In publication since March 1972, Composition Studies holds the distinction of being the oldest independent journal in its field. Originally published under the name Freshman English News (FEN), the journal began as an alternative to other affiliated scholarly publications such as College Composition and Communication and College English. Director of Texas Christian University’s writing program, Gary Tate, founded the newsletter as a forum for teachers of English at two-year and four-year colleges to share “news” about their experiences teaching the first-year course.  In the inaugural issue, pasted together on his dining room table and distributed for free, Tate espoused noble goals for FEN: “A broadening of our sense of what is possible, an extension of our vision, might well occur when we know how others have tried and succeeded, how still others have tried and failed.” [1]

In its early issues, FEN solicited and published mostly “news items” concerning the teaching of Freshman English.  However, within a very few years, the orientation and focus of the journal began to shift from its original purposes, reflecting the changes going on in the developing fields of rhetoric and composition. No longer were pieces primarily concerned with presenting practical, pedagogical news about the freshman course.   Instead, FEN received and published greater numbers of scholarly articles.  In the spring of 1982, one decade into the life of the journal, Tate and co-editor Robert Mayberry officially broadened FEN’s scope by inviting articles that were not exclusively focused on Freshman English.  The new editorial policy stated, “the journal will publish a broader range of articles. No longer will the focus be exclusively on the freshman writing class. Any articles in the humanistic tradition of the study of writing or the teaching of writing are welcome.” [2]

Christina Murphy took over as FEN’s third editor in 1985.  Under her editorship, FEN underwent even more significant changes in both appearance and purpose.  For the first time, a table of contents was included in each issue and contributors were asked to conform to MLA style guidelines.  In 1988, the journal reduced its number of annual issues from three to two in an effort to elevate the quality of the contents.  Perhaps the most substantial changes occurred in the spring 1992 issue when the newsletter was given a new name, Composition Studies/Freshman English News, and a new format as a 6” x 9” bound journal.  Together these changes signified, in Murphy’s words, a shift from “a newsletter devoted exclusively to Freshman English concerns, to a highly respected national journal that has published work by many of the most significant theorists in the field of rhetoric and composition.”[3] These material changes reflected the publication’s transformation into a formal, scholarly journal.

The new Composition Studies/Freshman English News remained under Murphy’s direction until 1996 when, for the first time in its history, the journal left TCU.  Peter Vandenberg of DePaul University served as editor through 2002.  During his tenure, Vandenberg redesigned the look of the journal and added a unique component: course designs. This pedagogical component hearkened back to the purposes for which CS was originally founded, for teachers of composition to share testimonies of “[w]hat has been tried and how it has been tried.”[4]

In 2003, CS returned to its original home at TCU, with Ann George and Carrie Leverenz serving as co-editors.  Similar to Tate in the newsletter’s first issue, George and Leverenz offered their vision for CS as it entered its fourth decade of publication.  Recognizing that the study of composition must embrace the practical and the intellectual, the pedagogical and the professional, the editors sought to establish CS as “a journal where both of these qualities of writing instruction—as a noble service and as an engaging intellectual activity—are exemplified and explored.”[5]

Currently, CS remains “a capacious, eclectic journal serving a broad set of composition interests” [6] and its editorial leadership remains dedicated to inclusive activism as a way of shaping review processes, guiding citation practices, inviting Advistory Board membership, and mentoring prospective authors. [7]

Editors of Freshman English News/Composition Studies [8] 

Gary Tate1972 – 1983
Robert Mayberry1981 – 1985
Christina Murphy 1985 – 1996
Peter Vandenberg1996 – 2003
Ann George2003 – 2005
Carrie Leverenz2003 – 2007
Brad Lucas2005 – 2010
Jennifer Clary-Lemon2010 – 2013
Laura R. Micciche2013 – 2019
Matthew Davis & Kara Taczak2019 –


[1] Gary Tate, “From the Editor,” Freshman English News 1.1 (1972): 1.  Goggin, Maureen Daly, Authoring a Discipline: Scholarly Journals and the Post-World War II Emergence of Rhetoric and Composition (Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2000) 91.

[2] Goggin 134.

[3] Goggin 134-35.

[4] Tate 1.

[5] Ann George and Carrie Leverenz, “Editor’s Note,” Composition Studies 31.2 (2003): 15.

[6] Douglas Hesse, “Journals in Composition Studies, Thirty-Five Years After.” College English 81.4 (2019): 378.

[7] Kelly Blewett, Christina M. LaVecchia, Laura R. Micciche, and Janine Morris, “Editing As Inclusion Activism.” College English 81.4 (2019): 273-296.

[8] Robert Mayberry served as editor while Tate took a leave of absence in 1981-82.  When Tate returned, they acted as co-editors for one year, from fall 1982 through fall 1983. Thereafter, Mayberry assumed sole editorship through 1985.