Charles Lesh, PhD
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My Story

As a tenure-track Assistant Professor of English at Auburn University, Dr. Charles “Charlie” Lesh (Ph.D. ’16) brings his multifaceted experience from Northeastern University into classrooms, meeting rooms, and community spaces. He uses his scholarly and administrative skills, as well as his teaching experience, to develop collaborative relationships with individuals across disciplines and across colleges.

Charles’s groundbreaking critical ethnography study of Boston graffiti writing continues to generate interest and excitement in the composition and rhetoric community.  He received Honorable Mention for the 2017 CCCC James Berlin Memorial Outstanding Dissertation Award for his dissertation, and he is currently preparing a book proposal.

Here’s how Charles got here:

My Path
Photo credit: Joanne Decaro Afornalli
Graduate Study at Northeastern

“I really liked the diversity and flexibility within English studies at Northeastern.”

Charles Lesh entered the doctoral program with a B.A. in English from SUNY Buffalo. His early coursework introduced him to the discipline of English studies at a broad level and included graduate seminars in both literature and rhetoric and writing.  Through experiences in the classroom, engagement with faculty mentors, and research opportunities across the university, Charles would explore fields and methods of study that he had not previously encountered.


Transformational Coursework

During Charles’s first term at Northeastern, Professor Chris Gallagher‘s course, ENGL 7392 Topics in Writing: “Globalization” and the Geopolitics of Writing, opened up an area of research that would define Charles’s career going forward.  In Writing and Rhetoric, Charles found a field that was interested in asking similar questions as he was, theoretically, politically, and pedagogically.

“I wrote a seminar paper on graffiti writing and neoliberal space and in the comments Professor Gallagher wrote, I think this is a much bigger project. You should consider pursuing it. I think that day I went to his office and said, ‘Yeah, this is the project I want to do for my dissertation.’ … It was sort of this A-ha! Click! moment.”


Charles continued to learn new research methods, like ethnography and qualitative interviewing, and thoughtfully went about learning all he could about the Boston graffiti writing scene.

In his dissertation, entitled “Writing Spaces and Places: A GeoEthnography of Graffiti Writing in Boston,” Charles presents a critical ethnographic study of Boston graffiti writing. To do his research, Charles combined traditional ethnographic methods with alternative methods that he adapted for this project, such as using a blackbook, which is a type of community sketchbook for graffiti writers.


Photo credit: Charles Lesh

“Charlie developed a ground-breaking research project: a ‘GeoEthnography’—his term—that looks at the way Boston graffiti writers make, and remake, social and public space through their rhetorical work. His methodology chapter is itself a significant contribution to the literature in the field.” — Professor Chris Gallagher


At Northeastern Charles found a community that supported and challenged him. Their specializations include:

  • Chris Gallagher, teaching and assessing writing, literacy studies
  • Beth Britt, rhetorical theory and criticism, ethnographic theory and methods
  • Neal Lerner, pedagogy, writing center/writing program administration
  • Mya Poe, writing assessment; writing across the curriculum; genre studies
  • Ellen Cushman, rhetoric and literacy studies in tribal and urban communities; digital composing and archiving


While at Northeastern, Charles’s article, “The Geographies of History: Space, Time, and Composition,” was published in College English, a flagship journal of Rhetoric and Composition. This article grew out of a seminar paper he wrote for Professor Mya Poe‘s 2013 Topics in Writing course, Literacy in Crisis. (The seminar paper also won the department’s 2013 Graduate Essay Contest in the category of Writing and Rhetoric.) After a summer of conferencing with Professor Poe and Professor Gallagher, the article was accepted for publication. The article, which is about spatial historiography and revisionist history in rhetoric and composition, can be found online.

“It was really exciting for me as a graduate student to have an article like that. Once I was on the market, I could point to it when people were interested in my research agenda and the potential for future publications.”

Professional Development

While at Northeastern, Charles took advantage of every opportunity offered to him. In addition to being a Writing Center consultant and First-Year Writing instructor, Charles was a graduate fellow for the Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning Through Research (CATLR), where he conducted a university-wide assessment of the co-op program; he was Assistant Director of the Writing Program, where he helped conduct program-wide assessment studies with Professor Neal Lerner, who was Writing Program Director at the time; and he was one of two Graduate Resident Fellows at the Northeastern Humanities Center under the topic, “By Design.”

“All of those things made my time here exciting. It never felt like I was doing the same thing from one semester to the next, which for a person like me is incredibly important.”

The Northeastern Difference

“I was fortunate to develop relationships with academics who cared about me beyond graduate school. We’re connected in this web of scholarship now. They check in with me, and I’ll check in to see how they’re doing. I think that’s a sign of a successful graduate education — you meet people who you think do really good work and are smart people, and you get to keep in touch with them afterwards.”

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University
Photo credit: Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University
Next Steps

While at Auburn University, Charles continues his work on graffiti writing by developing more data, presenting at conferences, and writing articles. He is also working on a book proposal. “Charlie reads and writes across disciplines with great insight and finesse,” says Professor Gallagher. “He has a bright future ahead of him, and I can’t wait to see—and read—what he does next.”

This was Charlie's pathway. Where will yours lead?

Northeastern Department of English – Graduate Programs

Photo credit: Charles Lesh