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Youtubin Your Way Through Literary Theory

Edward English, Assistant Director to the Writing Center

Years back, I began my freshman year at The University of Oklahoma knowing I would be an English major. Edward English Why not? English classes were my favorite in high school. I did well analyzing literature, waxing philosophy during class discussions, writing compelling essays about how Rasknolnikov’s struggles to combat guilt were not too unlike my own teenage worries that I wouldn’t find a prom date.

But as I began my college-level courses, something emerged in my English classes which I felt ill-equipped for—literary theory. Literary theory was, and still is, difficult for me for a number of reasons. While a single piece of literature may have little to no variance in its written composition, the theoretical framework(s) we use to extrapolate meaning from that same text can be seemingly infinite. So where do you begin? And which theoretical lenses are worth valuing and why?

What’s more, the philosophers/theorists canonized in contemporary literary criticism frequently appeared to me little more than a random amalgamation of scholars from various fields at numerous historical periods used to propagate particular political interests. Not to mention that many of these writings are incredibly dense and difficult for a beginner to absorb. I can recall making my way through the deconstructionists and thinking I might as well be reading a foreign language.

In time though, my disposition towards literary theory has shifted dramatically. As a current graduate student in English here at the UofL, it now feels like half of my life revolves around geeking out with my friends and colleagues about various theoretical takes on a piece of writing. There is one resource, however, that I wish would have had in my undergrad (had it been available): the YouTube channel The School of Life.

With relatively short videos (5-10 minutes), this channel entertainingly distills the main ideas of various literary theorists, as well as explicating the life and writings of specific famous writers. Watching these videos can be helpful on several levels. Maybe you’ve read through some literary theory but want to know how well you understood a given theory. Perhaps you’d like to prime yourself beforehand with an overview before you jump into the denser theory itself. Or, could be you just want to watch an engaging, and often silly, video that will expand your mind on how you can read a text. Either way, check them out! They are well worth your time.

Some of the major literary movements, theorists, and authors available on The School of Life:

Jacques Derrida
Michel Foucault
Karl Marx
Friedrich Nietzsche
Jane Austen
Leo Tolstoy
Virginia Woolf 
Marcel Proust
George Orwell
Romanticism

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Research in Creative Writing

Katie Frankel, Writing Consultant

Paradoxical to the title of this, many people seem to enjoy creative writing because it often does not confine to the sometimes strict, regimented boundaries of an academic essay.Katie Frankel Writing affords an allowance of freedom and imagination that sometimes feel prohibitive in the standard research paper. However, conducting some research for your creative writing can make your piece more vivid, interesting, and overall stronger than before.

In a creative writing class at my undergraduate university, my favorite professor ever required us to undergo and document research for our various pieces. Because, at the time, I was working on my now-finished historical fiction novel, I felt certain that research would bring my characters and story to life even more.

Starting at Half Priced Books, I gathered up some informative and very interesting texts that directly related to my fictional world, such as Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey, America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines, Children of the Wild West, and multiple others. Many of the specific details of my writing come directly from information I have learned from these books. After beginning my collection of texts that related to my novel, I began to hunt through antique stores, looking for artifacts of the time period I was writing in to try and put myself in the scenes more. One day, I even found and purchased a McGuffey’s Primer published in the time period my characters exist.

Lastly, I began taking trips to a local museum called Log Cabin Village in Fort Worth. I nerded out every time I walked in with my pen and notebook, writing down facts I found interesting from posted information and asking the museum curators various questions, such as how a lower-class family of the time might get by (people who couldn’t afford beeswax to make candles could instead use the fat of sheep, by the way). I walked through the various set-ups and took pictures, envisioning my characters dwelling in the buildings.

Even if your creative writing work isn’t historical in nature, it can still benefit from research. If you’re writing a mystery, researching the tactics of real criminals can be insightful and also very interesting. A novel about life working in a circus can be made more believable and interesting if you read (both fiction and non-fiction) books and watch movies about circus performers. For one particular scene in my novel, my professor suggested that I go to a fire station to ask a firefighter about specific details pertaining to a house catching on fire.

When writing any type of creative piece featuring characters or events that you’re not personally familiar with, research can only serve to enhance your fictional world. Not only will you learn a tremendous amount through various forms of primary and secondary research, but you will more than likely have a great time doing it and be inspired to keep writing.

Poetic Clickbait

Michelle Pena, Writing Consultant

I, like many of my peers, have found myself regularly distracted by what is posted on various social media platforms. Whether that be the witty quips developed by particularly clever comedians on Twitter or the seemingly flawless lives of influencers and models on Instagram.Michelle Pena Like many English majors and lovers of the written word, I actively search for poetry through those social media sites.

This tendency has caused me to not only discover a new area of online distraction but also a new subset of writers and their work. A few such poets are Rupi Kaur, Atticus, and R.M. Drake. Their work exemplifies a newer form of poetry unique to our society’s emerging group of social media writers. This type of writing can be identified by its short and concise messages, which are usually obvious in their intended meanings.

These poets have cultivated a lively and devoted following through their social media accounts, some of which have led to the publication of their varied works. The social acclaim achieved in those instances is by no means unattainable for those interested in this genre. It is simply the application of a formula which many, once unknown, social media “celebrities” have utilized to attract the attention of the general public.

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Instagram poetry of r.m. drake

So reader, if you see yourself approaching the prospect of social media publication, there are a few things you must consider. The first being your choice of platform. All websites are not created equal because, dependent on what you want to write and how you are trying to write it, the medium you select is crucial. Some important questions to pose to yourself at this point would be: Are you writing poetry? Is it short? Does it convey a certain aesthetic? If not, would you want it to? If any of your answers to these questions are yes, then you may fair better on Instagram.

The typical audience you will encounter through Instagram will be looking for something to scroll by and enjoy briefly, versus a long descriptively complicated piece. If you are more inclined to write long style poetry, short stories, or sample pieces from a larger work, you may want to take a look at Tumblr. There are entire writing communities devoted to reviewing and responding to various works in any style and genre you might have interest in. Twitter, while not exactly the ideal place to post your writing, is an excellent platform to market your work from other places, using hyperlinks and witty sayings to draw people in.

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Instagram poetry of rupi kaur

It sounds easy, when laid out in that manner. Just upload your work, get feedback and notice, and in the blink of an eye, you’ve earned recognition. But in order to have your work seen and recognized by a mass number of people, you will need to catch their attention and acquire their devotion. Identifying the time when your posts will be most effective may seem daunting and exhaustive, but it is relatively easy information to acquire.

After quickly Google searching the best times to post on Instagram, I was able to discover multiple articles that posit what times are best depending on where you and your audience are located. One article published by Later.com, an online Instagram partner, details useful information about time scheduling and operating within the app itself. Another article on Forbes.com, called, “50 Free Ways to Increase your Instagram Followers,” aims to give you exactly what the title implies: advice on things such as what to use as a hashtag and what filter would be most effective for a photo (btw, its Mayfair).

Now the last bit of info important to consider are the pros and cons of participating in online publishing. Notice how I refer to posting your work online as “publishing,” this is because if you post your fully produced poetry online, there is a chance that traditional publishing companies may not consider it. According to Kidlit.com potential publishers want, “new, never-before-seen content,” and putting your entire collection of poems online may ruin any prospect for you to traditionally circulate your work. On the opposite end of this lies the possibility for internet notice and recognition.

By building an online following, the consideration for your writing increases as do your chances of being published. While it could be an amazing opportunity to get feedback and gauge how well your writing does in the public eye, your work might also be stolen or misattributed by others. Also, it is important for you to keep in mind that obtaining literary notice through the internet and otherwise takes time. This span of time is not the judge for how talented you are as a writer; it is simply part of the process of publishing. So, never lose hope that you can establish yourself and your work. It will just take some patience, determination, and the perfect hashtag. 😉 #writeon

Lifetime Letters: How A Writer Changed my Perspective on Faith-Based Writing

Anna-Stacia Haley, Writing Consultant 

I was making my way through all forty books in the Left Behind: Kids series. I spent my summer days at the library reading them. The workers at the time took note and eventually gave some of the books to me. After a few Christmas presents, library trips and trips to Hallmark, I soon had a collection of my ownAnna-Stacia Haley

The books are still sitting in my book shelf at my apartment. The series, co-authored by Tim Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, comes in three versions: adults, kids, and graphic novels. All of them are fictional depictions of the eschatological beliefs of the Christian faith, beginning with the Rapture and ending with the Second Coming of Christ.

Given that my favorite book of the Bible has always been Revelation, these books were perfect for me. These books gave language, faces and fullness to a subject that I adored studying. They made it come to life for me even the more and I wanted so badly to create something of my own that could do the same.

I was so enraptured—no pun intended—by the series that I desperately wanted to talk to the people that had created such a treasure.

That’s how I found myself sitting in the Madisonville Public Library. I was sitting at one of their computers, furiously scribbling down Jerry B. Jenkins’ address from his website. I was sure he had a lot to do, being a best-selling author and what not, so I wasn’t sure he would respond. However, my childlike hope refused to be deferred as I sent off my first letter to him and waited for a response. I won’t tell you what I put in that letter, one of the reasons being I don’t remember—ok, all of the reasons are that I don’t remember. I am sure that I mentioned something about how much I loved the series and how pleased I was that Vicki and Judd (two of the main characters) got married.

Sorry, spoiler alert.

I would wake up eagerly, and watch the mail man place mass amounts of mail into my grandmother’s mail box and then go on his merry way, completely unaware of how much his visits had begun to mean to me. When I got my first letter from Mr. Jenkins, I hit the ceiling. Yes, I said first. Overtime I began to write him letters as often as I could and he would always respond. There’s very little that I remember about most of the contents of the letters, but I will always remember the letters I sent when my mother became ill. It was a hard time for me, and I looked forward to his responses. The time he spent writing to me has shaped me into the person and writer that I am. I will always honor and respect him for taking the time out to respond, for never becoming too “important” to reach back out to a reader.

The letters I wrote became less and less until eventually I stopped. The letters I so earnestly cherished, were lost after our house caught fire during my latter middle school years. It was so long ago, I doubt he remembers me, but I will always remember him and what it felt like to have one of my heroes in Christian writing value me as a reader.
It is through writers like Mr. Jenkins, Tim Lahaye and Frank E. Perretti that I find strength to try new and exciting works. It is authors like them that break ground for new aspiring writers of Christian fiction. I have always admired their style and demonstration of ministry by way of literature.

The contents of their writings could be viewed as controversial, and maybe even strange. The topics covered like the End Times, Spiritual Warfare, Angels, Demons, and the Miraculous are all fare and fodder to a lot of people. To write about these things through a fictional scope, can be challenging; but to write about these things as you believe them to be, can be somewhat of a scary task. It strays a bit from mainstream works and can come off as a little more daring.

Their works have their own genre, that many others are also apart of, but they were the first that I ever encountered. Their ground-work in my life inspires me to step out and venture into places of boldness that I wouldn’t normally tread in writing.

As a writer whose writing and inspiration stems from my Christian faith, I often wonder where I fit, especially in academia. However, authors like Mr. Jenkins, Mr. Lahaye and Mr. Peretti inspire me to believe that the basis and joys of writing aren’t found in or decided by what is important to others. Rather, it is determined by what is important to you. They gave me a model, they gave me a guide and they presently give me hope and motivation to create my niche wherever I am.

Because in being true to myself and my identity as a writer, I can create masterpieces that touch the lives of little girls in small town libraries just like me, who dream of writing works that don’t just touch lives, but touch souls.

Write Like You Mean It

Josh Christian, Consultant

            Advanced Composition appeared as an elective course in my student handbook at Campbellsville University, where I was an undergraduate. I enrolled my junior year, to try to get it out of the way for a freer, more calm senior year.Josh Christian (We all know about senioritis) But it was the only class on my schedule that semester I was concerned about, as I didn’t know what to expect. “Advanced Composition” read as if I was going to be plunged into the icy academic waters, left to sink or swim. So, sitting in the lecture hall on the first day of class, I was surprised when the syllabus listed a narrative as the class’s first formal assignment. First, I wondered about its elementary nature, how it seemed trivial for English majors. Then I began to panic. What was I going to write? How was I going to structure it? What ways could I approach such a broad topic? How would I know if I was writing it correctly?

If you are wondering, I didn’t die. I got through the assignment, and it was much easier than I thought it would be. But I do not believe I am alone in my panic, as in universities across the country, students are faced with such writing assignments in composition classes. And because of their lack of experience with writing narratives in an academic setting, they don’t know what to do.  The anxiety they are feeling is more than one writing assignment. No, it is evidence of something larger at play.

Throughout my high school and early academic experience, I was taught to write for the academy. I was to take myself out of the equation, permitted from using “I”. Instead I was told to be objective and to state my opinion but through an unbiased language. I was taught to not make a claim unless I could back it up. And if I did attempt to back up my claims, I needed to cite the material in-text and on a reference page of some sort. This was academic writing. The other kinds of writing, creative writing (stories, poems, plays, etc.) and journaling or messages sent to a friend, had their place but it just wasn’t in the academy.

You see, there had been a binary established, one in the making for generations before me. Academic writing sat on one side, while creative writing sat on the other. And like all binaries, there was a strict wall between them, especially early on, when all narrative or poetic elements were driven from a student’s paper until it became nothing more than thesis statements and transitional phrases. Don’t get me wrong, these elements of academic writing also have their place. But to drive the use of these elements out of any writing completely, is to take away a writer’s desire or ability to be creative, leaving stacks and stacks of student papers which otherwise could have been more thoughtful.

So, what do we do with such a binary? How do we, as students or faculty deal with it? How can we be excited about academic writing, if we can’t be creative? And how can we approach creative projects, like literacy narratives, if we haven’t historically been given permission to be creative before? Well, like any binary, we begin to defeat it when we question it. And when we begin to question the binary, it only helps if we are ready, as students and professors alike, to take back the mantle of “writer,” a title left for the literary authors who often mold the work we, as an academy, talk about.

            When we begin to identify as writers, we begin to take responsibility for our words. We begin to be more thoughtful about what we write because we have agency over our words, them becoming our own. So, make the choice that all writers have to make. When you read the assignment sheet, ask yourself where you can stand to be creative. How can you begin with an anecdote, using narrative elements? How can you push the limits of a rubric by thinking differently about a topic? How can you make what you are writing fun to write or read? Before you know it, your creativity will inform your academic work, and your academic writing will show you the necessity of research and argument. Dare to be a writer in your own right. And whatever you write, write like you mean it.Image result for bob dylan think different                                                                     (Apple, 1997)

Writing in the World – New Ways of Imagining Literacy and Language

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

People sometimes think that, on a university campus, you spend all your days with print books and paper – even more so when you work in the University Writing Center. Yet, it doesn’t take long to look around and see that the university is filled with communication happening in so many different modes and media, from words to images to video to sound. This week we had an exciting reminder of how art works as composition and communication with the opening at the Art ShowWriting Center of the student art show titled “Writing in the World.” We had a dozen works from UofL students, all on the theme of “Writing in the World” The theme asked students to represent, through their artwork, how they encountered writing and how writing worked in their daily lives, both on and off campus. The show opened Wednesday to complement the UofL Composition Program’s Symposium of Student Writing and will remain in the Writing Center through the end of the semester.

Some artists, like Peri Crush, worked with the material artifacts of literacy, as seen in her sculpture “Break Through”

“Break Through” by Peri Crush

created from the pages of a book. Other artists drew on the visual representation of words, whether in graffiti as in  Irene Tran’s untitled photograph or Gwen Snow’s dress titled “Egwengwen Ritual Costume.” Some artists made connections to works of literature, such as Katlyn Brumfield’s still life “Poe” and still others played with the slippery nature of language itself, as in the video “Have You Seen the Dog?” a collaboration by ten students.

All the works reminded me  that literacy is simultaneously material and immaterial.

“Egwengwen Ritual Costume” by Gwen Snow

Without the material artifacts of books and pens and paper and computers, we have no reading and writing. Literacy isn’t possible until we create a work that can be interpreted though the sign systems of writing or images. At the same time, literacy is an immaterial concept that requires interpretation and connection, to other life experiences and other texts. Perhaps what the artwork demonstrated most vividly is that literacy is visual. We can not only read written words, but we can also to step back from them to understand how they work aesthetically as form and design.

It was exciting to have so many visitors drawn to the Writing Center to see the artwork, and to vote for their favorite choices. Throughout the day people were talking about the art, and talking about the themes of the show. We presented three awards. The Directors’ Award went to Alexa Helton’s  untitled drawing. The Writing Center Staff Award went to Peri Crush’s “Break Out.” And the People’s Choice award – voted by the people visiting the show — went to “Have You Seen the Dog?”

Our thanks go to Gabrielle Mayer, associate professor of Fine Arts, who organized the show and collaborated with us on the theme, and to all the student artists who contributed work, and whose names are listed at the end of the post.

“Untitled” by Alexa Hilton

At the University Writing Center we are committed to engaging writing and composing in all modes and media and we hope this kind of art and writing show will become an annual event.

If you haven’t seen the art already, do come to the Writing Center, on the third floor of Ekstrom Library, and take a look.

Artists participating in “Writing in the World.”

Yeva Sshurova

Colin Beach

Katlyn Brumfield

“Have You Seen the Dog?”

Brynn Gordon

Kathryn Harrington

Alexa Helton

Beth Heutis

Robyn Kaufman

Colton Kays

Amber Kleitz

Keegan Kruse

Irene Mudd

Renae Osman

Mikayla Powell

Brittani Rosier

Gwen Snow

Irene Tran

“Writing in the World”: A Student Art Exhibition in the University Writing Center

When you walk into our Writing Center, the first thing you will likely notice is UofL student art lining the hallway leading to our consulting area.  Along with the talented student artists who have created this work, we have Art Professor Gabrielle Mayer to thank for this display as she has provided us with this wonderful art for the last two years.

The people who visit and work in the Writing Center love to stop, look, and discuss the art.  Due to the success of our collaboration, Professor Mayer and the Writing Center have come up with a new collaboration.

On March 26th, from 10 AM to 5 PM, the University Writing Center will host a student art exhibition at its Ekstrom location.  The theme for the event is “Writing in the World.”  Any UofL student can submit a 2D, 3D, or video art project that addresses this theme.  This exhibition will be held while another event is going on in Ekstrom: The Symposium of Student Writing.

Since 2009, the Composition Program has put on this event, which is aimed at showcasing the writing projects students are composing in composition classes.  We hope that all UofL community members come by to support both events.

For students interested in submitting art to the exhibition here are the full details:

 Writing in the World:

A Student Exhibition Opportunity in Celebration of Writing

At the University Writing Center we work with all kinds of writing. Students bring their course assignments to us, but also bring their stories, job letters, and other writing that they engage in when they are off campus. We want to celebrate the diversity of writing in the lives of University of Louisville students through the theme of “Writing in the World”

 Criteria

All artwork must be original, created by University of Louisville students, and in some manner be inspired by writing in the world.

“Signs guide us through the day, graffiti challenges our views of a city, and notes from friends soothe our pain or make us smile.  We are constantly putting words together to reach out to each other. We text, we tweet, we write research papers and poems. Whatever media we use, writing and reading connect our ideas, dreams, and passions to people in the world around us.”

Two-dimensional artwork must not exceed 26 inches in either dimension.  Works on paper must be framed and all 2D work must have wire on the back for hanging (no sawtooth hangers please).

Three-dimensional artwork must not exceed 30 pounds or 24 inches in any direction.

Video entries (DVD) are accepted but must be delivered (no email entries) to the University Writing Center with submission information -include student name, email address, phone #, artwork title(s), (specify #1 or #2)& length of video- by entry deadline. Please deliver in envelop labeled “Writing in the World Entry.”

 Submissions (2D and 3D)

You may submit up to two artworks per student by emailing your submission to g.mayer@louisville.edu.

Submissions must have “Writing in the World entry” in subject line and include student name, email address, phone #, artwork title(s) (specify #1 or #2), medium, and dimensions, in body of email.  Attach artwork file(s) to email.  Artwork file(s) must be jpeg and have artist name and image number in file name.  File size should be no larger than 800 pixels in either direction.   File name example: BobSmith1.jpg

Exhibition Schedule

Entry deadline: 5pm, Monday, March 17

Notification of selected work: Thursday, March 20

Delivery of artwork: Monday, March 24, 9am – 5pm

Opening: Wednesday, March 26,10-5pm with reception from 12 to 2pm

Artwork pick-up: 9am-5pm, Thur, May 1

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