Root, Robert L., Jr.

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Root, Robert L., Jr.


Education: State University of New York College at Geneseo, B.A., 1966; University of Iowa, M.A., 1971, Ph.D., 1975.


Home—Lafayette, CO. E-mail—[email protected].


Westinghouse Learning Corp., Iowa City, IA, writer; Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, MI, professor of English, 1976-2004; writer, 2004—.


Article award, Minnesota Council of Teachers of English, for "Assiduous String-Savers: The Idea-Generating Strategies of Professional Expository Writers," Minnesota English Journal; Charles Carpenter Fries Award for Distinguished Service to the Profession, Michigan Council of Teachers of English, 1988; Excellence in Interpretive Media Award for best general book, National Park Service Cooperating Association, 2002, for The Island within Us: Artists-in-Residence on Isle Royale, 1991-1998; Donald Murray Prize for Best Essay on Teaching, Conference on College Composition and Communication, 2006.


Thomas Southerne, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1981.

The Rhetorics of Popular Culture: Advertising, Advocacy, and Entertainment, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1987.

Working at Writing: Columnists and Critics Composing, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 1991.

Wordsmithery: A Guide to Working at Writing, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1994, 2nd edition, Allyn & Bacon (Boston, MA), 1998.

(Editor) Critical Essays on E.B. White, G.K. Hall (New York, NY), 1994.

(Editor, with Michael Steinberg) Those Who Do, Can: Teachers Writing, Writers Teaching; A Sourcebook, National Council of Teachers of English (Urbana, IL), 1996.

"Time by Moments Steals Away": The 1948 Journal of Ruth Douglass, Wayne State University Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.

(Editor, with Michael Steinberg) The Fourth Genre: Contemporary Writers of/on Creative Nonfiction, Allyn & Bacon (Boston, MA), 1999, 4th edition, Longman (New York, NY), 2007.

E.B. White: The Emergence of an Essayist, University of Iowa Press (Iowa City, IA), 1999.

(Editor, with Jill Burkland) The Island within Us: Artists-in-Residence on Isle Royale, 1991-1998, Isle Royale Natural History Association (Houghton, MI), 2000.

(Editor, with Jill Burkland) Elling A. Seglem, Diaries of an Isle Royale Fisherman, Isle Royale Natural History Association (Houghton, MI), 2002.

Recovering Ruth: A Biographer's Tale, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2003.

(Editor) Landscapes with Figures: The Nonfiction of Place, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2007.

(Editor) Nonfictionist's Guide: On Reading and Writing Creative Nonfiction, Rowman & Littlefield (Lanham, MD), 2007.

Contributor to books, including Peninsula: Essays and Memoirs from Michigan, Michigan State University Press (East Lansing, MI). Writer of essays for Michigan Public Radio. Contributor to journals, including English Journal, North Dakota Quarterly, Writing on the Edge, Ecotone, and Journal of Teaching Writing. Member of editorial advisory board, interview and round table editor, and reviewer for Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction.


Robert L. Root Jr. is the author of Thomas Southerne. Seventeenth-Century News reviewer William J. Burling wrote that Root's study "provides a perfect occasion … to review past work and to suggest some new possibilities concerning this playwright, who, along with Dryden, Banks, Lee, and Otway, was one of the most important of the late-seventeenth century dramatists." For each of ten plays Root offers summaries of themes, language, characterization, and critical responses. Burling said that "he claims he is offering a ‘thorough reappraisal of Southerne's accomplishments and of his place in Restoration drama,’ but what he actually delivers is a sane but very safe mechanical summarizing of extant criticism (when available). Root is at best on those plays where criticism is sparse or nonexistent (as for Money the Mistress), and he is free from the ‘burden’ or the ‘anxiety of influence.’" Burling called Thomas Southerne a "well written little study."

The Rhetorics of Popular Culture: Advertising, Advocacy, and Entertainment contains nine chapters with study guides useful to students of English, sociology, and communications. Root presents examples that focus on the verbal, written, and visual aspects of rhetoric within each of the areas referenced in the subtitle in explaining rhetoric as a methodological tool.

Root and Michael Steinberg wrote Those Who Do, Can: Teachers Writing, Writers Teaching: A Sourcebook based on workshops held over seven years at the Traverse Bay Writing Camp for Teachers in Michigan. The theme is that in order for teachers to teach writing, they must also write. The workshops encouraged participants to write creatively for themselves, but also in order to better understand their writing students. The book also addresses content and subject matter. In reviewing the book in English Journal Carol Jago felt samples of teachers' writings included in Those Who Do, Can will be inspirational to writers at all levels and said that "the diverse views and voices of the contributors are highly informational as well as enjoyable."

Root and Steinberg also collaborated on The Fourth Genre: Contemporary Writers of/on Creative Nonfiction. Part I is an anthology of work by major writers of nonfiction and includes essays, journalism, and memoirs. Part II is a discussion of the issues and forms of the fourth genre. In the third part, authors explain the processes by which they composed their companion articles. Contributors include Anne Dillard, Tracy Kidder, Scott Russell Sanders, Phillip Lopate, Mary Clearman Blew, and Patricia Hampl.

Root's studies of writers' creative processes includes interviews with nonfiction writers such as Scott Russell Sanders and Kim Barnes and the book Working at Writing: Columnists and Critics Composing. His textbook Wordsmithery: A Guide to Working at Writing grew out of his study of working writers. In E.B. White: The Emergence of an Essayist Root traces the career of once of the foremost essayists of the twentieth century. White was known for his "writing by ear" and "writing a thing first and thinking about it afterward." Root divides White's career into four periods. The first period covers the beginning of White's career and the twelve years, until 1938, that he wrote for the New Yorker. He then became a columnist for Harper's, where in his column One Man's Meat his most notable essays appeared, including "Once More to the Lake." White wrote for Harper's until 1943. He then returned to the New Yorker, where he wrote the "Notes and Comments" section until his retirement in 1957. During this period he also wrote Charlotte's Web. After his retirement to Maine, White revised The Elements of Style, written by his former teacher, William Strunk. Root includes tables of White's work from 1926 to 1976. He notes that White was influenced by the writings of Don Marquis, Christopher Morley, James Thurber, and Henry Thoreau and examines White's essays, which combine journalistic and literary styles. A Publishers Weekly reviewer said Root "trains his eyes on the nuts and bolts of White's paragraphs and publications." Choice reviewer J.J. Wy- deven said E.B. White is "often funny, with choice quotes." Antioch Review critic Kathleen Wildman called the book "a fascinating journey into the mind of the master," and found it "thought provoking about the emergence of the twentieth-century essay."

Root told CA: "As interview/roundtable editor for the nonfiction journal Fourth Genre: Explorations in Non-fiction, I moderated a series of roundtable discussions with panels of writers on such themes as travel in nonfiction, research in nonfiction, and place in nonfiction. Out of this last roundtable grew an anthology, Landscapes with Figures: The Nonfiction of Place, which reprints selections by a number of essayists, memoirists, travel writers, and nature writers, and appends to them commentary by each writer about the role of place in the writing in general and in these contributions in particular."

In studying nonfiction writers, Root has discovered his own need to write essays and memoirs. He told CA: "My first book-length work of creative nonfiction, Recovering Ruth: A Biographer's Tale, recounts my efforts to retrace and traces and recapture the identity of a woman whose diary manuscript I transcribed, edited, and published as "Time by Moments Steals Away": The 1948 Journal of Ruth Douglass.

"In 2004 I retired from full-time teaching, though I still travel to colleges and universities as a visiting writer and nonfiction scholar, and occasionally I teach writing workshops. I began writing creative nonfiction full time, pursuing such projects as a family memoir and a work of lyrical meditation on the Hudson and Rhine rivers, and completing After Isabella: A Flatlander on the Front Range, a narrative following the trail of nineteenth-century travel writer Isabella Bird around Colorado.

"If I look back over the academic and literary books I've authored and edited, as well as over a host of professional articles, conference presentations, and personal essays, I feel a little like a flibbergibbet, someone who, in Robert Frost's words, ‘lived for turning to fresh tasks.’ The thread that runs through all that work is my interest in the subject, the willingness to follow through on my curiosity about a Restoration dramatist, the rhetorical elements of media, the ways writers work. As a child and an adolescent, an undergraduate and a graduate student, I wrote in all kinds of forms—I've had a writer's interest in writing all along.

But for forty years I've also had a teacher's interest in how it's done and how it can be done better. These two strands have braided together nicely.

"I've talked about my writing process in a couple of places: ‘Collage, Montage, Mosaic, Vignette, Episode, Segment’ in the anthology The Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction; ‘A Double Life’ in the journal Writing on the Edge; and as a strand running through Recovering Ruth.I like talking to writers about writing, and The Nonfictionist's Guide: On Reading and Writing Creative Nonfiction is a book generated by talks on writing I've given over the years.

"My influences are many, though I mostly acknowledge Henry David Thoreau, E.B. White, and Benny Hill. I also admire and learn from writers like Annie Dillard, Patricia Hampl, John McPhee, Scott Sanders, Reg Saner, and a host of other nonfiction writers. Every book or essay has to find its own structure, its own essence, and that's the challenge to the writer, but if you're willing to listen to the writing, you can learn a lot about yourself and your world by trying to write it. That's what keeps me at it."



Antioch Review, spring, 2000, Kathleen Wildman, review of Critical Essays on E.B. White.

Biography, summer, 2004, Susan Friedman, review of Recovering Ruth: A Biographer's Tale, pp. 617-619.

Choice, September, 1994, C.G. Masinton, review of E.B. White: The Emergency of an Essayist, p. 102; November, 1999, J.J. Wydeven, review of E.B. White, p. 541.

Communications and the Law, March, 1989, Andrew J. Cowin, review of The Rhetorics of Popular Culture: Advertising, Advocacy, and Entertainment, pp. 73-76.

English Journal, December, 1996, Carol Jago, review of Those Who Do, Can: Teachers Writing, Writers Teaching; A Sourcebook, p. 107.

Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction, spring, 2000, Charles Anderson, review of E.B. White, pp. 218-221; spring, 2004, Jocelyn Bartkevicius, review of Recovering Ruth, pp. 117-120.

Journal of Communication, spring, 1989, Arthur Asa Berger, review of The Rhetorics of Popular Culture, p. 182.

Library Journal, March 15, 2007, Stacey Rae Brownlie, review of Landscapes with Figures: The Nonfiction of Place, p. 2.

North Dakota Quarterly, fall, 2007, Diane Drake, review of Recovering Ruth, pp. 175-176.

Publishers Weekly, March 15, 1999, review of E.B. White, p. 40.

Quarterly Journal of Speech, February, 1988, Kathleen J. Turner, review of Rhetorics of Popular Culture, p. 122.

Seventeenth Century News, winter, 1983, William J. Burling, review of Thomas Southerne, pp. 73-74.

Times Literary Supplement, February 18, 1999, David Brooks, review of E.B. White, p. 26.


Robert Root Home Page, (July 14, 2007).