Holding on to Literacies: Older Adult Narratives of Literacy and Agency


  • Suzanne Kesler Rumsey Purdue University Fort Wayne




older adult literacy, aging, age, alienation, heritage literacy, aging well


Based on descriptive narratives of older, homebound adults, this article articulates how holding on to literacies is a vital part of staying engaged as an older adult. It traces a parallel between the idea of aging and literacy development. Employing the concept of heritage literacy—the decision-making processes individuals use regarding whether to adopt, adapt, or alienate various literacies and technologies over time—the article theorizes more extensively the heritage literacy practice of alienation. Alienation from literacies becomes a particularly important part of our understanding of literacy development in light of widespread experiences of aging, such as when physical health, mental health and acuity, social connection, spiritual health, or maintaining independence are challenged because of age. By examining how literacy is employed in agentive and nuanced ways in the lives of homebound adults, the article shows the impact that literacy has on aging and the impact that aging has on understandings of literacy throughout the life course.

Author Biography

Suzanne Kesler Rumsey, Purdue University Fort Wayne

Suzanne Kesler Rumsey is an Associate Professor in the Department of English & Linguistics at Purdue Fort Wayne. Her research focuses on generational literacies, the literate practices of older adults, family history and archival writing, and service learning.  Her work has appeared in College Composition and CommunicationJournal of Literacy and Technology, Literacy, Community Literacy Journal, and Community Works Journal. She teaches courses in technical writing, multimedia, family history research and writing, and freshman composition.




How to Cite

Kesler Rumsey, S. (2018). Holding on to Literacies: Older Adult Narratives of Literacy and Agency. Literacy in Composition Studies, 6(1), 81–104. https://doi.org/10.21623/