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Rhetorically Speaking: A New PWR Podcast

three people producing a podcast
Photo by Christine Alfano of Cassie Wright, Jenae Cohn, and Jake Warga getting ready to record an interview for Episode 1.

By Jenae Cohn

Here in PWR, we are experts at writing and speaking about what rhetoric is and why it matters for our students. But what might happen if we take those conversations about rhetoric and writing and communicate them in the form of a podcast?

A group of PWR people have been working to answer that question over the course of this academic year. “Rhetorically Speaking” is PWR’s podcast on “how and why rhetoric matters” today. Inspired by the proliferation of podcasting as a form of sharing scholarship in forms accessible to listeners both within and outside of the academy, Dr. Cassie Wright started this podcasting project with the support of a PWR research grant. She saw beginning a podcast here within PWR as an opportunity for thinkers in our program interested in contributing to the scholarly audio ecosystem.

“I noticed a rise in podcasting as a form of public scholarship, here at Stanford particularly, and in rhet-comp generally” says Cassie Wright. “Also, sonic studies are experiencing a moment in rhet-comp,” she notes. Cassie “wanted to see if PWR could join this effort, highlight smart work its lecturers and others in the field are doing, and make rhetoric and composition more accessible and engaging to a wider public audience.”

Cassie has joined with Jenne Stonaker, Jake Warga, Jenae Cohn, and Christine Alfano to develop, produce, and distribute episodes for the podcast’s first season. Each episode includes three parts: “In the World,” “On the Page,” and “In the Class.” The “In the World” segments explore how the topic for the episode can be understood in current events or in the “world” outside of academia. “On the Page,” narrows it scope, interviewing a scholar on how their recent work connects to the episode’s theme. Finally, “In the Class” highlights student perspectives and research, ranging from a student mini-podcast to a student interview.

The podcast team meets at least once weekly to work on this ongoing project. Any given week, you might find the team huddled together on a Wednesday morning, brainstorming new themes, storyboarding episodes, strategizing process, troubleshooting production issues, or even recording brief segments. “I find working on the podcast to be both exciting and intimidating,” Christine shared.  “It’s like being a student again -- learning new technologies and modes of composition. I’m definitely not in my comfort zone. But that’s also what’s great about it. I think we all find it extremely gratifying to stretch ourselves as writers, composers, and thinkers. Talking about rhetoric, about possible topics, and how to transform hours of audio into powerful, succinct episodes … our weekly meetings are incredibly generative and inspiring. And the episodes themselves are wonderful.”

Four episodes have been released so far: the first, “Keeping Out Grendel,” tackles the rhetorics of language diversity and features an interview with Dr. Laura Gonzales of the University of Texas, El Paso. Cassie and Jenae conducted the interview and produced the first episode.

Episode Two, “Trump That,” and Episode Three, “A Tale of Two Demagogues,” both consider what demagogic rhetoric looks like. Episode Two, “Trump That” includes an interview with Dr. Patricia Roberts-Miller at University of Texas, Austin, while Episode Three, “A Tale of Two Demagogues,” includes an interview with Dr. Ryan Skinnell of San Jose State University and Dr. Jennifer Mercieca of Texas A&M University. Chris Kamrath contributed to co-hosting episodes Two and Three with Cassie.

Jenne and Jake produced Episode Four, "Shaking Complacency," which considers environmental rhetoric and how we talk about climate change. Jenne interviews our very own Dr. Emily Polk and former PWR fellow Dr. Lauren Oakes about Lauren’s recent book, In Search of the Canary Tree, and engages in a conversation about sustaining faith for humanity in uncertain environmental times. Several smaller minisodes will help round out Season 1 over the summer, including a Season 1 recap with the whole RS team.

What “Season 2” of “Rhetorically Speaking” will look like for next year remains in development, but the team is exploring a wide range of new topics, and is looking forward to conducting more interviews with scholars engaged in rhetorical inquiry.

You can tune into Rhetorically Speaking on our website ( or by subscribing via our RSS feed. You can also find Rhetorically Speaking on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever else you listen to podcasts!

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