Bouncing Back: Resilience and Its Limits in Late-Age Composing


  • Louise Wetherbee Phelps Old Dominion University


aging literacy, late-age composing, resilience, lifespan writing, ecological lens, visualization


This essay is one of a series on my mother’s late-age composing, studying a writing project she started at age 70 and worked on for more than 25 years. Her intention was to integrate extensive reading, personal experience, and cultural observations to explain changes in parenting (and, by extension, education and enculturation of the next generation) from her childhood in the 1920s through the 2000s.When she died at 97, she left behind a 75-page draft, but was unable to complete her plans for revisions and an ending. I focus here on identifying the multiple factors in the ecology of her aging literacy that interacted to interrupt, slow down, and ultimately prevent her from finishing the essay. By studying her artifacts and documenting stresses on her literacy system (defined as body/mind/environment), I constructed timelines for her aging literacy and composing, expressed in visualizations. These demonstrate a pattern of persistence and resilience, “bouncing back” from setbacks, but at progressively lower levels until she reaches the limits of her literacy system in late old age.


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How to Cite

Phelps, L. W. (2023). Bouncing Back: Resilience and Its Limits in Late-Age Composing. Literacy in Composition Studies, 10(2), 1–37. Retrieved from