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Writer pioneers unconventional approach and stirs academia

He didn’t like being bound by what had always been, so he did it his own way. And it worked. Victor Villanueva, Edward R. Meyer distinguished professor of English and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, has another honor to add to his list: 2005 recipient of the Sahlin Faculty Excellence Award for Research, Scholarship and the Arts. It recognizes major research or a creative contribution completed at WSU.

Growing up a minority in poverty-stricken Brooklyn, Villanueva shaped a different set of perspectives than many college professors.

“What sets me apart (from other academics) is that I have a set of experiences that others do not,” said Villanueva. “I have a way of seeing things in unconventional ways, and that translates into my writing.”

Villanueva has published five books and has another five under contract. He has written more than 40 articles and delivered more than 60 keynote addresses around the country.

He has received widespread acclaim for his award-winning book, “Bootstraps: From an American Academic of Color.” The book explores how cultural and social factors help influence language, rhetoric, literacy and belief systems. It has become a classic in its field.

“This book is a brilliant collage of memoir, critical theory and educational praxis,” said Keith Gilyard, professor of English at Penn State University. “It created an enormous stir in rhetoric and composition circles and quickly became a pivotal text in deliberations about language, ethnicity and identity.”

“I had to write about this stuff in a way I would hope would be compelling,” Villanueva said. “…something that would suck people into reading, something that will grab folks as they read it.”

It is this style that has catapulted Villanueva into the spotlight. Writing about a sensitive subject, racism, so people will listen to you and not simply bounce back in a defensive manner is no small feat.

“He provides active, interested mentoring for all students, especially for those of color within the department,” said George Kennedy, WSU chair of English. “He’s tremendously approachable and knowledgeable. Victor is never too busy to help out.”

In the end, Villanueva remains humble about his contributions to the literary community: “I ended up being more of a pioneer than I ever intended to be.”

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