Conversations about Genre, part 1

How university students in Cali, Colombia joined me in talking about genre

Amy J. Devitt, Ph.D.
3 min readMay 7, 2021
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

This series, Conversations about Genre, tells the tale of 26 students and their teacher from the Universidad del Valle in Cali, Colombia, who explored and critiqued the idea of written genres and invited me to join the conversation with them.

Through a set of emails and letters, these current university students and future teachers discussed what it means to be taught to write according to expected conventions, and what it can mean to think of genre not as “rigid and pure” but as dynamic and changeable, something each of them helps create. They also explore how difficult it can be to try to vary from genre expectations, even as they try to do so themselves. Their letters to me followed their studying of one article I had published in 1993, “Generalizing about Genre: New Conceptions of an Old Concept.” If you want that background to their letters, you might want to read the article itself (here is an alternate link to that article, in case international restrictions limit one or the other).

After weeks of email and letter exchanges, I sent my own response to their letters, included at the end of this series. In answering their questions, I reflected on my decades of studying and teaching genre, and I made some new personal discoveries.

The students’ letters were so thoughtful and informed, the whole exchange so rich in ideas, that I wanted to share them with others. Thanks to these students’ generosity in granting permission — and their teacher’s hard work — I am able to publish all six of their collaboratively composed letters in the following 7 parts, beginning with the teacher’s initial invitation to me. Part 9 of this series is the letter I wrote in response to their questions.

I wanted to publish this conversation not only because of the wealth of ideas about genre that we discuss but also because of the wealth of human connection this exchange displays. The students displayed warmth and humor and interest in me as a person behind their scholarly reading. I hoped to show in my response just how much I respected and valued them as not only thinkers and future teachers but also as human beings.

Academic publishing, scholarly articles, can seem removed and can create distance between writer and readers. That’s part of what that genre instills in us. Exchanges like this conversation through letters can change that relationship. I hope you enjoy this cross-country conversation and come to appreciate, as I do, these smart, engaged, and lively students and their teacher.

On to part 2, in which an innovative teacher sends an invitation. Parts 3 through 8 include each of the students’ letters, including an audio letter in Part 7 and a video letter in Part 8. Part 9 is my response to the students, answering their questions and reflecting on what I think about genre today.

This series, while including my comments in italics, is a collaborative effort among the following authors (in order of their parts in this series):

Part 2

Julián Felipe Ávila Aguilar

Part 3

Sara Campos Avila

Juan Diego Matta Solarte

Carol Gamboa Ibarguen

Fanny Ortiz Paz

Leidy Hurtado Salazar

Part 4

Alejandra Charry Torres

Melany Cortés Mera

Jazmin Lugo Quiñones

Jhoana Hincapié

Part 5

Ángela Johana Quiroz Mejía

Favián Andrés Suárez T

Daniela Sánchez Chacón

Miguel Angel Audor Arbelaez

Part 6

Maria Paula Grajales

Pau Hurtado Tulande

Leyla Mejía Rincón

Valentina Chagüendo López

Part 7

Faubricio Trullo Ortega

Maria Stephannie Salazar

Andres Felipe Salas A.

Dick Morales Pulido

Luisa Fernanda Lugo Filigrana

Part 8

Valentina Ruiz Rodriguez

Jhoan Sebastian Camargo Marin

Sandra Milena Tapie

Valentina Zapata Villano

Part 9

Amy J Devitt



Amy J. Devitt, Ph.D.

Writer, teacher, researcher, optimist. I explore language & everyday genres to help people see & choose the language & genres they use.