Katie Zabrowski, Saint Louis University
Nathaniel Rivers, Saint Louis University
This video production reflects on the place(s) where mentorship and collaboration occur between doctoral student Katie and her advisor Nathaniel. Featuring both of their voices, the video moves through the spaces in which they work and collaborate, seeking to understand how those spaces’ materiality and organization affect the mentoring that emerges within them. The video takes up this inquiry through a collaborative analysis of a shared working place—a local coffee roaster specializing in pour over brewing—as a material blueprint for a particular kind of mentorship marked first and foremost by collaboration.
Featured throughout the video are reflections upon materiality from scholars working within various fields, but who all impact studies in rhetoric and composition—Katie and Nathaniel’s disciplinary home. Many of these thinkers and the lines of thought within which they work treat materiality as having rhetorical efficacy, and so too does this project credit material spaces and their aggregate parts as rhetorically impacting and shaping the human interactions that occur within and among them.
Music featured in this video:
Katie: In the early days of writing my dissertation I established a standing date with a 12 oz. coffee and a croissant. Every Friday morning I and the materials of my dissertation made our way to a local spot, Blueprint Coffee, to spend the morning drafting – word by word, sentence by sentence, section by section, and, eventually, chapter by chapter – the tallest project of my graduate career.
Nathaniel: Writers are nomads in search of a place, and a coffee shop is an oasis for such weary travelers: the right mix of hustle and bustle, sound and silence, caffeine and calorie. A place to be wired and wireless. A medium for a medium.
Katie: It was the ambience of this architecturally-themed spot that invited me to return week after week. With its drafting tables and stools, crisp white subway tiles, and smooth stainless steel counter tops, the space is a cluttered mind’s sweet retreat into organization of the most satisfying kind. What’s more, the space and its curators exude a palpable hospitality, a concept which is, coincidentally, the support beam upon which my dissertation project rests.
Nathaniel: Blueprint speaks to and through Katie’s work. It speaks to me too as Katie’s mentor, and models what I have come to recognize as my approach to mentoring. The performance of coffee resonates with the arrangement of the location. There is casual fastidiousness to the place. There is an earnestness in the effort to make coffee visible as an activity – like a building once built that still celebrates it blueprints. The operation of making coffee – cupping, roasting, brewing, and experiments across all three–is performed in public. And so my mentoring amounts to discussing blueprints, my own as well as Katie’s. My own struggles with research and writing. What I’m working on, how I am responding to reviews and other feedback. Whatever advice I brew, it’s brewing is a part of its delivery.
Katie: There is always, first, the offer of a glass of water upon placing your coffee order. Then there is the request of your name which will in turn not be written on a paper cup and exclaimed into the crowd, but spoke with a caring tone as you’re served tableside, as if in the home of a friend. As unique to this place as its address, is its hospitable treatment of the coffee beans – ground finely with a special grinder, brewed by hand with water heated to a precise and bean-friendly temperature.
At a certain point it occurred to me: this space and its materials are more than places listed in my weekly calendar but co-collaborators in the project planning and writing that emerges there. I began documenting my work in this space with Instagram pictures; pictures to which my advisor would often respond with words of encouragement. And eventually it began to happen that this space became a blueprint for our mentoring relationship, which always had been but was slowly seeing refinement as one marked first and foremost by collaboration.
Nathaniel: Writers are nomads in search of a medium. Place is a medium, and a medium can be a place. A medium makes a place by pulling together disparate elements together. Place is a mediated aggregate of actors and forces. Place is a collaborator. Blueprint opens itself up to those working with/in it. It is friendly, forthcoming. Place is a mentor. Blueprint is a place for unique forms of engagement and exchange.
Places can work with us. They can also, of course, work against us. Because a place is not some inert container it can resist as much as rewards. Place, like any collaborator, can be unreliable. Colleagues must be chosen wisely. Sometimes an oasis is a mirage.
Katie: With our explicit attention to the places in time that we chose to share, we begin to notice not only all the places in which we formally met, but also where informal collaboration occurred all the time – in the margins of what we were reading, in Instagram photos and comments, in the line-by-line notes made upon chapters under review, and in written and verbal responses to those remarks when we met to review chapters, and in our respective working spaces. Blueprint periodically stabilized this complex collection of collaborations, drawing us in with its unique, ambient qualities. With those qualities, we continually built and maintained a place for mentoring as collaborative.
The many and diverse occasions upon which our thinking became merged eventually became habitual. The spaces of our collaboration built also the shape of our mentoring relationship outside of those spaces.
About the Authors
Katie Zabrowski is a doctoral candidate with an emphasis in rhetoric and composition in the English department at Saint Louis University. Her current research articulates hospitality as the ethic upon which rhetoric operates. Engaging hospitality as both material and discursive, she works through new materialism’s implications for rhetoric and writing to propose ways in which pedagogies might be mobilized hospitably in rhetoric and composition classrooms. Her work has appeared in Kairos andenculturation. She tweets at@katethegrater.
Nathaniel A. Rivers is an Associate Professor of English at Saint Louis University. His current research addresses new materialism’s impact on public rhetorics such as environmentalism and urban design. Together with Paul Lynch, he edited Thinking with Bruno Latour in Rhetoric and Composition (SIUP 2015), which explores the impact of Bruno Latour on rhetorical theory, composition pedagogy, and research methodologies across both. His work has appeared in journals such as College Composition and Communication, Kairos,Technical Communication Quarterly, enculturation,Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, and Rhetoric Review. He tweets at@sophist_monster.