Conversations about Genre, part 6

A letter from Leyla, Maria Paula, Pau and Valentina

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

In this letter, the students reveal the struggle that all of us have with trying to reconceive of genre. And they were reading some tough stuff! Then they tell the tale of trying to write their letter in a different genre, as a comic, discovering that (as they so vividly say) the effort would “savagely slap us.” How do you keep from following a template?

Leyla Mejia, Maria Grajales, Valentina Chaguendo Lopez & Pau HurtadoDepartment of Foreign Languages and CulturesUniversidad Del ValleMarch 12th 2021

Dear Ms. Devitt,
We are Leyla, Maria Paula, Pau and Valentina. We are currently studying to get our bachelor’s degree in Foreing Languages (English and French). One day, our English professor started with us a process of understanding some concepts that have a close relationship between them: discourse, active subjectivity, genre, among others. For that reason, you appeared in our lives.
While we were reading and discussing your research paper: “Generalizing about Genre: New Conceptions of an Old Concept,” we found something in common among three of us: we certainly struggled in high school with the concept of genre. In college we realized that those definitions were not enough and left too much room for doubts. Even before reading your study, some of us were a little confused about what genre actually was, we thought it was only about classifying texts depending on their structure or depending on their content, we had a narrow meaning of all the aspects the concept of genre might imply. The objective of this letter is to tell you how our process is going, not only limiting it to the academic part, but also taking into account the whole experience. Therefore, after reading authors like Michel Foucault and David Bleich, reading you was like putting the cherry on the top of the cake. Your study has helped us to understand better and make the right connection between each concept that we have learned so far.

We want to tell you about our experience in understanding this new conception of genre, now knowing that building a genre implies much more than just following a scheme and starting to write. This concept goes beyond that, is constantly changing and is dynamic, knowing that as we write our environment and concept of genre change simultaneously by “constructing and responding to situations,” depending on the need of the social context. Thus, we want to follow what you stated and challenge the conceived idea that we have of a letter. From the very first moment we knew that we had to write something to you, we did a lot of meeting discussions looking for the best option to express our ideas. We wanted to mold the genre, we thought it
would be more appealing and less boring if we made an interesting comic. But here we are redefining genre and getting hit by it. As we have been constrained by the social rules of genre, and we were so used to them, we didn’t know how to respond to this whole new situation.

While we were struggling we wondered how you even got to this whole conceptualization on genre? Did you struggle as much as we did? Because we were — and are — while writing this letter, trying our best to blur some of those genre’s schemes, but we are facing this dilemma between being misunderstood and showing our conception of a genre or just following a template and taking the risk of losing our essence as writers.

We started by fragmenting what we wanted to do, from an atomistic way. We were writing a regular letter format which later would be transformed into a comic, but we didn’t really know how to proceed. We wanted to know during your years as a student what was the most difficult genre for you to implement? In our case, we wanted to adapt and/or modify the common
conception of the writing process and really interact with the text and you face to face, despite the fact you weren’t with us. Through this analysis and interaction we found that the role the situation, the person involved within it, and language play in the communicative event makes the social configuration, then genre is solidified. We thought that by deconstructing every idea we could get more involved in the adventure, we felt capable to look for other explanations and finally understand how genre can act, the implications and the implementations that itself can cover.

Little did we know that our project and our way to approach the concept were going to savagely slap us. Our writing process was like the movie “Inception” as our professor said, we were overwriting ideas and having an internal battle with our concepts. We had them clear but our assimilation within the text was not working, we did not consider viewing the whole panorama in a holistic way, and that was the reason why we struggled. We are well aware that genre and situation have a close relationship, because one determines the other. Furthermore, inside the situation we have discourse which is a manifestation of genre. In other words; they complete each other.

On one hand, we learned genre does not only classify texts, but helps us to establish and shape our relationships with each other, more widely, with the world around us. On the other hand, genre adapts and develops itself within the social context. Therefore we have the power to create its meaning and nature of being. How do you consider that nowadays we should change a
little bit the way to create, share and negotiate meanings? We want to take into account your point of view, because we are teachers in training who might find it influencing the way we will share our knowledge in the sense of engaging, not only our students, but also ourselves in the
learning process.

To close this chapter, we would like to admit that we got thunderstruck with these new ideas and it was really meaningful for us. This process of understanding how our spectrum or vision can be opened just by interacting, exploring and appreciating a research paper. It means we began looking at our society, its practices, culture, values, constructions of sense and meaning in a different way and simultaneously we were raising the powerful meaning of genre and its implications.

We would like to thank you for your attention, consideration, and time.

We look forward to your response to our questions.

Warm regards,

Maria Paula Grajales
Pau Hurtado Tulande
Leyla Mejía Rincón
Valentina Chagüendo López

Haven’t we all struggled against expected conventions of a genre? Figuring out how to vary effectively takes lots of practice, so I appreciated their hard work trying to make it happen. The next letters in this series change the genre by changing the medium.



Amy J. Devitt, Ph.D.

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