Tom Kerr

Tom Kerr

Associate Professor, Department of Writing
Faculty, School of Humanities and Sciences

Phone:(607) 274-3546
Office:423 Smiddy Hall
Ithaca, NY 14850


Born and raised in Denver at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, I have never so much enjoyed writing as felt driven to write, first about my own suffering, then about the suffering of others in relation to me, and finally just about the myriad forms of suffering, what Buddhists like to call life. I’ve always liked short things, short forms—poems, letters, short stories, essays, philosophical aphorisms—and have never been all that good at making things up. I admire writers who create worlds, and I have traveled far in many of them, but I am, for better or worse, confined to commenting mainly on the world I know. These two facts put me in the nonfiction camp, writing and teaching essays of all kinds, academic and otherwise. When I am not doing that, I am chatting with my 14-year-old daughter Autumn about the general concept of everything, swimming laps or riding my bike, napping, or perhaps hiking with my daughter and wife Eileen Schell anywhere, anytime, but especially in the mountains of Colorado, where my love of nature (over culture, it's true) took hold early and hard: Buddhists also talk about joy. (Eileen and I hiked to 11,000 feet, to American Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park, when she was four months pregnant with Autumn, and the three of us duplicated the hike when Autumn was 8.) My favorite lines of all time, from Theodore Roethke’s poem “The Waking”: “We think by feeling, what is there to know? / We learn by going where we have to go.” Roethke, of course, suffered famously.


  • composition and rhetoric
  • rhetorical theory
  • cultural studies
  • nonfiction


  • Ph.D. English, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 1996
  • M.A. English, University of Washington, 1984
  • B.A. English, Colorado State University, 1982

Some Publications, Papers, and Projects

  • "A Chilling Effect." Letter to the Editor, Letters, Harper's Magazine, January 2016.

  • "Writing with the Condemned: On Editing and Publishing the Work of Steve Champion." Chapter in Demands of the Dead: Executions, Storytelling, and Activism in the United States, Edited by Katy Ryan (University of Iowa Press, 2012).

  • "Trading Letters, Trading Places: One Cross-Country College-Prison Collaboration": Paper presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (Atlanta, April 2011).

  • Dead to Deliverance: A Death Row Memoir by Steve Champion, Edited with Foreword by Tom Kerr (Split Oak Press, 2010).

  • "The Question of Ethos as it Pertains to Condemned Prison Writers and the Rest of Us": Paper presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (Louisville, March 2010).

  • Review in The Journal of Teaching Writing, Winter 2009. Book reviewed: Narratives of Social Justice Teaching: How English Teachers Negotiate Theory and Practice Between Preservice and Inservice Spaces by sj Miller, Laura Bolf Beliveau, Todd DeStigter, David Kirkland, and Peggy Rice (Peter Lang Publishing, New York, 2008).

  • "Preserving Filthy Lucre, or Becoming my Dad," November 28-30, 2008. (

  • "Buried Alive on San Quentin's Death Row," September 5, 2007. (

  • "When Words Fail Fundamentally: McCain to Wounded Soldiers,", February 7, 2007. (

  • “Incorporeal Transformations: the Power of Audience for Women Writing in Prison."  Writing on the Edge 16.2(2006): 20-32.

  • “Professor Hannity Caliban on the Content of One's Character: Fox News Does Ward Churchill,”, April 10, 2006. (

  • "Prison U: How the Late Tookie Williams and Other Incarcerated Writers are Teaching Us." Invited talk: The Annual Paumanok Lecture on American Literature and Culture, Long Island University-Brooklyn Campus, March 30, 2006.

  • “If You Don't Have Power, Don't Lie: Small Fry,”, January 28/29, 2006. (

  • “Crackdown Inside San Quentin: Why are They Rounding Up Tookie Williams' Friends?”, January 21/22, 2006. (

  • "CNN's Goddess of Vengeance: What's Not to Love about Nancy Grace,", December 16, 2005.

  • "Meeting Adisa on San Quentin's Death Row." Syracuse Peace Council Newsletter, December 2005. (

  • "Open Letter to Arnold Schwarzenegger.", November 18, 2005. (

  • “Between Ivy and Razor Wire: A Case of Correctional Correspondence.” Reflections: A Journal of Writing, Service Learning and Community Literacy 4.1 (2004): 62-75.

  • “Speaking of Prisons: Why Globalization Gurus Don't”: Paper presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (New York, March 2003)

  • "Mainstream Media Favor Story of War." Syracuse Peace Council Newsletter, September 2002.

  • "The Feelings of What Happens in Departments of English." A Way to Move: Rhetorics of Emotion and Composition Studies, edited by Dale Jacobs and Laura Micciche. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook: 2002. 23-32.

  • “Shame and Academic Writing (or Writing Makes Me Sick)”: presented at the Assembly for Expanded Perspectives on Learning in Estes Park, CO (June 2002).

  • "Ways of Reading as Signifying Regime of Signs." Pedagogy. 1.3 (2001): 574-583

  • "Knowledge." Key Words in Composition Studies. Ed. Peter Vandenberg and Paul Heilker. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook-Heinemann, 1996. 136-139.

  • "Research." Key Words in Composition Studies. Ed. Peter Vandenberg and Paul Heilker. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook-Heinemann, 1996. 201-205

  • "Copping to the Inner-Con: The Role of the Enthymeme in the Growth of America's Prison Industrial Complex": Presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, Atlanta, GA (March 1999).

  • "Representations of Prison in Film and Television: Reading Miguel Piñero's Short Eyes as Antidote to COPS": presented at Critical Resistance: Beyond the Prison Industrial Complex, U.C. Berkeley, Berkeley, CA (September 1998).


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