National Council of Teachers of English Logo

Taste for Language, A: Literacy, Class, and English Studies

Non-Member Price: $34.99

NCTE Member Price: $27.96

Author(s): James Watkins

In this rich combination of biography, autobiography, and critical analysis, James Ray Watkins Jr. questions what purpose an education in English language and literature serves.

Level(s): College

ISBN/ISSN: 9780809329311

Stock No.: 49960


Listen to a recent interview with author James Ray Watkins Jr!

“This is a book about the American Dream as it has become embodied in the university in general and in the English department in particular,” writes James Ray Watkins at the start of A Taste for Language: Literacy, Class, and English Studies. In it, Watkins argues that contemporary economic and political challenges require a clear understanding of the identity of English studies, making elementary questions about literacy, language, literature, education, and class once again imperative.  


A personal history of university-level English studies in the twentieth century, A Taste for Language combines biography, autobiography, and critical analysis to explore the central role of first-year English and literary studies in the creation and maintenance of the middle class. It tells a multigenerational story of the author and his father, intertwined with close reading of texts and historical analysis. The story moves from depression-era Mississippi, where the author's father was born, to a contemporary English department, where the author now teaches.

Watkins looks at not only textbooks, scholars, and the academy but also at families and other social institutions. A rich combination of biography, autobiography, and critical analysis, A Taste for Language questions what purpose an education in English language and literature serves in the lives of the educated in a class-based society and whether English studies has become wholly irrelevant in the twenty-first century.

James Ray Watkins Jr. is an online educator for the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and Colorado Technical University. He is the moderator of the online journal Writing in the Wild.

Studies in Writing & Rhetoric (SWR) series. 181 pp. 2009. College. NCTE/CCCC and Southern Illinois University Press.

No. 49960

“Compelling and often luminous, this daring account of the predicament of contemporary English departments blends autobiography and discourse analysis. Watkins deftly navigates the most fractured ground in English today: class, cultural capital, and the churning rift between composition, literature, and cultural studies.”—Marc Bousquet, author of How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation


“In A Taste for Language, Watkins uses the personal trajectory of a father and son to explore the dynamics that have shaped the relationship between education and class mobility over the past forty years. Acutely attuned to the conflicted nature of such upward mobility, Watkins theorizes a democratic vision of English studies—a democracy of letters that balances labor equity, everyday skills, and aesthetic insights. It is a vision singular in its attempt to understand the needs of working-class students and collective in its call for disciplinary reform.”—Steve Parks, Syracuse University

Learn More

* Sample files are typically provided in PDF format and can be opened using the free Adobe® Reader® program or a comparable viewer. Click here to download and install the most recent version of Adobe Reader.

Document and Site Resources

Share This On:

Page Tools:

Join NCTE Today

Your Shopping Cart

Total Items: 0
Total Cost: $0.00
View My Cart

Search the Online Store

We accept Visa, Mastercard, and Discover
Please contact customer service directly if you wish to pay by American Express


Copyright © 1998-2019 National Council of Teachers of English. All rights reserved in all media.

1111 W. Kenyon Road, Urbana, Illinois 61801-1096 Phone: 217-328-3870 or 877-369-6283

Looking for information? Browse our FAQs, tour our sitemap and store sitemap, or contact NCTE

Read our Privacy Policy Statement and Links Policy. Use of this site signifies your agreement to the Terms of Use

Visit us on:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Linked In
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram

Document URL

Document Owner

Organization Name

NCTE - The National Council of Teachers Of English

A Professional Association of Educators in English Studies, Literacy, and Language Arts