy.” @ptmcniff

“So many things have happened that have exposed the flaws in this country and exposed the flaws in this world, but I do think that we’re being asked to be better. We’re being asked to be better for ourselves, and we’re being asked to be better for our students.” -Stephanie Renée Payne 

“We have students that are so smart and who are so ready to improve things and ready to change the world.” @ptmcniff

“These Writing 150s, these Writing 340s…seem to be meaningful for the students because it was one of the few places where there was discussion, there was conversation, there was a professor knowing their name and getting to know them.” -@s_orem

“Let’s decouple our traditions and our expectation of what’s supposed to happen from what we actually do and what’s actually possible and think about what’s possible and how we can improve things.” @ptmcniff

“Audre Lorde says that taking care of yourself is a radical act.” -@s_orem

“I frequently found myself telling my students…perfect is the enemy of the done.” -@s_orem

This episode was recorded on November 30. Because we recorded via Zoom, there may be occasional audio hiccups. Our theme song is “4 am” by Makaih Beats. You can subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher and follow us on Twitter @WritingRemixPod.

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