Eric Roberts refuses to have a computer at home, he has vowed, in an almost religious sense, never to watch television, mulls over writing ideas on long walks, and he even confesses to "Luddite urges." Certainly, Prof. Roberts dispelled any of the lingering stereotypes about computer scientists that I may have harbored. He loves and values books, his home is filled with them, and he does not think they will be supplanted by the computer any time soon. It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that Prof. Roberts cares deeply about writing, particularly as a means for non-specialists to enter into the way computer scientists think. "I actually think that that's in some sense the most important thing I do," he says. "I've told people that, I think, in my role as faculty, I'm a teacher, and that's of course central, but I have to think of myself as a writer because you have a multiplier effect on getting those ideas out that's far greater than it can be in the classroom."
He is deeply committed to the writing process, and he believes that textbooks have a crucial role to play in the learning process: "When I see people with all sorts of colored tab along the side of [my] book and enormous amounts of highlighting, I know that there's an advantage of having that physical manifestation of a book." In this conversation, he describes the process of writing textbooks: how he develops proposals, draws from classroom experiences, accumulates literary, artistic and other references so as to interest a broad audience, evaluates reviewers' insights, and learns from field tests. Being inclusive is important to him, so he has developed strategies for how to write without using gendered pronouns. He describes how critical responses are so crucial to the writing and revision process, so much so that he chuckles, "All red marks are in some sense a gift from God." He puts his mouth where his red pencil is: he always offers students the opportunity to revise their papers.
Thursday, November 21, 2002, 7 p.m.
Stanford Writing Center, Basement of Margaret Jacks Hall (Bldg. 460)