Category: Academic Writing

Writing Yourself into Your Future

Christina Davidson, Writing Consultant

The start of a new year lends itself to thoughts of beginnings. The gentle rhythms inspired by the calendar year can be wonderful reminders of work we intend to do in our own lives. I’d like to use this space to invite you to do a little deeper work than just forming a resolution to meet a few goals. I’d like to suggest the use of writing as a way to dig into discovering what you want out of your academic career, where you want to go, and how you intend to get there. I’d also like to ask you to consider how using your assigned writing tasks can accomplish these purposes, too.

First, try to think back to one of your earliest writing projects. For me, I immediately think of my very first course in research writing that I took my freshman year. I was excited to take this class since I had always loved to write. However, after the opening class session of the course, I found myself full of anxiety about how to create a proper research paper. I remember thinking to myself, “What is APA exactly? – and how in the world do I format in-text citations?” This is certainly hilarious to me now considering my current position on our campus, but it illustrates what I’d like you to think about today. Everything you choose to pursue in life will have a beginning. And writing is a great way to take yourself into a new identity you’ve never held before.

Our Program Assistant, Maddy, as well as our Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing, Kendyl, explored these ideas in recent posts, asking us to fully accept the identity of a writer. Today, I’m asking you to think of the other identities your writing may ask you to accept. In my earlier example, I decided to claim “researcher” as a title. In other courses it may have been “poet” or “essayist”, or in this instance, the title of “blogger” becomes something I can write myself into.  Each new writing task can provide us with an opportunity to step into a new future.

I’d like to turn to my original example of “researcher” because I think it is of particular relevance in the spring term. Many college freshmen will be taking ENGL 102 this semester and developing a research project for the very first time. If this pertains to you, I ask you to consider how you can take your class assignment and make it meaningful for your future. What kind of research interests you most? Where do you see yourself headed in your academic and professional career? Many times, we may feel we will assume some kind of professional authority once we graduate or achieve the job we desire in our field. I have certainly felt this way in my own professional experience. But in truth, our voices are developing now. The research work one does in an ENGL 102 course can begin to “write into” a new field and a new professional identity. And if we fully adopt this idea, suddenly all our coursework can achieve a profound relevance into the development of our futures.

Once you have embraced the title of “researcher”, I would like to invite you to take it one step further and to share your discoveries with others. You might be amazed at how your learning will deepen once you make this critical move.  One wonderful opportunity to do this is at the UofL Undergraduate Arts and Research Showcase. I was fortunate enough to serve as a judge for this showcase in the spring of 2022. I was so impressed with the work presented by UofL students, as well as the collegial spirit in the room. If interested, your chance to get involved will arrive soon; abstracts are due by April 17, 2023.

The University Writing Center is a great place to obtain feedback on any research project. If you are considering becoming a part of the Arts and Research showcase, please come in and talk with a consultant. We can help you to review your project, plan out your poster presentation, and even help with writing the application.

The new year is a great time to reflect on the previous year and to focus upon what you would like to accomplish in the next. Give yourself time to think about how your own writing, be it assigned by an instructor or personal writing, can be a way to lead into your goals. Sometimes all it takes is a new perspective to make all the difference in how we view our writing. We can deepen the meaning in our assigned writing by considering how it fits into the larger picture of our future goals. At the writing center we look forward to working with all writers this semester as we aim toward our futures as writers, researchers, poets, essayists, bloggers – wherever writing may lead!

New Year, New You: Writing Resolutions for 2023

Annmarie Steffes, Associate Director

A few weeks into 2023, here at the University Writing Center, we are already abuzz with thrilling conversations about writing. I don’t know about you, but for me, the new year and the start of a new semester hold the wonderful promise of new beginnings. I daydream about being someone else, or at least a better version of myself: Annmarie 2.0. For instance, in 2022, I vowed to become chef Annmarie, whipping up unburnt baked goods weekly and, of course, using all the veggies in the fridge long before they wilt in despair.

If you wonder if I ever achieve these goals, the answer is no I do not. You probably saw that coming. Researchers could easily use me as one data point proving that New Year’s resolutions do not work.

But here’s the thing about creating these new identities: they do lead me to experiment with new habits. In my efforts to become a chef, I mustered the courage to roast a whole chicken, to make broth from the carcass, and then to concoct a soup (without a recipe no less). I could not have had the courage for those tasks if I had not first envisioned myself as a chef. The fantasy that I had of myself as a future Gordon Ramsey allowed me to take risks and venture into territory I would never have explored otherwise.

In the Writing Center, we often ask writers to imagine their audience for their text. Who are you writing to? What are the expectations of your audience? What background or experiences might they have and how does that influence their perspective? This sort of daydreaming has led me to write more compelling prose as I aim to foster a relationship with the person on the receiving end of my paper.

But, what if we as writers spent time imagining other identities for ourselves? In my appointments, I often hear people visiting us for the first time apologizing for being a “bad writer” or say, as Kendyl and Maddy said last year, that they are not writers at all. Believing that “bad writer” or “not a writer” is an unchangeable fact about us limits our writing strategies and narrows our ambitions.

And so, I encourage you to think about what new writing identity you might try adopting and performing this spring semester. You may not believe it yet but playing the part might prompt you to develop new habits, take more risks, and shift what you think is possible for yourself. Let’s say I am writing a research paper about climate change. How might my writing change when instead of seeing myself as an amateur determined to showcase all my knowledge to my professor, I imagine myself to be a climate change expert writing my action plan to a panel of key government and business leaders? I would state my views more assertively, treat sources as my peers rather than merely authority figures, and strive to make my proposal attractive to those in power. I approach my writing differently.

In addition to inspiring a dose of confidence, role playing writerly identities can help you understand other points of view, thereby cultivating a more empathetic attitude and writing more nuanced arguments. For instance: How might I write this essay if I positioned myself as an opponent of this social or political issue rather than an advocate for it? Or perhaps: What might I write if I imagined myself as a specific person in the debate or this one particular theorist? Everything we write does not have to be the end-all be-all of what we believe; we can embody different positions and attitudes, try them on for size, jump up and down, wiggle around in them, see how they fit.

Now, I do not advocate for inauthenticity, nor do I recommend never writing from you own embodied reality. What is considered formal or correct academic writing is often middle-class, standard white English and prizes certain evidence, experience, or support over other kinds. Higher education needs diversity of viewpoints and identities to challenge this hierarchy and offer important correctives. But reimagining your identity as an author can be a useful process to clarifying what your writing identity actually is, apart from what you believe your professor wants it to be.

As a teacher myself, I know that faculty play an important role in creating an educational environment that allows for students to play and explore who they might be as writers. In their 2015 book Hospitality and Authoring: An Essay for the English Profession, Richard and Janis Haswell challenge teachers to trust the student’s writing and imagine the singularity of the person behind it, reading the choices of text in a way that “seeks the conditions that might have understandably or humanely led to it” (92). When we see complicated and complex jargon, for instance, don’t assume that students cannot write; they are trying to embody the person of the chemist, the engineer, the humanities scholar using the examples given to them, and isn’t that what we want? Guide them on how to adopt that identity with more credibility or challenge them to write from a myriad of perspectives.

We might not be a Joan Didion, a Herman Melville, a James Baldwin, or an Isabel Allende yet—but we also might surprise ourselves.

What’s Writing to You? The Role of Writing in Living

Kendyl Harmeling, Assistant Director For Graduate Student Writing

As Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing here at the University of Louisville Writing Center, I work at both the Belknap and Health Sciences campuses and frequently have conversations about writing with undergrads, grad students, faculty, and staff alike. In these interdisciplinary discussions, I often find myself told: “Well, we just don’t do a lot of writing in my field.” For a while, my response to this idea was to shrug and accept that, sure, maybe some fields are less writing-intensive than others. My response was not ideal for a number of reasons, but mainly because I was regularly shrugging off an opportunity to question the function of writing, its definitions, and how it changes across communities. Now in my response to this situation I ask: so, what is writing to you?

This languaging shift occurred for me when I was talking with a graduate student in the Dental program earlier this year, who was narrating their program path to me. They kept referring to their probable lack of Writing Center use because there was just no writing in their graduate program; no writing in a program means, of course, no need to visit the University Writing Center. But I was struck – how does a terminal degree program require no writing for their graduate students? I thought there must be something like writing going on there. To fill in the blanks, I began to think about the professional life of a practicing dentist and a flurry of questions came to me: Do dentists write? What do dentists write? What is writing to a dentist? And why do dental graduate students believe they don’t (or won’t) do it? Where’s the disconnect and what caused it?

I happen to know a handful of dentists and can confidently say that dentists write. Dentists are writers. Writing is a tool that dentists use, just like a tooth scraper or floss. My dentist writes me a prescription when necessary. He writes a regular newsletter for all his patients, outlining changes to insurance policies or scheduling systems. He publishes peer-reviewed articles in the major journals of his field on new technologies and techniques. He also writes me (and all his patients) holiday cards. Isn’t this all writing? What is writing if it’s not what my dentist does? What my dentist writes certainly looks different from what I write as a graduate student in the humanities and as a writing teacher, but the differences in the qualities and functions of our writing do not negate either of our claims to being a writer.  Our shared claims to being someone who does writing, for whom writing is a tool of our professions. The face of the writing might change—what its forms, functions, and goals are—but what remains is that we are writers writing.

If you read our Program Assistant Maddy’s blogpost from last week, you’ll learn that if you come to the UofL Writing Center, we’ll call you a “writer.” She does a lovely job writing about why we use this term, and the emotional state that you might find yourself in upon being given a title (like “writer”) that you might not feel comfortable claiming. This is the same response, to me, as when people tell me they don’t do a lot of writing in their field – there is a disconnect between what the general idea of “writing” is and the thing which people do, every day, in their professions and lives. I see this across stations and disciplines, from faculty and staff to graduate students to undergrad students in my English 101 classes. There is trepidation in claiming writing as a tool beyond the humanities, but the reality is quite different. You are a writer, and you do writing. You write, your field writes, and I’ll prove it.

Like my dentist who writes, although who might not claim the title “writer” over the title “dental professional,” we are all writing in our fields and in our lives. From my experience, this disconnect between identifying and claiming writing as a tool of our professions – of our identities in many ways – might come from the lofty myth of writing. This idea that writing must have its head in the clouds with its feet off the ground – that it must loft our better angels of ideas high into the sky where only theorists and artists can find it – is misplaced and misguided. Writing is a tool, and sometimes it can be lofty and heavy-hitting, but sometimes it’s just a vehicle for communication. When I write poetry, I feel like a “writer,” but, when I write text messages, or social media posts, or when I write an email to my boss – I am also a writer in these moments, a writer doing writing. And so are you.

A lawyer will tell you that writing is an essential tool in their profession, likewise a teacher or a professional writer. But so will hospital workers and medical professionals. Nurses doing rounds on call have to write PICO reports of their patients; similarly, they write prescriptions, emails to insurance companies or the billing department, and so many other micro-genres that populate the communicative avenues of their disciplines. A hospital administrator needs to write board reports, grant proposals, budgets, etc. A custodial-professional needs to write order lists and take inventory. An engineer needs to write grant proposals, blueprints, and proofs. A software designer writes code. A postal worker writes “Sorry I missed you” stickers when trying to deliver packages when you’re not home. And these are only examples of mono-modal genres.

None of these genres are any more “writing” than another. Their variance is part of what makes writing such an incredible, essential tool. Lofty or not, writing is about communication – and communication is a fundamental human experience. So, come by the University Writing Center to have a fundamentally human experience, to talk through what writing means to you, what it looks like, and what it does. More so, come by to talk about how the UWC can help you build a relationship with your and your field’s writing. Challenge yourself to question and analyze the role writing plays in your profession or program. Maybe, even, write about it.

Some reflective questions to begin analyzing your relationship with writing in your professional and personal life:

  1. What do you imagine the definition of “writing” is – what elements of a text must be present for it to be considered “writing”?
    1. Where and when did you learn this?
    1. What is the relationship between when/how this idea of “writing” formed for you and how it frames your relationship to writing today? In other words, how were you socialized into this view of “writing” and how has that socialization impacted how you view “writing” today?
  2. What genres (categories) of “writing” do you interact with daily – if we can accept that “writing” can mean any written (alphabetic or otherwise) communication?
  3. How is writing integrated into the systems you work within? How does it affect operations and functions of your workplace/space? What about in your personal life?
  4. Would you call yourself a writer – considering your creation of text with these genres and conventions? Why or why not?
    1. How many times do you have to write, and in how many ways, before you can call yourself a writer?

The Shape of Writing: Halloween and Writing Go Hand-in-Hand

Andrew Messer, Writing Consultant

There was a conversation I had with Dr. Bronwyn Williams, the director of our community of writing consultants, where he told me that all spy movies are literacy narratives. Well, that got me thinking, truly thinking—and this may very well have been the first time I had a truly deep thought in months, coming fresh off of summer break at the time—about what other stories are technically literacy narratives. Some other types of action movies, sure. Superheroes? It’s possible to make that argument. However, fate would grant me a serendipitous revelation just as it was time to write up a blog post of my own. What better day to talk about the literacy of horror movies than today, Halloween? And better yet, is there a more apt movie to talk about than John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978)? I think not.

We find literacy in Carpenter’s film in a variety of ways, most notably in the question of why Michael Myers wears his signature mask. There are a myriad of answers, and one of them is that he is trying to hide. The movie begins with Michael hiding from his sister before he, well… you know what happens. Michael isn’t just hiding his face though: he is hiding his ability to be read. He withholds from both the viewer and the other characters of the film the ability to be read and understood. It takes great effort, strife, horror, as well as some sleuthing for the characters to finally track down Michael from his old home to the killings he gets up to throughout the film. It takes a great deal of intellectual and psychological literacy for the doctor to track Michael across Haddonfield to his showdown with Laurie Strode.

Now, you might be wondering—I know I sure was—what has this to do at all with writing or writing center work. Great question! All of these aspects of literacy shown in Halloween started to remind me of something oddly familiar—the writing process itself. Fellow horror buffs may recall, but in the script for Carpenter’s film, Myers is referred to as the Shape; I think this is an apt metaphor for beginning the writing process, for what is the beginning of a draft but a vague shape? The Shape of drafting can be many things: procrastination, intimidation, a confusing prompt or topic, or even something as scary as a new or unfamiliar genre. The Shape finds a way to haunt all of us when we start the drafting process, and it tries to turn us into Bob if we let it.

Starting a paper is much like the events of this film: scary and disjointed without a lot to keep the threads together. Sometimes the meaning and message remains masked, if you’ll excuse the pun. Sometimes it can be something you feel like running from, avoiding it until the last minute. Sometimes you must be Laurie Strode and—metaphorically, of course—stab at your paper wildly with a knitting needle until something comes out loosely approximating what you are trying to accomplish. Either way, the Shape must be confronted to move forward, and often that is done by looking back on what you have accomplished in the past. Relying on your knowledge and the skills in literacy and writing that you have developed over many years of being a thoughtful and insightful human being.

And insightful you are. You are a writer and a reader all-in-one, and just like Laurie you will figure out what the Shape is. Though you may not always unmask it in the end, and sometimes when you think you have finished a draft the Shape will haunt you still. Yet again, just like Laurie, you are not alone. If need be, let the Writing Center be your Loomis: let us help you uncover the Shape of your writing because there is no need to face it alone. Writing, much like surviving a slasher, is a collaborative process—oftentimes taking much more planning and effort to overcome than previously thought possible. But we are here, and we know the Shape just as you do.

This all makes it seem so horrifying, and perhaps this analogy might scare you away from ever writing again. However, dear reader, if you are anything like me, then you will understand that pit in your stomach when you start to write something new. The Shape looming oppressively near you, watching from the corner and remaining masked and hidden from view. Yet, you must remember to always carry the will of Laurie Strode inside you. Clutch tightly to that knitting needle, cower for a moment if you need to, but in the end we all must face the Shape, and more often than not, we win in the end.

Happy Halloween, and happy writing!

Halloween. Directed by John Carpenter, Compass International Pictures, 1978.

Sustainability is More Than Science: Exploring Climate Change Education Across Cultures

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

The weather report: Today in Louisville it is partly cloudy and 68 degrees. In Manila, Philippines it is 88 with thunderstorms. In Graz, Austria it is cloudy and 60 degrees, in Rustenburg, South Africa it 85 and sunny and in Sydney, Australia it is 63 and raining. If you are teaching a classroom of students about climate change in any of these places, their immediate experience of climate will be the transitory weather they see out the window. Yet, from the perspective of the global climate emergency, things look quite different. In Louisville and in Graz, there have been increases in flooding and heat emergencies in the summers. The Philippines continues to be battered by stronger and more frequent typhoons. The countryside around Sydney still shows scars of the unprecedented wildfires of 2020 and, in Rustenburg, increasing heat and drought conditions mean that sometimes students are sent home from school when there is no water.

Louisville students talk with South African students by video

Climate change is simultaneously global in scope, yet experienced locally in quite different ways. From the perspective of education, it can be a challenge to convey to students how what is happening to the climate is more than the immediate weather out the window, but also not as abstract as an image of a polar bear on an iceberg. Currently I’m involved in a climate change education project focused on thinking of new ways of learning – and writing – about climate change across cultures. This interdisciplinary education project is initially focused on connecting middle-school students from around the world share what they are learning – and experiencing – about how climate change affects their local communities. The researchers and teachers involved in the pilot stage of this Global Climate Change Education Project – from Austria, South Africa, the Philippines, Australia, and the US – will gather here at the University of Louisville next week for a planning conference funded by a Spencer Foundation grant. The goal of the project is to help students learn about climate change not only from the perspective of science, but also how it affects, and is affected by, history, politics, culture, and the media. We hope that making these kinds of human connections across cultures can make climate change seem less abstract and, as a result, can lead to a greater sense of empathy and an increased commitment to the behavioral change and political action required to address the climate emergency.

The project brings together teachers and researchers from the sciences, education, and social sciences, and all have crucial roles to play in our planning. But, from my perspective as a literacy researcher and writing teacher, I also see writing and communication as key parts both of how students learn about climate change, and how they will communicate with people in their communities and with their peers across cultures. Part of what intrigues me about working on this project are the interdisciplinary possibilities. The science part of it is crucial, of course, but issues of sustainability are also about culture and community. And our explorations of culture and community are through science, but also through stories, history, poetry, images, film, and more. If we are to communicate and build relationships across cultures, we need to understand more about place and identity, and how those shape both science and our daily lives. What’s more, there is substantial research that indicates that what persuades people to act on social issues is not only facts and evidence-based reasoning, but also narratives, emotions, and relationships.

So I’ve found myself thinking about how science, art, narrative, oral history, poetry, and more might be brought together in climate change education, both in this project and others. This raises questions that are shaping many of my research and teaching interests right now. How is sustainability more than science? How must we also explore and examine issues of culture, community, history, and relationships in terms of climate change? What experiences and relationships motivate people toward action in a given context? How do we promote agency in students? And how is all of that mediated through interpreting and creating texts – both in print, but also in sound, video, images and other media and modes?

In exploring these, and other questions about location, culture, and sustainability, I am also interested in how we can use digital technologies to create these kinds of texts and opportunities for communication. We’ve already been doing some pilot projects among the students involving writing, video, and other forms of communication. Down the line we may explore other ideas, such as possibly creating a digital repository of student climate change narratives, interviews, podcasts and more, where people can upload video or audio or print and then they are available to others for teaching and research. Sharing this kind of writing would be another way to get students communicating about local knowledge across cultures and, I hope, increasing knowledge and empathy.

We are in the early days of this project, but I am eager for the conversations and work we will engage in next week in the planning conference and to think about how writing and literacy will play a role in climate change education going forward. As a teacher and researcher I have always been interested in the knowledge people have in their daily lives and how we draw on that, and connect it, to issues and ideas in school. I believe that, to engage in kind of broad-based change needed to address the climate emergency we need to explore new perspectives for that are grounded in local knowledge, languages, and cultures. We’re taking what we hope will be a helpful steps next week for learning and action across communities and cultures. Stay tuned.

Dr. Strangeword or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love to Write (Allusion)

Wendell Hixson, Writing Consultant

There is no need to be an “expert!” Far too many writers, readers, students, and scholars see writing as requiring the gravest of literary circumstances. Many believe that writing must possess grandiloquence, gravitas, gratitude, grammaticality, and—especially—graftiquilimentiploricissitudinousness (neologism; I trust you’ll look up everything in italics that you don’t know). However, the magical qualities of writing, of your voice lie not in some Ivory Tower, swirling in the minds of some rhetorical warlock or literary lich (alliteration), but at your very fingertips. The unhindered imagination can create entertaining and enjoyable examples of writing without a need for scholarly expertise.

As two francophone thinkers posited, “Literary history seems deliberately to ignore writing as practice, as work, as play” (Thomas and Motte 98). And they’re, frankly, dead on. I live by the mantra that one should have fun with their writing. Fun can be the driving farce (malapropism) behind the most successful research and prose, as fun is usually the best motivator. Sometimes the very essence of rewarding, valuable writing is held not in researched ideas, dense argumentation, or scholarly opinion. Sometimes the very essence of rewarding writing is just having a chuckle at a simple and silly play on words. And sometimes you may end up learning the difference between the endless devices and playful maneuvers found within the English language, and the unique devices within other languages as well.

Perhaps you’ll come across words like (and, yes, these are all real) lipogram, chiasmus, petrosomatoglyph, epizeuxis, bdelygmia, clerihew, butyraceous, syzygy, ekphrasis, bibliobibuli, zeugma, absquatulate, phantasmagoric, lugubriousness, floccinaucinihilipilification, hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, and jib. Perhaps you’ll even use them. This is the fun of language: the exploration and wonder of the gift we’ve so luckily evolved. It operates much like a magic, a power with which we can create meaning and reality out of nothingness. Most any sounds, amalgam of letters, and absurd or beautiful stories develop our very understanding of this powerful tool (e.g. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows or Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons). Language is a boundless, bottomless ocean that we are rarely encouraged to truly navigate. Language can be morphed into humorous contests, such as Monty Python’s Word Association Football or Rosencrantz & Guildenstern’s Questions Game (both of which I recommend watching). Language can be manipulated for the sake of art, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s extended vocabulary or Lewis Carroll’s fantastical prose (read “The Bells” and/or “Jabberwocky”). Language can be invented for the sake of worldbuilding, such as Star Trek’s Klingon or Tolkien’s Middle-earth (which inspired real world uses of these languages). Succinctly, it makes us feel. And that is a power that should be embraced, nurtured, protected, and proliferated.

Now, this is not to advocate for disregarding formal academic writing as a whole. This is not a call to challenge a professor for stifling your creativity. There is a time and a place for pure fun and freedom, and—really—a research paper, a dissertation, or a scientific journal are not always the most appropriate sites for Tolkien’s Elvish or the word “lugubrious.” That’s okay. It can be symbiotic. We language-users still have an obligation and an ability to balance our teaching and communication with our capacity to entertain. Sometimes that means foregoing a pun or poetry (wordplay), but it doesn’t mean foregoing interest in your ideas and how you write them (rhetorical devices). Our world can be a worrisome place that requires our attention, compassion, and power whenever we can lend it. And, hopefully, we can use our voices to mend relationships, to empower those we care about, to stand against and maybe inspire those who feel silenced. To use your voice for good is all one can ask. So, I truly wish that your ongoing adventure through language brings you a greater sense of confidence in yourself, and I hope it also brings an appreciation for how genuinely, innately powerful our voices really are. And that doesn’t mean it’ll ever be perfect. As I said, you don’t need to be an “expert.” You just have to be human.

Thomas, Jean-Jacques and Warren F. Motte join. “Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature.” South Atlantic Review 53 (1988): 185.

Indigenous Literatures and Writing Histories

Charlie Ward, Writing Consultant

Land is sacred. It provides us with nourishment and safe keeping: our strongest relationships are born from shared homes, gently rocking us to sleep like a mother and her newborn. We cannot survive without the land; yet, this land has not always been ours.

October 10 is Indigenous Peoples’ Day: an observation and commemoration of Native and Indigenous histories and cultures. This is the second year the United States has officially observed the holiday; however, its creation spans back as far as 1977. The International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas is attributed with first suggesting its observation to combat the revisionist history presented during Colombus Day celebrations.

Fundamental misunderstandings of Indigenous history permeate the cracks of western academia. Many are unable to identify the cultural nuances of the Indigenous peoples, as well as their influence on writing and literature. Consider your knowledge of Indigenous history: what land is Louisville, Kentucky is on? Are you able to name the tribes of the Anishinaabe? Why do some people use Indigenous versus Native American versus American Indian?

Here are the answers:

1.) Louisville, Kentucky is on Adena, Cherokee, Hopewell, Miami, Osage, Seneca-Iroquois, and Shawnee land.

2.) The Anishinaabeg consist of the Algonquin, Mississaugas, Nipissing, Odawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi peoples.

3.) Various names exist for various reasons. American Indian has been reclaimed by many Native and Indigenous peoples. Native American was coined around the 1960s as a response to anti-Indigenous racism. Indigenous considers the origins and the claim to land that Indigenous peoples hold. First Nations, Aboriginal peoples, and Native Canadians may also appear in works regarding discourse around Indigenous peoples of Canada. You may notice that I switch back and forth between my terminology in this piece, but identity is preferential and personal: always ask before you ascribe a label.

How many of these did you all get right—even partially? Western academia has long withheld Indigenous history from us: we are not the first to be required to learn these things in our own time, and we will not be the last.

What does this all have to do with writing? Well, a lot.

As I mentioned previously, Indigenous culture has influenced writing and literature. The oral traditions of many tribes aided in the development of literature as a shared medium. People gathered to share many fictional narratives, characterized by experiences with the metaphysical world and transformative identities; the indulgent details furthered the performance of storytelling. Indigenous myths and legends explored the role of animals, one’s relationship to the earth, and morality. For example, Ababinili And The Humans is a Chickasaw myth about how humans came to be. The first line mentions the “moon, sun, wind, rainbow, thunder, and fire”—they don’t exist as symbolic figures, but instead as characters that propel the plot.

While it was important for generations to pass down oral traditions, colonization hierarchized written works. Settlers found writing to be indicative of a more enlightened people, i.e., a more western-ized people. I think it’s good to note that Indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada experienced colonialism differently; my historical account is simplified, but it’s necessary to understand that tradition was influenced by outside pressures. In addition, settlers imposed barriers to publishing for Indigenous authors—barriers that Indigenous authors broke and continue to combat today.

Looking at the historical development of writing and literature can aid us in our understanding of the current climate. For Indigenous peoples, writing and oral tradition were both a form of resistance. Writing combated settler’s notions of civilization, revealing rich cultural narratives; oral tradition built the foundation of writing, as well as uniting community and family. I think miseducation can prevent us from viewing Indigenous history as something innate to the development of literature—Indigenous cultures have existed longer than we know, therefore it’s right to assume that they have an influence on the way we write.

Colonialism’s desire to view Indigenous culture as anything beyond uncivilized pervades in modern discourses: we turn ourselves away from oral communication and struggle to acknowledge its importance in cultivating ideas and identity. Talking builds communities, unites enemies, and keeps us mentally sound. What’s better than discussing your ideas with a friend before writing them down?

We see imagery from Indigenous literature in contemporary narratives: heroes, villains, and moral quandaries are more popular than ever! Indigenous writing isn’t just mythological tales, but shared discourses. There There by Tommy Orange, The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich, and Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson all explore ideas of community and identity; they’re read by audiences world-wide, and well worth a read.

When teaching in the writing center, I think it’s important to keep the historical and cultural identities of our students in mind. The priorities of western academia aren’t always going to be the priorities of writer’s—and that’s fine! We should also be looking at the influences of non-western and non-white people on writing: we owe a lot of respect and recognition.


Bibliography

“Ababinili and the Humans.” Accessed October 7, 2022. https://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/Ababinili_And_The_Humans-Chickasaw.html. “Indigenous Writing since 1867: Once Neglected Now Celebrated.” Indigenous Writing since 1867: Once Neglected Now Celebrated – Indigenous Studies – Simon Fraser University.

Put Your Heart in It: Creative Writing’s Place in an Academic Space

Liz Soule, Assistant director

After a two-year break from creative writing, I stumbled my way back into it through fan fiction this past March. Although I would never judge another writer for finding inspiration in fan works, I confess feeling a bit ashamed by my own admission. Halfway through a 2,000 word story exploring a deeply emotional conflict between two characters that were not my own creation, I started to wonder: shouldn’t my time be taken up by more intellectual pursuits? I could have been reading for a class or starting a paper. Wasn’t this a waste of precious time and mental energy?

Whether you’re writing that crossover fanfic you’ve had percolating in your brain for the past six months or even something more traditional, I am sure that you, too, have wondered where your creative writing endeavors fit in within the grand scheme of your academic journey. In an academic culture that focuses so intently on making the grade, it is hard to see the benefits of any pursuit that does not result in some kind of marked increase in your GPA.

But if writing pedagogy tells us anything, it is that writing processes extend far beyond the context of one assignment, genre, or even discipline. Academic writing and creative writing doubtlessly have a symbiotic relationship. But what does this look like? How can we rationalize our continued pursuit of creative writing?

Hoping to learn more about this, I spoke with two of my colleagues at the University Writing Center, Maddy Decker and Andrew Messer. Maddy serves as the senior program assistant in the University Writing Center, and is pursuing an MFA in creative writing at Eastern Kentucky University. She also leads the creative writing group! Andrew is a writing consultant, and is pursuing an MA in English at the University of Louisville. Both are prolific creative writers! In brief interviews, I asked them how creative writing and academic writing have interacted for them.

For Andrew, writing creatively has revealed new ways to express himself across the board. “Creative writing helped me find a voice,” he explained. That voice carries through to his academic assignments, allowing him room to creatively approach essays and apply his unique style to many different kinds of writing. He intentionally practices this, developing creative ways to complete assignments each time he gets one.

Similarly, Maddy describes creative writing as granting her “a little bit more flexibility.” Like Andrew, she doesn’t feel locked into a particular formula when it comes to academic writing. Rather, the perspective she’s gleaned through creative writing gives her “a different idea of what forms academic writing can take.” She also brings her own stylistic flare to her academic work through the use of heightened figurative language.

Likewise, the two have found that academic writing can influence their creative processes. Andrew’s experiences with writing academically, particularly in composition courses, made him become much more aware of the role of audience in any piece of writing. “I became a lot more aware of the external audience and now try to be cognizant that people are going to read it and they need to understand,” he said. When it comes to creative writing, this means making what is implicit more explicit.

Speaking on the influence of academic courses in her creative writing, Maddy said: “They feed each other a lot.” She has used the material from courses, such as a forensic anthropology course, to create new content. Some of her current projects stem from past courses she took during her undergraduate career.

Andrew and Maddy aren’t alone in feeling this way. For me, I have found that creative writing helps me gain momentum. I put aside my perfectionism to write silly stories about characters, and it remains suspended as I transition into other activities. Starting an assignment is always a struggle for me, but when I begin with creative writing, I feel like the words fly out of my fingers and onto the page. And, perhaps more importantly, my experiences with creative writing have taught me to be open to revision. I know that I can (and should) write, rewrite, and rewrite again.

In closing out our interviews, I asked both Andrew and Maddy to share any words of wisdom they had for maintaining creative writing endeavors while in school. After all, even if you know the benefits of writing creatively, it can be hard to make the space for it.

Andrew recommended taking literature courses, if possible, because “you’ve gotta read for those courses, so you’re still expanding your repertoire.” He also shared a nugget of wisdom from his creative writing professors: “If you wanna write, then read!”

Maddy insisted that writers make time for creative writing, even if it’s in small ways. She advocated for writing whatever comes to you. “Having that interest stay alive is the priority. Just make sure your heart is still in it,” she said.

I hope that you find validation in what we’ve shared here today. Know that if you’re ever in doubt of the place your creative writing has within your process or program, here at the University Writing Center, we are happy to help you build those connections and find your flow.

Interested in writing creatively? Join us at the Creative Writing Group, led by Maddy! Meetings are held in person in the University Writing Center (Ekstrom 132) from 5:30 – 7pm on the following Mondays:

October 10th

November 14th

December 5th

For more information, please email us at writing@louisville.edu or call us at 502-852-2173.

The Importance of Community

Christina Davidson, Writing Consultant

Writing can often feel like a solitary practice. It’s likely we’ve all had the troubling experience of staring into a blank page, searching ourselves for how to fill the void with our thoughts. And these lonely feelings have only been compounded by our collective public experience over the past few pandemic years. Yet during this time, I continually found comfort in the realization that when a writer sits in front of the page, they always bring others with them. We write to an audience, we engage with other voices in our field, and we collaborate with other writers to improve our practice. Indeed, when we are writing, we are not alone.

Writing, it would appear, is a much more social activity than we often think. With this truth in mind, I invite you to consider how further engaging in community as a writer may improve your practice. Here are a few benefits and advantages.

Support

Everyone struggles with writing. Despite how it may seem, even the best writers experience difficulties or frustrations with their writing. But on the other side of struggle, progress awaits. When writing within a community, you’ll find others who not only understand what you are going through, but often they will share strategies that have worked for them in the past. One easy way to have a conversation about your writing is to make an appointment for a consultation at the University Writing Center. This free service invites writers to bring any piece of writing in, during any stage of the process. We’re also here for any writer, be that an undergraduate, graduate, faculty, or staff member. My own academic journey has been greatly impacted by writing center consultants. When I meet with a consultant, I feel heard, affirmed, and encouraged in my work. I like to think of it as a series of ongoing conversations about writing, which continually refine my practice and make me a better communicator.

Real-Time Feedback 

One of the most treasured gifts a writer can receive is a reader. When writing in a community, we freely give each other this offering. When a person thoughtfully reads your work and responds to it, you receive perspective on your writing that will improve it. At the University Writing Center, we aim to provide students with useful suggestions they may take from our consultation to immediately bring their writing to the next level. We also welcome writers to attend multiple appointments on a single piece of writing. Our appointment sessions last 50 minutes and will always provide you with something to work on after the consultation is over. However, if you are looking for more feedback, we hope you will return to us for another chance to gain more insight. Communication in these appointments is key. Be sure to let your consultant know what you want to take from the session; they will do their very best to assist.

Accountability

Another way to tangibly find community as a writer is to join a writing group. The University Writing Center offers multiple opportunities for writers to meet with other writers with similar goals. One such example is the Faculty and Graduate Student Writing Group which will begin again this fall. Another group starting soon is the Creative Writing Group, open to any creative writer seeking a group for growth and feedback. Groups like these, and many other events offered by the University Writing Center throughout the year, provide a chance for you to gain multiple perspectives on your writing, within a safe and helpful environment. Writing groups undoubtably help writers to set goals, maintain focus, and improve their work over time. You may also develop relationships with other writers, particularly with similar interests, that extend beyond your time in the group. Many of my lifelong friends are individuals I met during community writing events or retreats. Be sure to check in with the University Writing Center throughout the year to see when new groups or events are posted so you can experience these benefits, too.

While we have reviewed three important reasons to incorporate more community into your writing life, it is hardly a comprehensive list. Engaging in a community of writers certainly develops our technical skills, but also affects many of the more abstract qualities that make a good writer. I know my conversations with other writers have undoubtedly given me greater perspective, deeper empathy, and a wider awareness of the world. A good writing community can refine your purpose as a writer and push you towards bigger goals than you even thought possible. Maybe you hope to complete a novel, publish a poem, or conduct a new research study? A community of writers can help you achieve these dreams and will stand alongside you during the journey. It’s my hope we will see you at the University Writing Center soon to begin this process. Let’s get started today!

It’s All About the Conversations in the Writing Center – Looking to the Year Ahead

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

Those of us in colleges and universities often feel like the energy and anticipation of starting a new year happens every August, rather than in January. We draw up new plans for the year ahead, make hopeful resolutions, and take part in the rituals, both formal and informal, that mark new beginnings. At the University Writing Center one of our important, and always energizing, rituals takes place when the new group of consultants show up for the coming academic year. This past Thursday we all met as a group for the first time at the our orientation. That day we began the conversations, that will continue throughout the year, about how best to support the writing of all members of the UofL community. Central to our values and practices are seeing our work with writers as helping them strengthen the drafts they bring to an appointment, but also to offer strategies and advice to help them be stronger, more confident writers in the future.

University Writing Center Consultants – 2022-23

The best way to support writers and strengthen their drafts, writing processes, and skills, is to engage in collaborative conversations. We’re excited to be able to have our schedule available again for in-person appointments. Both my experience as a writing teacher, and research in writing studies, make it clear that the best way to help a person improve as a writer is through dialogue. In our appointments, writers tell us their concerns about their drafts, we tell them what we see as strengths and areas of concern, and then we have a conversation about different strategies available to improve their drafts. Throughout our appointments there is time for both writers and consultants to to be able to ask questions and explore new ideas. Through listening to writers and asking questions, we can help them discover for themselves how best to improve their writing. These in-person conversations are collaborative and energizing for everyone involved, and they are what make writing center work so rewarding for those of us who do it. The realities of the COVID-19 pandemic have meant that many people in the UofL community have not had the experience of an in-person consultation, but I hope people will give it a try this fall and see what a difference such a conversation can make in terms of their writing, now and in the future.

We are, as always, committed to work with any writing, with any member of the UofL community, at any point in the writing process. People are welcome to come in and brainstorm ideas about how to respond to an assignment, or bring in a draft to develop strategies for revision. For all writers, our work will continue to be grounded in an ethic that draws from principles of hospitality, service, care, empathy, patience, and respect. We are also always committed to be a safe, inclusive, and equitable space for all writers on campus. It’s these principles that help consultants and students work together to create more effective, critical, and creative writing.

We also continue our work to create and support a culture of writing on campus. We will continue to facilitate our writing groups (Graduate Student and Faculty Writing Group, Creative Writing Group, and LGBQ+ Writing Group), hold writing-focused events such as readings and open mic nights, and work with our community partners on our community writing projects. And we will continue to have more ideas about writing in this blog and well as on our social media feeds (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube).

On Monday morning, we will begin to a new year of working with writers to make their writing stronger. Those Monday appointments will be the first of thousands we will hold in the year to come. We’re excited about sharing the journey ahead with all of you as we all work to being a positive focus and force for all the writing, in all its many forms, that takes place in this university community.