The Extraordinary Work of Ordinary Writing

The Extraordinary Work of Ordinary Writing

Annie Ray's Diary

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254 pages, 3 b&w photos, references, index
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“Jennifer Sinor articulates complex and intriguing arguments about the 'making of ordinary writing' in a style that is both imminently accessible and yet far from ‘ordinary.’The strategies Sinor employs to draw the reader toward an understanding of one text, her great-great-great-aunt's diary, and thus on to a more sophisticated appreciation of a much larger range of ordinary if often ephemeral pieces of writing, are unconventional and convincing.”—Margaret Brady, University of Utah

“. . . this is quite simply a beautifully written book, powerful and lyrical, the kind of book one reads not to rest easy but to trouble received categories and definitions.”—Kathryn T. Flannery, University of Pittsburgh

“. . . intimate and intriguing examination of the type of journal usually intended for, and valued solely by, its writer. . . . This unconventional approach to an everyday account should be especially valued by anyone who appreciates a fresh and revealing perspective on the ostensibly commonplace and mundane.”—Virginia Quarterly Review

Exciting and beautifully crafted, The Extraordinary Work of Ordinary Writing provides an entirely new way of viewing “ordinary writing,” the everyday writing we typically ignore or dismiss. It takes as its center the diary of Jennifer Sinor's great-great-great-aunt Annie Ray, a woman who homesteaded in the Dakotas in the late nineteenth century. Diaries such as this have long been ignored by scholars, who prefer instead to focus on diaries with literary features. Reading diaries through this lens gives privileged status to those that are coherently crafted and ignores the very diaries that define the form through their relentless inscription of dailiness.

Annie Ray’s diary is not literary. By considering her ordinary writing as a site of complex and strategic negotiations among the writer, the form of writing, and dominant cultural scripts, Sinor makes visible the extraordinary work of the ordinary writer and the sophistication of these texts. In providing a way to read diaries outside the limits and conventions of literature, she challenges our approaches to other texts as well. Furthermore, because ordinary writing is not crafted for aesthetic reception (in contrast to autobiography proper, memoirs, and literary diaries), it is a productive site for investigating how both writing and culture get made every day.

The book is truly original in its form: nontraditional, storied, creative. Sinor, an accomplished creative writer, includes her own memories as extended metaphors in partnership with critical texts along with excerpts from her aunt's diary. The Extraordinary Work of Ordinary Writing will be a fascinating text for students of creative writing as well as of women's studies and diaries.