UofL Writing Center

Who We Are and What We Do

A Year of Successes, In and Out of the University Writing Center

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Any time you move you have dreams about how your life may be in a new space. Yet you never know what the reality will look like, so you go forward with your fingers crossed and hope for the best. Looking back on our first full year in our new space on the first floor of Ekstrom Library, it’s gratifying to see how many of our hopes have been realized and how excited we are to continue this work in the year ahead. We had hoped that the new, larger, space for the University Writing Center would both make us more visible and offer us more room in which to hold consultations, events, and other activities that would foster and celebrate a culture of writing on campus. All of that has happened, and more.

In Fall 2016, we set a record for the number of one-on-one consultations in a single semester (and we may be headed for a record for spring semester as well). Thousands of writers at UofL come to see us, and come back again, because they feel they’re engaging in productive conversations about

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The 2016-17 University Writing Center Staff

writing that help them grow as writers. The writers who come to the University Writing Center represent every college in the university and include undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and staff. It takes an extraordinary staff to work with so many different writers from different disciplines who bring distinctive and individual concerns about writing to their appointments. So, while it’s great to have a shiny new space, it is our talented and dedicated writing consultants and the inspired teaching they do, day after day, that are at the heart of our work.

One of our other goals for our new space was to be able to hold writing-related events and sponsor writing groups, and that is another of our dreams that we have been able to realize. We’ve held a range of events, from a Halloween Creative Writing Open Mic night, to celebrating the National Day on Writing and International Mother

Language Day , to doing our part to participate in events such as Banned Books Week, Kick Back in the Stacks, and the Celebration of Student Writing.

We also want the University Writing Center to be a place where people can come to do their writing, so in the past year we have expanded our sponsorship of writing groups. In addition to continuing our Graduate Student Writing group and LGBTQ Writing Group, we added a very successful Creative Writing Group this year. We will be continuing all of this groups, so be sure to check our our website for information and dates.

It’s also worth noting that not all of our work takes place inside the University Writing Center space. In the last year we have conducted writing workshops across both UofL campuses that have served more than 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students. If you would like to request a workshop, you can contact us through our website or by email. We also collaborated with the Digital Media Suite on workshops to support faculty teaching. In the digital world, our social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram continued to grow. And this blog, with its combination of posts about writing and writing pedagogy and our ongoing How I Write series, continues to increase in popularity, with more than 12,000 hits this year.

We also have expanded our community literacy work this year. In addition to holding regular writing workshops and consultations at Family Scholar House, we have begun a Amy Picture2partnership with the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library. At the Western Branch Library we’ll be working with young people, both through literacy tutoring as well as organizing a variety of writing-focused activities. You can read more about these partnerships in this blog post.

It is important that credit goes to the fantastic administrative staff who are the brains and heart of the University Writing Center and support UofL writers in so many ways, both large and small. Associate Director Cassandra Book, Assistant directors, Layne Gordon, Amy Nichols, Jessica Newman, and Chris Scheidler handle every opportunity or challenge with creativity and good humor. Robin Blackett runs the front desk, with the help of our student workers Brianna McIntyre and Bailey O’Leary,  with warmth and professionalism.

Whatever we do, we are committed to always putting writers and their writing first. We work to make the University Writing Center an inclusive and safe space where all writers can explore their ideas. We want writers to know that we will respond respectfully and thoughtfully to their work, and that we can learn from them as they learn from us. Such a reciprocal and collaborative relationship is essential to our the work we do. So I want to end by thanking the writers who have trusted us with their writing and their ideas this year.

We will be open during the summer, starting May 8, from 9-4 every weekday. Meanwhile, take a look at our website and we hope to see you soon.

Writing Center Staff Achievements

The University Writing Center is also an active site of scholarship about the teaching of writing. Staff from the Writing Center were engaged in a number of scholarly projects during the past year in rhetoric and composition, literature, and creative writing.

Cassandra Book, Associate Director of the University Writing Center, presented at the International Writing Center Association Conference, Thomas R. Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition, and International Writing Center Association Collaborative at the Conference on College Composition and Communication. She was also awarded a the Christine Cozzens Research Grant by The Southeastern Writing Center Association for the project “Online Writing Tutoring: Usability, Access, and Participation.” She also published a book review in IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication of Tracy Bridgeford and Kirk St. Amant’s Academic-Industry Relationships and Partnerships: Perspectives for Technical Communicators and co-authored a post on the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition Blog on “Teaching and Researching Feminist Rhetorics: Digital Curation as Collaborative Archival Method.”

Layne Gordon, Assistant Director for the Writing Center, presented at Thomas R. Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition and the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference and co-authored an article titled “On Multimodal Composing.” in Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy.

Jessica Newman, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing, presented at the International Writing Center Association Conference, Cultural Rhetorics Conference, and Conference on College Composition and Communication.

Amy Nichols, Assistant Director for the Writing Center, presented at the Thomas R. Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition and co-authored a policy brief titled, “Charter Schools Not Just for K12 Advocacy,” in Policy Analysis Initiative. She also published the poems “For my men” in Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel and “Cave Run Lake” and “Passing Through” in Appalachian Heritage.

Chris Scheidler, Assistant Director for the Virtual Writing Center, presented at the College Conference on Composition and Communication and participated in the Louisville “Hack The Ville” project focused on providing resources to help the     transition for refugee and immigrant populations.

Kevin Bailey co-edited the Miracle Monocle literary magazine and was awarded a Department of English Creative Writing Scholarship. He will be the Assistant Director of the Creative Writing program next year.

Kelly Carty will be the Morton Endowed Chair Research Assistant next year and will present at the South Central Modern Language Association Conference.

Emily Cousins presented at the Northeastern Modern Language Association Conference and was awarded U.S. Dept. of State’s Critical Language Scholarship to learn Bengali this summer.

Katie Kohls presented at the College English Association of Ohio Conference.

Carrie Mason was accepted to present at the national Community Writing Conference in October.

Michael Phillips presented at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900 and the Kentucky Philological Association Conference. He is also the Henry James Review Research Assistant for next year.

Melissa Rothman completed her MA degree and defended her thesis, “Ironic Deference-An Inquiry into the Nineteenth Century Feminist Rhetoric of Kesiah Shelton”

Ashleigh Scarpinato gave readings of her poetry in the Flying Out Loud and River City Review creative writing series in Louisville.

Ashley Taylor founded the River City Revue Reading Series and read at the Flying Out Loud reading series. She also co-edited the Miracle Monocle literary magazine and was awarded a Department of English Creative Writing Scholarship. Her poems will be published in the following journals: “Shipwreck,” The Merrimack Review; “Shipwreck,” Lavender Review; “A clean void paints a silhouette where your dresser was,” The Stillwater Review; and “Botanical garden duplex” & “The Seamstress,” FIVE:2:ONE.

Finally, along with former University Writing Center staff members, Adam Robinson, Tika Lamsal, and Ashly Bender Smith, I co-authored an article “`Find Something You Know You Can Believe In’: The Effect of Dissertation Retreats on Graduate Students’ Identities as Writers” for the edited collection Re/Writing the Center: Pedagogies, Practices, Partnerships to Support Graduate Students in the Writing Center, to be published this summer. Also my forthcoming book, Literacy Practices and Perceptions of Agency: Composing Identities, draws in part from research conducted over the years at the University Writing Center.

The Writing Center: Every Step of the Way

Kevin Bailey, Consultantkevin-b

The spring semester is drawing to a close.  Tensions are high, schedules are full, and it seems like there’s no way on earth that all the work that needs to get done will ever get done (at least not on time).  Of course, it will get done, though; it always gets done.  And when it does get done, there’s a feeling of exhaustion, followed by a moment of relief, and then, within a matter of days, an overwhelming sense of – “What now?”

And the answer to that question is different for all of us.  Perhaps you’re finishing your first year of college and making plans to take more difficult coursework next semester.  Or perhaps you’re jumping straight into summer classes.  Maybe this is your final semester before graduation and you’re preparing to enter the job market.  Or maybe you (like me) are gearing up to teach for the first time in the fall.  These are all big and potentially scary changes.

It can be daunting to consider all the work that lies ahead.  No matter what stage of your academic career (or life) you’re in, new obstacles are always going to stand in your way and new responsibilities are inevitably going to take up your time.  And I can’t in good conscience recommend you put these things out of your mind.  It’s important to plan.  It’s important to look ahead and approach your “What now?” with confidence.

The point I’m making, I think, is that even though your workload may increase and you’ll take on larger projects, you will always be able to adapt to new challenges, especially when resources like the Writing Center are around to help you along the way.  One of the many mantras I’ve memorized from my time tutoring over the past year has been: “We’re here to help with any writing project at every stage of the writing process.”  This phrase is usually applied to the standard college essay, and by it we tutors often mean we can help regardless of how much of said essay has been written.  We help to brainstorm topics for papers that have not yet been started as readily as we discuss strategies for revision on papers that are mostly finished.   But this same mantra can be slightly repurposed to say “We’re here to help with every step of your writing career,” and it would remain equally true to the Writing Center’s purpose.

The Writing Center can help in a big way with every one of those “What now?” scenarios I mentioned earlier.  If you have a summer project you want to work on, the Writing Center is open for consultations during the summer.  If you’re entering the workforce or applying for positions, you can set up an appointment to construct or review your CV, resume, or personal statements.  If you’re teaching next semester, you can bring in and receive feedback on your syllabi and lesson plans (something I’m already making plans to do).

No matter what’s next for you, you’ll be writing.  And no matter what you’re writing, the Writing Center can help.

“Can someone hold my hair while I word-vomit?”

Michael Phillips, Consultantmichael-p

Recently, I found myself in a pickle.  I put off a research paper until the last minute (guiltily), partly because I didn’t really know how to get started and partly because I didn’t really know what to argue.  I’d already conducted practically all of my research, but I didn’t know how to make my contribution, my part of the scholarly conversation, novel or interesting.  I was bogged down by my own self-consciousness and insecurities about the topic, trying to grapple with whether I would sound academic or formal enough for the assignment’s requirements.  What pulled me out of that slump, that inability to get my ideas out onto the page, was a critical stage of the writing process that I’d forgotten to employ: word-vomiting.  One of my professors introduced this non-committal, helpful practice that can enable the writer to produce their best possible writing.  Word-vomiting, for me, is a lot like freewriting but with one critical difference.  While freewriting is a good exercise to employ to start writing about anything, word-vomiting can be much more direct, much more specific to a certain topic, to get the writer to start unpacking and flushing out ideas particular to that topic.

So how can you best engage with this strategy?  I suggest compiling whatever materials you’ve gathered through the research part of the process, like your notes, primary sources, secondary sources like scholarly articles / books / journals relevant to your topic, etc.  Once you have these resources and have familiarized yourself with them, I recommend putting yourself in the most comfortable position to get your thoughts about your topic onto the page.  Whatever kinds of thoughts you have about the topic, both significant, and insignificant, personal and impersonal, communicating those thoughts in whatever way will help you locate what aspects of your topic you find most interesting or compelling.  This stage of the writing process is so important for this very reason; I’ve skipped out on word-vomiting altogether in the past, and I’ve found myself writing at length about an argument that doesn’t inspire me.  When I’ve historically found myself in that position, the writing stage is both grueling and seemingly interminable.

Word-vomiting is also important because it puts you in a much better position to sift through ideas you’ve already fostered rather than having to generate entirely new ideas when you’ve already begun writing the paper.  It’s so much easier to cut ideas or synthesize ideas you already have on the page than it is to create new ones as you’re executing the writing of your paper.  When you’ve exhausted the word-vomiting stage of the process, you’ll realize a lot of your ideas just don’t work or don’t fit into this assignment.  They’re still important, though!  And they may have a place in a future assignment or a future scholarly / creative endeavor.

Research papers are hard, and finding your position / stake in a research paper can be even more difficult. If you’re looking for other ideas about how to get started your can check out our Writing FAQs and ideas for getting started with digital project. But with this helpful strategy of getting your ideas about a topic onto the page at whatever pace, of word-vomiting whatever you think or feel about that topic, you may find your research paper may be just a little bit easier or smoother to execute.

Evaluating Sources in the Age of “Fake News”

Melissa Rothman, Consultantmelissa-r

Alternative facts, fake news, disinformation, propaganda…despite their recent step into the spotlight, none of these concepts are by any means new phenomena. Nonetheless, the recent stir in the media has even caused the Oxford Dictionary to name “Post-truth” the word of the year for 2016. Many have pointed to the ever-increasing availability of information in our digital age as the cause of our current skepticism, but publicity stunts and sensationalized media date back to the early stages of mass publication. In 1809, Washington Irving is perhaps one of the earliest cases for knowingly fabricating “fake news,” placing a fake missing person’s advertisement in several local newspapers for a Mr. Diedrich Knickerbocker just prior to releasing his first work published under this pseudonym. Tabloids such as “Star” and the “National Enquirer” have stared back at us from the supermarket lines our whole lives reminding us to question the validity of printed news. Even in academia, the notorious “Sokal Hoax” serves as a cautionary tale illustrating the value of close reading. However, despite the apparent prevalence of misinformation in our world, we should not slide into the nihilistic view that truth is relative. In fact, this recent heightened interest in the validity and soundness of sources has fostered a necessary awareness of misinformation. Likewise, there are several strategies available for evaluating sources.

Melissa Rothman pic 4-10

[CC Image courtesy of The Public Domain Review  on Flickr]

To begin with, there are several research guides available on the web. Ekstrom Library even has a list of strategies for evaluating sources here. It includes questions of context, authorship, and credibility that are useful for evaluating any type of source, but is specifically geared toward academic works. However, sometimes we want to use data from outside scholarly databases.  There are tons of tips online for building digital literacy, but I’ll break down these lists into the cliff notes version that we college students know and love.

Here are some strategies:

  1. Consider the Source. Questioning an author’s motivation should be second nature to every college student by the time they graduate. There is no such thing as an agenda free text. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For instance, this blog post was written with two main goals: 1. To please my wonderful boss (*note the potential motivation of sucking up with my adjective choice). 2. To supply you guys with a handy-dandy tool for evaluating sources. But always be aware that some agendas are a bit more nefarious than others, particularly when you get into the realm of politics.
  2. Look for Evidence. This could be cited explicitly in the article, provided at the bottom of the page, or embedded in hyperlinks. But if the author is stating something as common knowledge, that…well…isn’t common knowledge, approach with caution.
  3. Fact check, Fact check, Fact check. Below I’ve listed some links to some great sites for this, but while they certainly do try, they can’t cover every piece of information available on the web. Luckily, if you have a question, our Reference Assistance and Instruction department is fantastic asset for questions like these.
  4. Pay Attention to Images: By now, pretty much everyone should be aware of the magical abilities of Photoshop. However, did you know that Google has a reverse image search that can help trace where else an image has appeared online? Find the original source can perhaps help identify the reliability of the image. Likewise be aware of charts and graphs. They can also be appropriated to distort truth…even when using real data.
  5. Check the URL. URLs ending in .edu and .gov are inherently trustworthy, but still continue to consider the source to identify possible partisan biases. During my undergrad I was told that .org was more trustworthy than .com. However, while there was a time when getting a .org meant you ran an actual organization, today anyone can get this type of domain. Also, beware of URLs designed to intentionally mislead you by using other organizations’ names. For example, ABC.com.co, is a fake news site mimicking ABC.com.
  6. Be Aware of Your Own Biases: Part of providing a convincing argument is showing that you’ve thoroughly considered all opposing viewpoints. The only way to do this is to read AND consider opinions from other people’s perspectives. They may not change your point of view at all, but in considering them you are enabled to form a stronger argument in support of your viewpoint.

Fact-Checking Sites:

How I Write: Cedric Powell

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers.

Cedric Merlin Powell is a Professor of Law in the Brandeis School of Law, a member of the Ohio and New York state bars, and is admitted to practice before the SupremeCedric+Powell5854 Court of the United States, and the federal courts of the Second and Sixth Circuits, and the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York. He has written over a broad range of topics including affirmative action and Critical Race Theory, the First Amendment and hate speech, and the Fourteenth Amendment and structural inequality. All of his scholarship critiques neutrality as a means of preserving structural inequality, and advances theories of substantive equality which reject colorblindness and post-racialism as normative principles in constitutional analysis. Professor Powell has also been named the Dean for Research for 2016.

Location:  University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law

Current project: Race Displaced: Buchanan v. Warley and the Neutral Rhetoric of Liberty

Currently reading: David E. Bernstein, Rehabilitating Lochner: Defending Individual Rights Against Progressive Reform (Chicago 2011)

1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

My writing consists primarily of law review articles, essays, book reviews, magazine articles, and op-eds in the press.  I plan on writing a book in the near future.

2. When/where/how do you write?

I usually write late at night when everything is peaceful in my home. I like to write for extended periods of time, so I feel that I am truly productive when I have a significant period of uninterrupted time to compose my ideas and get them out in draft form.  I have an office at home where I write, it is a comfortable space, and it is a functioning office away from my more formal office space at the law school.  I write by doing extensive research (I want to know what everyone in the field has said about the topic that I am contemplating writing about), and then I take notes from the readings to ensure that I fully understand the topic and its underlying doctrines and nuances, and I draft an outline to write from.  Before I start writing, I take my research notes and plug them into specific sections of the outline so that my discussion will have continuity; and, hopefully, to avoid repetition.

3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?

I don’t need any special tools to write. However, I do need long legal pads because I write everything out in longhand (it takes me a while to draft an article).  After I come to the end of the writing process, I am confident that I have covered everything, so the only question is how the piece should be revised and edited.

4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

My best tip is to just get started; writing is a process, so that means your first attempt will not be perfect.  This is precisely why revision and editing a draft is essential to the writing process.  I must admit that this is my least favorite part of the process; but I realize that it is necessary, and it always makes the work much better than it was before.

5. What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

The best writing advice that I have ever received was to write as much as you can as often as you can.  Everyone’s writing process is different, so it is important to trust your process. I hope that I will heed my own advice on future projects.

Do you know someone who would be great for How I Write? Send us your recommendations! 

Self Care and the University Student

Brooke Parker, Consultantbrooke-p

The ins and outs of the university can be stressful and anxiety inducing for many of us, particularly at this point in the semester. While Spring Break’s brief moment of relaxation has left us, our final exams and seminar papers are fast approaching. It’s easy to forget that engaging in self care is just as important as the writing and studying you’re doing.

As someone with a mental disability, self care is a really familiar and helpful concept to me, but this is certainly something every student can benefit from. The term “self care” refers to anything you yourself can do for your own physical or mental health. And while both physical and mental health are tied to each other, I’d like to emphasize self care’s benefits for emotional and mental well being in the university.

So, what does self care look like for a student? According to Psych Central, self care is individual and looks different for everyone. But they do provide some helpful suggestions:

  1. Think about what activities make you feel relaxed and write them down. For example, walking my dog, painting, and watching Rick and Morty with friends are all activities that make me feel calm and relaxed. So, I try to engage in them regularly.
  2. Schedule self-care moments on your calendar. Or, set an alarm on your phone to take breaks from writing or studying. I like to take frequent breaks when writing to decompress and give my mind some respite. In fact, I took a break will writing this post to take a hot bath, which is another helpful de-stressing tool.
  3. Get your self care in when you can. While some of us may be able to lock down a self care schedule on the calendar (I have a really hard time doing this), the rest of us can sneak in self care when a moment frees up. My colleagues and I often take turns laying on the couch in our consultant room between sessions—catching naps or just moments to close our eyes when we can.
  4. Take care of your physical health as well. This is something I’ve had quite a hard time doing this academic year. I often feel like I don’t have the time to go for a run or attend an hour long yoga session. However, even walking your dog or doing light stretching can be acts of physical self care that can also help you destress.
  5. Know that its ok to say no.  I grew up with a mother who never said “no” to her clients, and I saw how quickly she burnt out during the week because of this. Making sure not to overextend yourself is important. You’ve got enough on your plate as a student—don’t feel bad if you want to or have to say no to something.
  6. Keep checking in with yourself. I keep a bullet journal to track my state of mind each day. If my anxiety is high or I experience a dissociation, I will write about it. This allows me to find trends in my stressors so that I can recognize and avoid/navigate them in the future. I’ve found this to be one of the most helpful aspects of my own self care.

While this is in no way a comprehensive list of ways to take care of your self during these last stretches of the semester, I hope these examples provide a starting point from which you can construct your own, unique approach to self care.

I’d like to add to this list taking advantage of counseling services. While self care is certainly beneficial to everyone, some students (including myself) have mental disabilities for which the structure of the university isn’t always as understanding. Counseling services can be a space in which we find that understanding. Further, coming to the Writing Center when you’re overwhelmed with an assignment or just don’t know where to begin can help relieve the stress you are feeling. Our consultants know that, for many, writing can be a stressful activity, but we are here to provide you with the tools to help you confidently (and hopefully less stressfully) navigate your assignments.

How I Write: Michèle Foster

Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers. The series will be featured every other Wednesday.

Our featured writer this week is Dr. Michèle Foster. At the University of Louisville, Dr. Foster serves as Henry Heuser Jr. Endowed Chair for Urban Education Partnerships and Professor in the School of Education.

Michele FosterGetting to know me.

I grew up on the East Coast, attended a private academy for girls that offered a classical education and had a French-English bilingual program, so in addition to English, I am fluent in French.  Later as an adult, I learned Haitian.  I’ve worked in education for many years and at varying levels of the educational spectrum, in the Boston Public Schools before desegregation, in METCO, the oldest voluntary urban-suburban desegregation program in the US and at Roxbury Community College, a predominantly African American community college, where I was a writing instructor.  I’ve been a faculty member at several universities including: University of Massachusetts-Boston, University of Pennsylvania, University of California-Davis, Claremont Graduate School, University of Missouri-Kansas City and now at the University of Louisville where I serve as the Henry Heuser Jr. Endowed Chair for Urban Education Partnerships and Professor.

This semester I am teaching Writing for Publication, a graduate level writing course I’ve taught for more than 15 years.  Although I am new to the university I am eager to bring my wide range of educational experience to the CEHD and the University by offering courses that I have taught previously, including:  African American English in Society and Schools, The Social, Historical and Cultural Contexts of African American Education, Anthropology of Education, and Ethnographic Methods.

Current projects

At the moment, I am trying to get my own new research project, Grit and his cousin mindset: What role do after-school and summer programs play in promoting social and emotional learning? off of the ground which entails producing a literature review, writing research grants, developing various protocols and interview guides, and working through the IRB requirements in order to get approval.  I am also serving as an evaluator for the work of the African Diaspora Project, a multi-faceted project. The current work for this project includes tweaking the African Diaspora Course (ADC) Advanced Placement Course Syllabus that has been submitted for approval to the College Board and helping the course designers come with an evaluation plan for the pilot testing that will begin in 2 school districts in fall 2017. And if everything goes according to the plan, the ADC Advanced Placement Course will be offered at a couple of JCPS High Schools. At the beginning of February, in response to a special call, I submitted a jointly authored manuscript for consideration.

Currently reading

When it comes to reading, I’m an omnivore. I read the New York Times, Washington Post and the National Public Radio offerings every day.  I read the Chronicle of Higher Education.  I also try to keep with a number of journals in my fields. Because I serve as a reviewer for several journals, I read a number of manuscripts that have been submitted for publication; last semester I read 5. This semester, I am reading a lot of manuscript drafts, some for the Writing for Publication Class and some for junior colleagues who are struggling with making the transition, from writing like graduate students to writing like full-fledged academics. Occasionally, I will read something that is not directly related–fiction or non-fiction—but later may become tangentially related to some academic project. It’s rare that I don’t find something useful for thinking about my academic work in almost everything I read.  I also read lots of email and text messages and interesting pieces I find on Twitter.

What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?

As an academic, I write journal articles–empirical, conceptual, and literature reviews– book chapters, books reviews, proposals for funding, which serve to advance my own career.  I also write reviews of manuscripts submitted to the journals for which I serve as a referee, tenure and promotion reviews, and detailed assessments of several junior colleagues’ work to help them work through issues with their manuscripts, all to help develop the next generation of scholars and academics.

When it comes to less formal writing, I write email messages and text messages.  I also write lots of letters and cards and send them by snail mail to surprise friends and colleagues who rarely receive handwritten letters.  I write lots of lists—grocery, reminders, appointments—and get great satisfaction from crossing off things as I complete them.

When/where/how do you write?

I can write almost anywhere, at the house, in the office, a coffee shop, the library, on a plane, a hotel. When I am at the house I have to twist my own arm to write and not be distracted by all of the chores that seem to call for my attention only when I am trying to write. Others reading this will understand. When I was a novice writer, I had convinced myself that I could only write in certain locations, but I’ve learned that is not true, but the kind of writing or rather the phases of writing I do might vary according to the location. In different contexts, I do different writing tasks. Some environments are more conducive to creating or drafting a piece, others more suitable for revising, editing or sorting out a vexing problem in something I’m writing.  But I can always manage do tackle some writing task in whatever context.

The sound of my writing is a critical factor. I believe that’s because being a member of the broader African American discourse community has made me exceptionally attuned to the way my writing sounds.  Because of this, I spend lots of time rewriting and revising my writing so that it sounds like me.  Every once in while someone, who has read my prose before they’ve met me, hears me speak and tells me how much I sound like my writing.   When this happens, I am delighted because I know I’ve accomplished one of my goals.

What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?

Nothing in particular.  I can write on a computer although it took me some time to learn to do so.  When I began graduate school, computers were not in fashion, so I would write my first draft on legal pads and then type the draft into an electric typewriter. As a beginning writer, I was convinced that I could never write a first draft using an electric typewriter because I felt that my brain and hand were and had to be connected for the thoughts to get on the page. By the time, I was writing my dissertation, computers had come into fashion and though writing software programs were rudimentary, I wrote my dissertation on an Apple 2E using a writing program that could only accommodate 12 page files and linked them together in a 200+ page document. Over time, I learned to write first drafts directly on the computer and now find this easier because over time, my Catholic school penmanship has deteriorated, so that I often cannot read my own writing.

What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision?

I tell students and junior colleagues to put aside some time each day to write. It’s like getting started and continuing an exercise program.  When beginning to exercise, it’s difficult to get motivated and exercise each and it’s easy to put it off on any given day.  But the trick is to get started and do it. Once into the routine it’s something you need to do—writing and exercise. And it gets easier.  Of course, it’s difficult getting started again once exercise and writing have been aside for a period.  But once one has gotten into exercise and writing shape, it’s easier for the body and mind to snap back more quickly after a break. The other piece of advice I give students is that all one needs to write is a page a day.  If one can write a page a day, something I believe is possible for almost everyone and one takes 65 days off from writing a year, the total number of pages compiled will be 300.  This will yield many articles and/or a book.  Who, I ask can’t muster 1 page a day.  On the 1 page a day regime/diet depending on your point of view, one can often alternate between composing and revising.  When I am on this plan, I spend one day composing several pages.  The next day, I go through what I wrote the previous day and am able to trim down several pages to at least one good one.  I also recommend the online tool, the Writer’s Diet, as a personal self-help tool to help turn flabby writing into fit prose.  I’ve got lots of other advice to offer as well, but I’ll stop now because I don’t want to give away all of my secrets.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received?

Keep writing, get regular feedback on your writing, read and respond to the comments you’ve received no matter harsh they might seem because they can help you improve your writing.  Don’t take the comments personally.  Use them to improve your writing.  Find writing that you admire, study it carefully, try to figure out what strategies and devices the author is using, and try them out yourself. Keep writing until you find your groove and your voice.   Remember the words of Miles Davis, a famous jazz musician who said “You have to play a long time to play like yourself.”

Do you know someone who would be great for How I Write? Send us your recommendations! 

Silence in Writing Center Sessions

Emily Cousins, Consultantemily-c

I’ve always known that silence can be beneficial in various ways during writing center sessions. It recently dawned on me, though, that silence often requires a conscious effort to create, and that perhaps I could be doing more to actively create productive silences during meetings with writers.

My desire to incorporate more silence into my writing center sessions is largely based on the role silence plays in facilitating my own writing and thinking process. When I receive feedback on something I’ve written, I need time to comprehend verbal feedback and to process my own thoughts. I also need time to think of the words I want to use to articulate my responses. This is why I’m grateful whenever I work with people who, when giving feedback, allow for moments of silence throughout the discussion.

When I have my tutoring hat on while working at the Writing Center, I sometimes forget that the writers I work with may feel the same way about silence as I do. I always try to be ready with the next question or the next suggestion, to keep the trains of thought all moving smoothly forward without much pause. I tell myself that by doing this we’re getting the most out of the allotted 50-minute time frame. But I think it’s worth asking: am I not giving us enough time to nurture certain conditions that might fuel productive, reflective, creative thinking?

One strategy tutors use is to have writers brainstorm and/or write on their own; the tutor might walk to another room and come back after 5-10 minutes or more, depending on the context. This is one way to allow for quiet time for writers to work, and can be an effective way to incorporate silence into a session. However, this is not quite the kind of silence I have in mind. The silence I want to use more during my sessions is a mutually shared, collaborative sort of silence, during which both the tutor and writer are still sitting together side by side, thinking. Sometimes the silence might be broken to exchange an idea or two. I’m thinking of a type of silence that is the opposite of empty and/or uncomfortable – the anti-awkward silence.

The “awkward silence” is an interesting concept I learned about as I became more familiar with social conventions in American culture. Growing up in Japan, I always felt that silence was the default way to exist in the world, a way to convey respect and mindfulness. It was difficult moving to the U.S. where presence often seems to be measured by how much one speaks. There appears to be a widespread aversion to silence in social situations, which is perhaps linked to the phenomenon of “small talk.” So, while I personally appreciate moments of collaborative silence when discussing my own writing with people, I understand that some writers might find silence uncomfortable. So, as tutors, we should be attentive to cues that might suggest whether or not a writer might really benefit from silence during sessions.

I sometimes initiate collaborative silences by asking the writer, “can I take a moment to write this down?” Sometimes I will stop myself from thinking of the next thing to say. It has been surprising how many times writers will then break the silence with a new idea or insightful comment they may not have offered had we not taken a moment to pause. Whenever this happens, I remind myself of how valuable and productive silences can be.

Community Literacy and the Writing Center: Building Foundations

Amy McCleese Nichols, Assistant Director Amy N

For the past two years, the Writing Center has been working to build a commitment to community literacy into our activities. While writers from all over the university come to us for help with course assignments and beyond, writing centers constantly inhabit a liminal space where personal, academic, and professional writing collide. To honor this fact, we also wanted to expand our offerings to value writing that may happen off-campus, whether connected to higher education or not. While the role of writing centers and community engagement is still relatively new to writing center scholarship, we are excited about the potential benefits that what we might call writing center values, with their focus on listening and building trust over time, may have for the way university entities approach community partnerships.

Amy Picture1In Summer 2015, we began conversations with academic support staff at Family Scholar House to find out how our skills might be of use, and started offering workshops and tutoring hours for student writers on FSH campuses. This year, we expanded those hourly offerings and began allowing some of our trained consultants to volunteer as well. Three accomplishments we are particularly proud of this year:

  • Working in conjunction with Bronwyn Williams’ Spring 2017 Community Literacy course, we have been able to expand our spring hours to offer hours on multiple FSH campuses throughout the week, meeting a long-term FSH goAmy Picture2al of providing more in-house academic support for student writers.
  • Assistant Director Amy McCleese Nichols led families in a set of “Story-Making Workshops” during Fall 2016, which focused on composing for fun using family (or imagined) stories. This 3-day set of workshops had a total attendance of 81 adults, 52 children, and 48 hand-sewn booklets with individualized covers were made for participants to write stories in and take home.
  • This spring, we have also added another community partner: the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library. Also working with the Community Literacy course, we are providing writing help every Tuesday for K-12 students.

Throughout these conversations, we have kept several values in play: showing up, listening, and building partnerships gradually for continuity. In Bronwyn’s words, we begin by simply “showing up.” Showing up in our context has meant keeping a sense of flexibility when setting up programs and plans. While we have put time and effort into making sure our work is meeting a need articulated by our partners, we also save room for the moments when no one shows up – and then we show up the week afterward. By building our relationships and a sense of trust gradually, we have found ourselves more able to have conversations when offerings need to change for the mutual benefit of both organizations.

We are also creating logistical structures within the Writing Center to support long-term partnerships. As the first Assistant Director working with community literacy, I brought a unique skill set from my previous work as a nonprofit volunteer coordinator. As I have worked with our partners, I have written manuals, kept records of previous conversations, and passed that knowledge on to other staff in the Writing Center so that our partnerships are not bound entirely to a semester-by-semester schedule. While our offerings and volunteer numbers will ebb and flow over time as partnerships evolve, we hope that having a consistent contact who stays in touch from year-to-year within the university will provide a sense of continuity for us and our partners while also providing opportunities for graduate student assistant directors to gain experience in the logistics of managing partnerships.

We look forward to learning more with Family Scholar House and Western Branch Library. This fall, we are partnering with the English 508: Literacy Tutoring course, taught by Dr. Andrea Olinger. The course will cover teaching writing individually and in small groups in academic, professional, and community contexts, and students that have taken it will be qualified to complete internships and volunteer work through these partnerships.

Ultimately, we hope that what Tiffany Rousculp has termed a “rhetoric of respect” will define our community literacy efforts. By putting our partners’ voices first in the conversation, keeping elements of our partnerships consistent, and strategically partnering with service-learning courses, we look forward to learning more with Family Scholar House and Western Branch Library.

 

 

International Mother Language Day

Emily Cousins, Consultantemily-c

Last week, on February 21st, we hosted our first celebration of International Mother Language Day here at the U of L Writing Center.

I first found out about International Mother Language Day a few years ago, and I wish I’d known about it earlier. The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) officially declared International Mother Language Day in 1999, and since then, countries worldwide have celebrated annually to promote multiculturalism, intercultural communication and linguistic diversity. February 21st was chosen for its historical significance, to commemorate the day in 1952 when university students in Bangladesh were killed by police while demonstrating for their rights to speak Bangla, their mother tongue. UNESCO is also committed to raising awareness about preserving endangered languages that are at risk of disappearing altogether. The 2017 theme was “Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education.”

In preparation for our event, we decorated using color printouts from an art series by Ella Frances Sanders featuring words in different languages that do not have direct translations in English (see her book here). We also set up a table with language trivia, and a poster on which participants could write in response to the question, “What do you love about your mother language?”

mother-lang-day-3

During the event, which took place from 2-4pm, nine student volunteers gave presentations about their mother language(s). The languages represented were Japanese, Mongolian, Korean, Bengali, Kazakh, Russian, Arabic, Spanish and Filipino. Presenters used Powerpoint, showed Youtube clips, played song recordings, and used the whiteboard to share about their mother languages. Audience members got a sense of what the languages sound like when spoken, as well as what the scripts look like in writing. The presentations were highly interactive, with participants inviting each other to practice saying different words aloud.

 

I found myself truly inspired that day, seeing each volunteer speak in and about their mother language(s) with such enthusiasm, and also watching members of the audience raising their hands, asking questions, requesting presenters to repeat things or write words on the board. It’s this type of openly curious interaction and dialogue that I think can partly give rise to a sense of community we talk about and think about—often, unfortunately, in the abstract. As I reflect on the event, I think it was successful not just because of the diversity of cultures and languages represented, but also, more importantly, because participants were so actively engaged, eager to teach others and learn new things.

mother-lang-day-2

At the Writing Center, we tutors are constantly learning from the writers we work with – but not always as much as we’d like. 50 minutes goes by pretty fast. The cultural exchange that we’d ideally hope to foster often gets sidelined in the face of a looming deadline. This is why I think all Writing Centers should observe International Mother Language Day every February 21st, to take some time to look up from our day-to-day routines and learn more about the cultures and languages of the students we work with. Writing from the perspective of a Writing Center tutor and someone whose mother language is not English, I think curiosity goes such a long way in creating truly inclusive spaces – and celebrating International Mother Language Day is a perfect opportunity to create such a space.

Thank you to all the student participants for their wonderful presentations, and to those who attended and contributed to making the event a success. I’d also like to extend a thank you to the International Center office and OASIS staff, who helped publicize the event.

See you again next year!

 

 

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