Liz Soule, Assistant Director for the University Writing Center
The first time I was introduced to a writing group was in the spring of 2016. As a way to welcome more students to the writing center, one of my friends and co-workers proposed the “Creative Writing Jam.” This was a series of creative writing groups held at the writing center, in which writers would come in, and amongst a community of like-minded individuals, get to work drafting their latest piece.
I hung posters advertising the event on the walls of my residence hall. I remember looking at the posters and feeling a mixture of confusion, anxiety and curiosity at the sight of them. Who would want to write in a big group? Wouldn’t that be distracting? Or worse, what if my writing wasn’t like theirs — and they judged me for it? Due to my trepidation, I never attended the Creative Writing Jam.
Now, as the facilitator of the LGBTQ+ writing group, I often wonder if these same questions keep folks from attending our group. This blog post is written for all those who stare at our whiteboard and wonder. In what follows, I’ll explore what our LGBTQ+ writing group is, why we offer it, and offer a window into what a typical group meeting looks like. My hope is that this begins the process of answering some burning questions and alleviating anxieties, and maybe opens our doors to more writers across campus.
What is the LGBTQ+ writing group? Why do you offer it?
The LGBTQ+ writing group is a gathering of writers that meets monthly in the University Writing Center. This group welcomes writers that self-identify as LGBTQ+ or as allies to join together to write in a communal space. Any kind of writing is welcome in this group (professional, personal, creative or course-related). During group meetings, participants have the opportunity to get to know others in the community as they actively write alongside their peers.
The LGBTQ+ writing group, like all of the University Writing Center’s writing groups, exists to promote a culture of writing across campus. An additional reason why we offer the LGBTQ+ writing group is to foster a supportive community of queer writers and their allies. This means that the identities of LGBTQ+ writers are respected (and, when appropriate, celebrated) and their writing is welcomed. By carving out a space for LGBTQ+ writers, the University Writing Center makes it clear that our growth as writers matters, and that we belong.
I would argue that we are working to effectively serve that purpose, too. At a recent meeting, I asked the attendees of the group what their reasons for attending were. One writer said they were looking for a “judgment-free,” or supportive community of writers. Another writer, who often writes queer romances, said they sought a space where the content of their writing would be welcome. For others, it came down to basic math – likeminded queer people to befriend plus writing to share and enjoy. In other words, a supportive community that fosters a culture of writing.
What happens in a typical meeting?
In this next section, I’ll try to illustrate what a typical writing group meeting looks like. While my description might not be as dynamic as the real thing, I hope that it can help reduce any anxieties that come with the unknown.
At the start of each LGBTQ+ writing group, the University Writing Center door is wide open. Everyone signs in, grabs a snack, and finds a seat amidst the circle of tables. Once we’ve all settled in, we share our names, our personal pronouns and the kinds of writing we’re working on.
Then comes the fun part: we write! For the majority of our hour-long meeting, we all actively write. And there is really no wrong way to do this. Some of us complete homework, while others write creatively. Some even complete personal writing, like daily journaling. During this time, some of us chat, others listen to music, and most of us get seconds on snacks.
To wrap our meeting up, we talk about the kind of writing we’ve completed–and what we hope to accomplish in the near future. Some writers like to share recent writing during this time, but no one is ever forced to do so. Those that do receive thoughtful, positive responses. Afterwards, we say our goodbyes and I close the doors of the University Writing Center for the night.
This sums up most of our LGBTQ+ writing group meetings. There are some variations to meetings, but they’re usually small and always optional. For example, next time we meet, I’ll be bringing some prompts for the creative writers in the room to respond to, if they so choose. Also, a couple of our writers are also thinking they might workshop as a pair.
Some final thoughts
If you’ve been on the fence about attending this–or any–writing group, I hope this guides you to our doors. In the event that you have more questions, please, feel free to e-mail us at email@example.com, and we will happily discuss our groups with you.
More importantly, I hope that you know you are always welcome in our space. I’ll be glad to have you in the LGBTQ+ writing group, and we are excited to have you in the University Writing Center.
For the first time in almost 18 months we have been arranging tables, stocking up on handouts, and dusting off shelves in anticipation of once again holding in-person writing consultations. On Thursday we welcomed our new group of writing consultants for orientation and once again the University Writing Center was full of conversations about how best to help writers in the UofL community learn strategies for being more effective writers as well as gain a stronger sense of confidence and agency about their writing. One thing we have missed in the last year, given the kind of collaborative dialogue that is at the foundation of teaching writing the way we do, is the kind of nuance and richness that comes from in-person conversations. Though we value the online video chat and written response appointments we held last year – and will continue to hold this year – we are also excited at the opportunity to talk to writers face to face again.
Of course, the fact that only half of each face will be visible is a reminder of the range of physical, logistical, and emotional challenges we all continue to confront. We are returning to a campus where masks are mandatory, in a city and state were delta variant cases among the unvaccinated are skyrocketing. Though all of our staff are vaccinated, we are not immune to anxiety or the distraction that comes from the ongoing uncertainty all around us. We will be adopting myriad modifications and practices to do our best to keep everyone safe. It’s certainly not a return to 2019.
Even so, our plan is to move ahead and, whether in person or online, do the best we can to use constructive dialogue to help writers address their individual concerns about their work. We will continue to listen carefully during appointments and respond with suggestions that writers can use to rethink and revise their work to make it as engaging as possible. And we will do our best to create a safe and supportive space where writers can try out new ideas – and sometimes make mistakes – and then be able to try again. There may be many uncertainties ahead in the coming year, but we will – as always – be committed to starting where writers are, with their concerns, and working toward honest, constructive conversations about writing that emphasize collaboration and creativity.
We are excited about the year ahead and the chance to help writers do the important work of communicating the ideas they are passionate about to the world around them.
This May, for the tenth time, we held our annual Dissertation Writing Retreat. Over the ten years we have held these Retreats, we have worked with doctoral student writers from every college in the University – more than 150 writers during that decade. The Retreat offers writers time and structure to focus on writing their dissertations and daily writing consultations to get feedback on their writing. In addition, each day there are morning and afternoon check-in meetings to set goals for the day and talk about accomplishments and daily small group discussions at lunchtime about writing issues such as structuring a dissertation, time management, and editing and citation issues. Again, this year, the Retreat took place online. (If you want a blast from the past, here is a blog post from that first Retreat in 2012).
The Dissertation Writing Retreat is a busy time – and a lot of work – on our end, but it is also reliably one of the highlights of our year. It’s always exciting to see the writers who attend both make progress on their writing. Yet, just as important, is the ways in which writers develop and refine their writing processes and their approaches to navigating the complexities of audience, genre, and authorial position necessary to write an effective dissertation. At the same time, our writing consultants, who are all doctoral students themselves, always talk about the things they learn during the Retreat about writing and new approaches to teaching writing. In this way, the Dissertation Writing Retreat is a vivid example of the ethic and theory of “hospitality” that we work from in the University Writing Center. Based on the work by Richard and Janis Haswell, hospitality as an approach to education draws from traditional conceptions of hospitality in which a guest and host are both understood to bring value to an encounter and in which reciprocity is a cultural norm. During the Retreat, we always hear how both the writers and consultants learn from each other and, even in just a week, for a supportive community of writers.
Here, in their own words, is a sense of how some of the writers and consultants benefited from the Retreat
First the writers:
Charlotte Asmuth, English. I got so much out of the Dissertation Writing Retreat! I was surprised at how much work I could accomplish in just one week. I came into the week with some writing anxiety and concerns about how to organize particular sections of two chapters. As I worked on my writing and talked with my consultant and other participants in small groups, I learned that I wasn’t alone and I also picked up some strategies for managing my writing time that really helped. In one week, I learned more about my writing process and what will help me write than I’ve learned in several years. For example, outlining and then writing in chunks helps me––as does closing my email, turning my phone off, and writing down concerns as they arise so that I can come back to them later (instead of trying to solve them right away). I’m leaving the week with a great set of strategies to maintain momentum on my dissertation and I’m going to stay in touch with several participants, too.
Doroty Sato, Social Work. The Dissertation Writing Retreat 2021 gave me the resources to continue improving my writing skills. Beyond that, it gave me confidence that I am on the right track. There are so many factors playing a role in this process, so struggling with academic writing is okay. It is not a shame. The Writing Center Team and my colleagues in the group did such an excellent job offering advice and listening to our concerns without judgment. I felt comfortable and included. At the end of the week, my takeaway is that academic writing could be painful sometimes (or most of the time 🙂), but it doesn’t have to be unpleasant.
Eric Shoemaker, Humanities. At the beginning stages of my dissertation writing process, it was important to me to sit down and strategize my own writing processes and procedures. The dissertation writing retreat and my consultant helped me figure out what works for me and what doesn’t and helped me to value all of the work that I do for my project, not just the page count. This was a very valuable and enjoyable experience!
And our consultants:
Olalekan Adepoju, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing: The 2021 dissertation writing retreat was, among many things, a period of reflection, especially for the writers I had the opportunity to work with. The writers’ reflection during the week-long writing retreat encouraged them, both of whom have been stuck at some point in their writing due to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, to feel more motivated to get back into their dissertation work. Through their reflective efforts as well as conversations during the retreat, these writers could identify what they have done well so far and where/what seems not to be going right. Likewise, as shared by both writers, the retreat has inculcated in them a habit of the mind necessary to create and stay committed to a consistent writing schedule as they continue to write from home
Megen Boyett: This is the third time I’ve worked the Dissertation Writing Retreat. Every year, I find it so rewarding to help a dissertation take shape even just for a week. The deep, sustained focus on the individual writer’s project and process seems to be such an effective way to start the summer writing “semester.” Just like last year, I started the week unsure whether I had useful advice for bio-engineers. Once again, I quickly found that while disciplinary differences are real, the principles for shaping long-term projects and organizing clear writing are consistent.
Nicole Dugan, Assistant Director for the Virtual Writing Center. I completed my first year at the UWC by working as a consultant during the 2018 DWR, and now I’ve come full circle, ending my time at the UWC with this year’s retreat. Working with writers is always so rewarding, and dissertation writers are no different. They bring such passion and excitement to their work, and it’s easy to quickly immerse yourself in the environment of camaraderie and growth built by the leadership and participants of this retreat. The last two years I have been focused on my work with writers in my courses and writing centers, and I haven’t found much inspiration or time for my own writing. After this week, I feel recharged and ready to revisit research projects and creative writing with new momentum and vision. I’m grateful for the community of this retreat, and I am particularly thankful to my two writers whose projects are such intriguing and necessary works that offer new insights and avenues for change in their fields. It was a privilege working with them both, and I can’t wait to see where they take their work moving forward.
THANKS FOR ALL WHO MADE THIS POSSIBLE
It is important to acknowledge the people who did the hard work of organizing the Retreat – Cassie Book, our Associate Director, organized and oversaw the Retreat this year. Also central to carrying out the Retreat were Amber Yocum, our Administrative Associate, and Assistant Directors Edward English, Olalekan Adepoju, and Nicole Dugan. Our other consultants were Megan Boyett, Aubrie Cox, Cooper Day, and Liz Soule. And thanks to Dean Paul DeMarco, of the Graduate School, for again sponsoring and supporting the Dissertation Writing Retreat.
Every May since 2012 the University Writing Center has held a Dissertation Writing Retreat during which we have welcomed a group of doctoral scholars into the Writing Center for a week focused on writing and talking about writing. It is one of the highlights of our spring and one of the great pleasures every year is the way a group of individual scholars who have never met before coalesce into a community of writers. I had always thought that part of the recipe that helped that happen was the physical presence of the writers in the University Writing Center space. Talking with other writers, sharing lunch, and even just being in the same room writing together, created an environment in which a supportive community of writers developed, and often carried on well after the Retreat.
When we knew six weeks ago that in-person events would no longer be allowed on campus this spring and summer, we decided that we would go ahead with the Dissertation Writing Retreat as a virtual, online event. While there was much to work out
about logistics and planning to make this change, one of our concerns was also whether we would be able to foster a sense of connection and community in a virtual retreat.
Still, we planned the Retreat to have essentially the same elements as before. The Retreat offers writers working on their dissertations time to focus on their writing and the chance to get feedback on their writing and to talk about issues connected to dissertation writing. In this year’s Retreat, as before, we provided daily, individual writing consultations for each writer. In addition, each day had morning and afternoon check-in meetings to set goals for the day and talk about accomplishments. We also had daily small group discussions at lunchtime about writing issues such as structuring a dissertation, staying motivated, responding to committee feedback, and writing during a pandemic. While the elements were the same as in previous years, there is no doubt that the dynamic was not always the same. Even so, what did not change is that people were still engaged and excited about working and talking about their projects and had productive weeks, both in terms of what they wrote and in terms of refining their writing processes and strategies. By the week, everyone was tired, but part of a community of writers. This year’s Retreat illustrated that it is the commitment and openness of the people involved that determines how a community will grow, more than their physical proximity. It was heartening and exciting to see.
The credit for the success of the Retreat, as always, goes to the hard work of the writers – 14 doctoral students from nine different disciplines – as well as the hard work Cassie Book, our Associate Director, and all of the University Writing Center staff who planned and took part in the week. In addition, our thanks go to The Graduate School for once again providing funding for the Retreat. My thanks to them all.
It’s always best, though, to hear from the people involved about how the Retreat went for them. Here are a few thoughts from writers and consultants about the week.
First, the writers:
Aubrey Mojesky, Biology: During the dissertation writing retreat, I learned to be more intentional with my writing by looking at the function of a piece of writing, not just the content. The retreat also connected me to a community of writers with similar goals and an understanding of this unique and challenging project. The retreat allowed me to feel more supported in writing my dissertation, particularly during a very difficult and isolating time.
Diane Zero, Public Health: Thank you very much for this experience. I learned so much from my consultant; on how to improve the technical aspects of the writing process, and to see the big picture of my dissertation. Working with Liz helped me visualize the ‘so what’ part of the dissertation. It helped me articulate need for my proposed research and possible important changes in practice stemming from my work. Because of this, my dissertation is much improved. Since social distancing began, I have struggled as a student and as a member of the University of Louisville community. By the end of this week, both are back- I am excited to move forward!
Sunita Khanal, Biology: Dissertation Writing Retreat 2020 was very helpful to me. I participated in this retreat during my final semester. That’s why, I was a bit worried when I joined thinking if this will be supportive for me or will it just chew away my dissertation writing time. However, this retreat ultimately proved beneficial to me. So, I can say that you can participate in this retreat, irrespective of the phase of dissertation writing you are in. Even though the retreat was held virtually this time, writing center staff worked around the clock to make this a beneficial experience. Their dedication is not only seen in technical arrangements, but also through their eagerness to address any questions/concerns. Workshops held at noon as well as one-on-one consultation were very helpful and interactive. Overall, I had very productive week. Big thanks to writing center faculty, consultants, staff and all the team for the opportunity.
Greg Clark, Comparative Humanities: The Dissertation Writing Retreat was very helpful to me. The overall structure for the week and daily tasks allowed me accomplish important work. I will also be able to take skills I gained from the workshop and apply them to the remainder of my work on my dissertation.
From the consultants:
Megen Boyett, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing: I came into the week a little nervous about a virtual set-up. I love working with writers face-to-face and seeing the community that forms during the week. I knew that this week wouldn’t be that, and even though I said to other people “this will just be different; it’ll have different strengths,” what I meant was “this will be better than nothing.” In fact, a virtual retreat does have different strengths. Where the joy of an in-person retreat is the in-person community and solidarity, during the virtual retreat, I had a chance to connect deeply with writers as individuals. I saw their workspaces and discussed literature reviews as they fixed lunch for kids. Our talk about writing processes felt placed: rather than being in the writing center, which can feel like a “break” from the outside world, writers were in their homes, and so our discussions included the material things in their day-to-day lives, like mealtimes, toddler and spouse schedules, and nap breaks. Each person took the writing work of the week seriously, accomplishing astounding amounts of work in a five-day span. I wonder if, as they move out of “retreat” mode, it won’t actually be easier to implement the practices they started in this virtual space, having already done the work of integrating “real life” and intensive writing.
Rachel Rodriguez, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center: This year’s retreat, my third working as a consultant, was unique to say the least. In some ways, the retreat looked nothing like my previous ones, but in other ways, it felt like returning once more to a fitting conclusion to another academic year. Much of this year’s retreat was unprecedented, on both a global and a personal level. My writers were dealing with unexpected changes to their research plans and writing timelines because of COVID-19, and I never anticipated that as a consultant I’d one day help writers figure out how to discuss a global pandemic in the methods section of their dissertations. This year we were also working from home, which meant glimpses into the chaos of our quarantining lives. For me, this looked (and sounded, sometimes noisily) like the presence of small children, significant others, and even maintenance workers. Still, in the end, tutoring with a three month old baby in my arms to the staccato banging of construction workers re-roofing my writer’s apartment building resulted not in frustration or anger, but in patience, grace, and empathy. No matter the circumstances, these emotions always resonate in each dissertation writing retreat: writers learn the balance between endurance and self-care, and a community of emerging scholars both commiserates and lifts each other up. How wonderful that a retreat without a space or even the physical presence of others can still create that magic.
Olalekan Adepoju, incoming Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing: The Dissertation Writing Retreat was a satisfying experience for me (and my assigned writers) as it practically connected me to the varieties of struggles encountered during the dissertation writing phase of doctoral program. One of the many concerns that came up during consultations was the need to establish authorial identity in writing, which most graduate students struggles with because of the student-scholar identity crisis. Discussions between me and my assigned writers highlight that one of the possible strategies to resolving this is to consciously produce drafts that are written in active voice (even if such draft has to go through multiple revisions). We concluded that it is imperative to approach dissertation writing from this perspective as it will help to cultivate writerly confidence and establish authorial stance.
Aubrie Cox, Assistant Director of the Virtual Writing Center: For the virtual version of the dissertation writing retreat, writers were asked to write and post their daily goals and a recap each day. Any other year, this would be a verbal sharing, which created a sense of immediacy; however, as the week went on, it was powerful to scroll through and see the accumulation of everyone’s goals and accomplishments. They had created an archive and record of their work and experience throughout the week. Having worked with writers in-person during last year’s dissertation writing retreat, I saw the way lunch hour and breaks helped people to form bonds and connect. It was something I had worried would be lost this year–it’s hard to form fast bonds in virtual spaces–but every writer I interacted this week with commented on the sense of community and working together helped them to focus. I think it speaks to an innate part of what the dissertation writing retreat is–it creates a sense of solidarity, both among their UofL peers and in the writing dissertation process.
This is the time of year, when the dogwoods are in bloom and classes are drawing to a close, that I usually draft up a blog post to look back on our University Writing Center accomplishments over the previous year. If you read over those posts from the past, you’ll find some common threads about what we value and what we’ve done. This year, however, though the dogwood in front of my house is reliably spectacular, this end-of-year blog post is unlike any of the others I have done in the past decade. As with all of us, the COVID-19 pandemic turned our world upside down – or at least sideways – in the middle of the spring semester. In two days we had to turn our entire University Writing Center operation, with two physical locations and one virtual schedule providing hundreds of appointments each week, into one, large integrated online Writing Center. What’s more, we had to develop a system to coordinate the daily work of a staff of almost 20 people who would now all be working at home. At the same time, our consultants, all students themselves, and our writers were all scrambling to adjust to a new environment of online learning and sheltering in place.
Yet, when people ask why I say we have the best Writing Center staff in the business, it is for moments like these. Cassie Book, our associate director, and Amber Yocum, our administrative associate, worked fast and flawlessly to make the transition to the online schedule made for writers making appointments and for our tutoring staff. We didn’t miss a single appointment in the transition to the online schedule. Since that transition, our consultants, all working from home and balancing family and their own courses, have continued to provide exceptional feedback to writers from across multiple departments and disciplines. I am always proud of the people who work in the University Writing Center, but this year’s staff has been something special. I feel so fortunate to have been able to work with them and the University community has been fortunate to have them to help support and strengthen writing at UofL.
Even with the disruptions that have affected all of us in the past six weeks, however, much of what we have done, and continue to do, has not changed. Our consultants have continued to offer insightful advice about writing, as well as thoughtful support and suggestions about how to navigate the challenges of writing in such a rapidly changing and deeply unsettling time. We continued to believe that not only is every person who writes a “writer,” but that careful listening, thoughtful response, and creative collaboration can make everyone a more effective and confident writer. And, as always, we appreciate the trust that writers from across the UofL community display in letting us work with them.
We will be open during the summer, starting May 11, from 9-4 every weekday. You can find out more on our website. You can also follow us on our blog and on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Beyond Tutoring – Events and Community Writing
Before the pandemic, we once again worked to fulfill our commitment to supporting a culture of writing on campus and in the community.
I am proud of our staff every day. They work consistently with care and intellectual insight to support the work of writers in the University. They also make me laugh and enjoy coming to work each day. Thanks go to Associate Director Cassie Book, Administrative Associate Amber Yocum, and Assistant Directors, Megen Boyett, Aubrie Cox, Edward English, and Rachel Rodriguez. Also special thanks go to Writing Center Intern and HSC Consultant Liz Soule. Our consultants this year have been Olalekan Adepoju, Ash Bittner, Michelle Buntain, Tristan DeWitt, Rose Dyar, Kendyl Harmeling, Kelby Gibson, Catherine Lange, Shiva Mainaly, Lauren Plumlee, Hayley Salo, Cat Sar, and Kayla Sweeney. Our student workers were and Milaela Smith and Jency Trejo.
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, is now Dr. Cassandra Book after defending her dissertation “Students at a Crossroads: TA Development Across Pedagogical and Curricular Contexts” from Old Dominion University. In addition she was awarded the 2020 UofL College of Arts & Sciences Outstanding Performance Award for Staff. She presented at the International Writing Centers Association Conference and was accepted for the College Conference on Composition and Communication (which was cancelled because of the pandemic).
Megen Boyett, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing, was accepted at the Conference on Community Writing and the Conference on College Composition and Communication (that were cancelled because of the pandemic).
Aubrie Cox, Assistant Director for the Virtual Writing Center published “Reparative Leanings of Haiku Aesthetics: Ways of Knowing and Reading in Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s A Dialogue on Love,” Juxtapositions: A Journal of Haiku Research and Scholarship Issue 5, December 2019. Two poems in ANOTHER TRIP AROUND THE SUN: 365 Days of Haiku for Children Young and Old. Brooks Books, 2019. Three poems in All the Way Home: Aging in Haiku. Middle Island Press, 2019.
Edward English, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center was accepted at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (cancelled because of the pandemic).
Rachel Rodriguez, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center presented at the IWCA Ideas Exchange and was accepted to present at the Conference on College Composition and Communication and the Rhetoric Society of America (both canceled due to COVID19). She co-authored a CompPile WPA Bibliography on Translingualism and published “The Unique Affordances of Plainness in George Eliot’s Silas Marner and Middlemarch,” in the forthcoming volume 72, no. 1 of George Eliot-George Henry Lewes Studies.
Ash Bittner, defended his MA Thesis Long for Death will enter the UofL Humanities Ph.D. program in the fall on a University Fellowship.
Michelle Buntain, did a reading of her poetry at the Bard’s Town in Louisville.
Tristan DeWitt, chaired a panel at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture.
Rose Dyar, was accepted to present at the AEPL’s summer conference.
Catherine Lange presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication Virtual Conference.
Hayley Salo, will be the Morton Chair Research Assistant for Dr. Deborah Lutz next year.
Cat Sar, was awarded a Department of English Creative Writing Scholarship
Liz Soule, presented at the International Writing Centers Association Conference in October and will enter the UofL Rhetoric and Composition Ph.D. Program next year on a University Fellowship.
Jency Trejo, one of our student workers, also passed her U.S. Citizenship Exam.
Earlier this year, Edward English, one of the assistant directors in the University Writing Center, suggested that we create a new promotional video drawing on the perspectives of our writing consultants about what they find meaningful in their work teaching writing. I agreed that it was a great idea and, this spring, Edward and consultants Michelle Pena and Jacob DeBrock, created the video you see here, titled, “Our Community”.
What I appreciate, and thoroughly enjoy, about this video is what they captured about the intangible, but essential, role that caring and community play in the work we do at the University Writing Center. On our website and in our presentations we always foreground, and rightly so, the expertise we have in teaching writing that can help students, staff, and faculty become stronger writers. Yet, just as crucial to our approaches to writing pedagogy is the work we do to create a culture of caring and empathy. We do this through a focus on listening, starting where the writer is, and, most of all, always remembering that we are responding to a person, not just a set of pages. You can see this commitment, and the pleasure it brings, in the words of the consultants in this video.
Empathy, listening, and caring, are not qualities that will show up in any official end-of-year reports. Emotions and ethics are typically not assessed by university administrators or accrediting agencies, or always considered appropriate ideas for discussion on a university campus. Still, these are the ineffable qualities that make our University Writing Center a distinctive and successful place for learning on campus. Because we focus on working with writers, not just on drafts, we know that we help writers develop a stronger sense of agency and confidence about their work. Because we listen first, and then respond, we also engage in conversations about how writers are shaping their identities, and how those are negotiated in the systems of power in the University and culture.
We did, in fact, work with an impressive number of writers this year – more than 5,000. Out of those visits came stronger drafts and more confident writers. We are grateful for the trust that writers from across the UofL community show in bringing their writing here and letting us work with them to make it stronger. What the numbers can’t show that the video gives a glimpse of is the care, compassion, and that vital sense of community that the consultants build every day with each other and all the writers who walk through our door.
We will be open during the summer, starting May 6, from 9-4 every weekday. You can find out more on our our website. You can also follow us on our blog and on on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Beyond Tutoring – Workshops, Events, and Community Writing
Our commitment to working with writers and supporting a culture of writing extend beyond our daily consultations. Here is a just a glimpse of what we have been working on this year.
Writing Events: Once again we hosted or took part in a range of writing-related events,
including our Halloween Scary Stories Open Mic Night, the Celebration of Student Writing, Kick Back in the Stacks, and International Mother Language Day. Thanks to our ongoing partnership with the UofL Creative Writing Program, we again hosted a reading in the Axton Creative Writing Reading Series as well as two open-mic nights and one workshop in collaboration with the Miracle Monocle Literary Magazine.
The most important staff news of 2019 was the addition to the University Writing Center staff of Amber Yocum, as our Administrative Associate. Amber is in charge of our front desk, our scheduling system, office management, and supervising our student workers. She is brilliant and innovative and we’re lucky to have her as part of our community.
The new “Our Community” video also shows the community that our staff create among themselves. They do exceptional work as consultants and as full-time graduate students, but they also find time to take care of each other, and to laugh. I’m proud of them for that and think the university and the world can use more of it. It is the inspired and tireless work of all of our staff that, day after day, allows us to support UofL writers and create a culture of writing on campus and off. They also make this a fun place to work. Thanks go to Associate Director Cassandra Book and Assistant Directors, Aubrie Cox, Edward English, Rachel Rodriguez, and Christopher Stuck. Our consultants this year have been Quaid Adams, Brooke Boling, Josh Christian, Jacob DeBrock, Nicole Dugan, Katie Frankel, Anna-Stacia Haley, Rachel Knowles, Catherine Lange, Michelle Pena, Liz Soule, Jon Udelson, Abby Wills, and Adam Yeich. Our student workers were Taylor Cardwell, Wyatt Mills, and Jency Trejo.
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.
Bronwyn Williams, Director I had two Writing Center-related publications this year, co-authored with former University Writing Center associate and assistant directors. One was “Find Something You Can Believe In”: The Effect of Dissertation Writing Retreats on Graduate Students’ Identities as Writers.” with Ashly Bender Smith, Tika Lamsal, and Adam Robinson in Re/Writing the Center: Approaches to Supporting Graduate Students in the Writing Center. (Utah State University Press. 2019). The other publication was “Centering Partnerships: A Case for Writing Centers as Sites of Community Engagement,” with Amy McCleese Nichols, in Community Literacy. 2019. I also presented at the International Writing Centers Association Conference in with Cassie Book, Layne Gordon, and Jessie Newman, from UofL.
Cassandra Book, Associate Director published “Digital Curation as Collaborative Archival Method in Feminist Rhetorics.” with Pamela VanHaitsma. in the journal Peitho, spring 2019. She also gave the keynote address at the Southeastern Writing Center Association Kentucky Statewide Tutor Conference, with Josh Christian and Liz Soule at Asbury University in April 2019. In addition, she presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the Thomas R. Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition, and the International Writing Centers Association Conference.
Aubrie Cox, Assistant Director for the Virtual Writing Center published “Final Transmission.” in Little Fiction. 2018 Flash Issue. She gave a reading at “Live at Surface Noise,” in December 2018. She was also awarded the UofL Creative Writing Graduate Student Award for Poetry, 2019
Edward English, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center presented at the Rhetoric & Religion in the Twenty-First Century Conference and Thomas R. Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition.
Rachel Rodriguez, Assistant Director of the University Writing Center presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication.
Quaid Adams presented at the International Society of Contemporary Legend Research Conference, the UofL Graduate Student Regional Research Conference, and served as a Graduate Editor for Issue 12 of Miracle Monocle as well as the forthcoming anthology of Queer and Rural Southern Writers.
Brooke Boling served as a Graduate Editor for Issue 12 of Miracle Monocle as well as the forthcoming anthology of Queer and Rural Southern Writers.
Josh Christian presented the keynote address at the Southeastern Writing Center Association Kentucky Statewide Tutor Conference, with Cassie Book and Liz Soule at Asbury University in April 2019. He also gave a workshop at the same conference, also with Liz Soule. He was awarded a UofL Creative Writing Scholarship and will be a Graduate Program Peer Mentor Coordinator next Year.
Jacob DeBrock presented at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900.
Nicole Dugan completed her M.A. Culminating Project, titled, “Writing the Self: First-Generation Students, Personal Statements and Textual Authority.”
Katie Frankel presented at the Indiana University Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference and had a book review of Sons of Blackbird Mountain published in Interstice. She also received a UofL Creative Writing Scholarship.
Anna-Stacia Haley received a UofL Creative Writing Scholarship.
Rachel Knowles completed her M.A. Culminating Project, titled, “Talking It Out: Towards Interdisciplinarity in Online Organizational Crisis Response”
Catherine Lange presented at the UofL Graduate Student Regional Research Conference.
Michelle Pena presented at the UofL Graduate Student Regional Research Conference
Liz Soule presented the keynote address at the Southeastern Writing Center Association Kentucky Statewide Tutor Conference, with Cassie Book and Josh Christian at Asbury University in April 2019. She also gave a workshop at the same conference, also with Josh Christian.
Jon Udelson published a short story in Juked titled “Out & Elsewhere” and had a A book chapter accepted into the edited collection Style and the Future of Composition Studies. He presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the Thomas R. Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition. He was named a board member of the Creative Writing Studies Organization. In the fall he will start a job as an Assistant Professor of English at Shenandoah University.
Abby Wills presented at the Uofl Graduate Student Regional Research Conference and the University of Cincinnati English Department Interdisciplinary Conference.
Adam Yeich was named the Assistant Director of Creative Writing for 2019-20. He presented at the UofL Graduate Student Regional Research Conference and the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900. He served as a Graduate Editor for Issue 12 of Miracle Monocle , where he had a book review published, as well as the forthcoming anthology of Queer and Rural Southern Writers.
My father, who spent his working life in schools, used to say, “Education is an optimist’s racket.” Certainly there has been news on every level around us that could lead people to feel exhausted and disheartened – and I have felt that as well. Yet a new academic year never fails to bring out the optimist in me. I find meaning and hope in all the new students on campus and the anticipation, by both those students and their instructors, in the learning that can happen in the weeks ahead. Looking around the University of
Louisville campus, as the academic year begins, there is a lot that is notably new. It is heartening to hear new UofL President Neeli Bendapudi talk of her commitment to student learning and engagement, and, at the same time, see the opening of a new, modern building on campus that is also dedicated solely to student learning.
This year, like every year, University Writing Center welcomed a new group of consultants who will spend the next year working with writers from across the UofL community. They have moved to UofL from across the country with a varied range of interests and backgrounds. Every group of consultants brings a new set of personalities, insights, and experiences to the University Writing Center. Every year the consultants form their own distinctive community of teacher/tutors here. Yet, this year, as in the years before, I am also confident that they will demonstrate a dedication to student learning that is equal to any on campus. What will not change is their eagerness to work with any writer on campus – student, faculty, or staff – on any kind of writing, at any point in the writing process. They will accomplish this in the same way as those that have preceded them, through collaborative conversations with writers. They will respond to the writers’ concerns, offer their own insights into how writers’ drafts could be made stronger, and help the writers formulate plans for revision. In doing so they will not only help the writers with individual drafts, but will offer insights to help them to navigate more confidently the writing challenges they will face in the future. I have no doubt the new consultants will find individual and distinctive ways to do this, but it will happen again in the University Writing Center.
Our commitment, to working with students ongoing dialogue, is central to what we do and will not change. We will continue also to teach without grading, to work with students as often as they want our help, to treat every writer with respect, and to base our pedagogical approaches on the most recent research in Writing and Literacy Studies.
All the signs point to the fact that the academic year is coming to a close. Writers are focused on finishing their final papers, faculty are focused on finishing their grading, even the puppies have returned to the Library to help people reduce their stress. Yet, even as everyone pushes to complete the final tasks of the semester, it’s important to take a moment to mark the accomplishments and events that took place in the University Writing Center during past year.
Our central accomplishment of the past year is the one that is simultaneously the most common, but one that is never routine or taken for granted. Once again our consultants have worked, in individual appointments, with more than 5,000 students, faculty, and
staff on writing projects ranging from literacy narratives to lab reports to dissertations to scholarship applications. Hour after hour, day after day, they have worked collaboratively with writers to help them with their concerns about the drafts in front of them, but also to help them become stronger, flexible, and more confident writers. The positive and productive work that takes place here, and the transformative effect it can have on writers, comes from the thoughtful and dedicated work of our staff. Yet I also want to thank all the writers who trusted us with their work and all the faculty who supported our work by recommending us to their students.
In addition to our ongoing work with writers at UofL, however, we also work to create and sustain a culture of writing on campus and in the community. Here are a few examples of what we done in the past year toward that goal.
Workshops, Writing Groups, and Dissertation Writing Retreats: We have reached more than 750 students at UofL through workshops about writing that took place both in and out of classroom settings. Our popular Creative Writing, LGBTQ+ and Faculty and Graduate Student Writing Groups continued to provide safe, supportive, and productive spaces for UofL writers. Also, in addition to our annual spring Dissertation Writing Retreat in May, we held our first Dissertation Writing Mini-Retreat in January. We will be continuing all of these groups and workshops, so be sure to check our our website for information and dates.
Writing Events: New writing-focused events this year included a faculty roundtable discussion about “Engaging Diverse Voices in Writing and Reading,” an open-mic night
for the Miracle Monocle Literary Magazine, and a reading in the Axton Creative Writing Reading Series. At the same time we once again held our Halloween Scary Stories Open Mic Night, participated in the Celebration of Student Writing and Kick Back in the Stacks, and celebrated International Mother Language Day.
Writing Center Blog and Social Media: Our blog not only brought ideas about writing and writing center work to the UofL community, but also connected to writers, teachers, and tutors around the country, and our presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram continued to grow and connect with writers and writing scholars.
Thanks to the Best Writing Center Staff around: These accomplishments are the result of the tireless, creative, and thoughtful work of the staff of the University Writing Center. It is their inspired work that allows us to support UofL writers and create a culture of writing on campus and off. They also make this a fun place to work. Thanks go to Associate Director Cassandra Book, Assistant Directors, Layne Gordon, Jessica Newman, Christopher Stuck, and Caitlin Ray; consultants Brent Coughenour, Emily Cousins, Nicole Dugan, Reid Elsea, Taryn Hall, Beau Kilpatrick, Rachel Knowles, Isaac Marvel, Mitzi Phelan, Tim Phelps, Keaton Price, and Mary-Kate Smith, and student workers Brianna McIntyre, Jency Trejo, and Dhyani Vashi.
Farewell: Finally, we are marking the retirement this year of Robin Blackett from her job running the front desk – and so much more – of the University Writing Center. For more than 12 years Robin has not only been the first person everyone meets when they come to an appointment, but she has personified the ethos of care and attention to student needs that we value here. Robin has greeted writers with warmth and professionalism, reassuring people who were often feeling upset and anxious, that they would be able get support for their writing at the University Writing Center. Robin has been integral to our success and growth over the years and, though we wish her well in new adventures, we will miss her dearly.
We will be open during the summer, starting May 7, 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 Southeastern Writing Center Association Conference (SWCA) and SWCA also awarded her the Gary Olsen Travel Award Scholarship. She also presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication. She also successfully defended her dissertation prospectus.
Layne Gordon, Assistant Director for the University Writing Center, presented at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference. She also successfully defended her dissertation prospectus.
Jessica Newman, Assistant Director for the University Writing Center, presented at the national Conference on Community Writing. She also had a piece, titled “Mariella,” published in the Miracle Monocle and won the Miracle Monocle Award for “Ambitious Student Writing.” She also successfully defended her dissertation prospectus.
Caitlin Ray, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing, published the article “On Your Feet!”: Addressing Ableism in Theatre of the Oppressed Facilitation.” in the Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Journal. She also presented at the 2017 Medical Rhetoric Symposium, the Conference on College Composition and Communication, the Chicago Disability Studies Conference, and the Rhetorical Society of America Conference. She was also selected to be a Rare Disease Legislative Advocate and attended events in Washington, D.C. during the National Institute of Health during Rare Disease Week. She also successfully defended her dissertation prospectus.
Brent Coughenour had stories accepted for publication in The White Squirrel and the anthology Kentucky’s Emerging Writers. He also served as a graduate student intern for the Miracle Monocleliterary magazine and began a creative writing podcast with fellow consultant Nicole Dugan. He will be the Assistant Director for the Creative Writing program next year as well as an English Graduate Organization Peer Mentor Coordinator.
Nicole Dugan served as a graduate student intern for the The Miracle Monocle literary magazine and began a creative writing podcast with fellow consultant Brent Coughenour. She will be an English Graduate Organization Peer Mentor Coordinator next year.
Reid Elsea presented at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture. Next year he will be the Morton Endowed Chair Research Assistant and the co-president of the English Graduate Organization.
Taryn Hall was accepted to present at the national Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association Conference and will be an English Graduate Organization Peer Mentor Coordinator next year.
Beau Kilpatrick will be an English Graduate Organization Peer Mentor Coordinator next year.
Rachel Knowles will be a co-president of the English Graduate Organization next year.
Mitzi Phelan completed her MA with her Culminating Project, “The Beloved Black Body: Investigating Toni Morrison’s use of Biblical Rhetoric to Rewrite Christianity on the Black Body.”
Tim Phelps was awarded the Department of English Scholarship Award for Excellence in Creative Writing, and the Sara-Jean McDowell Award for Excellence in Fiction.
Keaton Price completed her MA with her Culminating Project, “Disguised Language in John Milton’s Paradise Lost“.
Last month, the University Writing Center hosted their annual celebration of U.N. International Mother Language Day on February 21st. The event gave us a chance to get together and talk about our diverse experiences with languages and culture, while enjoying food and music from around the world. About thirty participants attended the event and helped make it a success.
UNESCO officially declared International Mother Language Day in 1999. Since then, countries worldwide have celebrated annually to promote multiculturalism, intercultural communication and linguistic diversity. February 21st was chosen by UNESCO 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. In addition to celebrating linguistic diversity, UNESCO is also committed to raising awareness about the value of multilingual education and efforts to preserve endangered languages that are at risk of disappearing.
In our celebration of Mother Language Day, we adopted a more expansive approach beyond the concept of “mother language” by inviting people to reflect on their experiences learning a second (or third or fourth) language. We raised the question of what we mean by “language” to include dialects and vocabularies within different sub-cultures or communities. We discussed different ways we engage with language, through speaking, reading, writing, and listening comprehension, complicating the notion of uniform fluency and competence across all of these categories.
During the event we had the opportunity to listen to several presentations. Volunteers
Read a poem in Spanish and reflected on its personal significance
Demonstrated instant translation in American Sign Language and explained unique aspects of ASL
Shared about written Nepali script and read a poem
Discussed Japanese haiku and issues with translation
After presentations, we shifted over to a group discussion about our experiences with language learning. Participants reflected on language anxiety, embarrassing moments, challenges and triumphs in cross-cultural communication. What soon became clear was that, despite talking about different languages, whether it was Portuguese, German, or French, we could often relate to the experiences of others. Our struggles and victories with languages served as a common ground, regardless of the languages we knew.
Funding for this event was supported by the Alumni Development Fund of the Critical Language Scholarship program of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The CLS program offers language immersion programs for students enrolled in U.S. universities.
Thank you to everyone who participated, and see you again next year!
The University Writing Center is committed to writing and literacy projects in the Louisville community. This summer, continuing our work in the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library, several staff and volunteers from the University Writing Center facilitated four writing workshops for K-12 students. In consultation with Natalie Woods, the manager of the Western Branch, we decided to connect the workshops to the Library’s summer reading theme of “Super-Readers,” and help young people write their own comics. The four workshops had a total of about fifty participants. It was a great experience for everyone, as you can see in the reflections of the University Writing Center staff on their experiences in working with these young – and enthusiastic writers.
Cassandra Book, Associate Director
For the first of four workshops, Layne, Chris, and I came in with a plan, though we didn’t know what or who to expect. At 2 p.m. on the rainy afternoon, about ten eager kids rushed down the stairs from the main part of the library to the spacious basement conference room. Our workshop plan, developed by our fearless leader Christopher Scheidler (aliases: Omega Ant and Fry Guy), broke down the comic writing process into three stations: character, plot, and design development. Most kids flocked to the
character development station. The children’s own identities, their lives, and, of course, their beloved superheroes and villains provided inspiration. Spiderman, Wonder Woman, Cat Woman, Iron Man, and The Joker all made appearances. When they finished with creating characters, many moved to plot development. Layne helped to guide their thinking through the beginning (set-up and introduction), middle (problem and climax), and end (resolution) of the plot. One surprise to us was that several of the plots intersected. The children created intertextuality—a character in one comic appeared in another writer’s as well. By the end of the two-hour workshop, we received one of our biggest compliments, that the workshop was “better than playing computer games upstairs.”
Chris Scheidler, Assistant Director
I thought that our comic book workshop was more fun than playing computer games, too. Of course, one of the reasons I initially suggested a
comic book writing workshop was because I thought it would be a way to quickly make writing fun and accessible. I also thought comic-book writing would be popular because of recent superhero movies and the library’s summer program on superheroes. Originally, I had suggested using one of the several computer programs or web-apps that are freely available, but Bronwyn raised a good point: namely, the importance of writers leaving the workshop with a tangible and material sign of their effort. Indeed, one of the biggest highlights of this summer’s workshop was during our third session where one of the writers laid-out, glued, and bound several pages into what would become a full-fledged comic book.
Of course, because comic books rely so heavily on visuals, the workshops had the added effect of pulling us a bit out of our creative element. I was particularly uncomfortable with having to draw and during the first session I found myself repeating “I’m not a good artist”. Yet any perceived lack of artistic aptitude didn’t dismay from us being creative and fully investing in the stories of our superheroes. Indeed, by the end of the second workshop writers were narrating stories as we all took turns sketching out scenes for our comic – we didn’t hold back from trying to put together interesting plot points, daring visuals, or exciting dialogue.
Layne Gordon, Assistant Director
At both of the workshops I attended this summer, I was most interested in and inspired by the writers’ desire to create superheroes that resembled themselves, as Cassie mentions above. At the time of the first workshop Wonder Woman had just premiered in
theaters, and several of the girls wanted to draw a Wonder Woman character. But when they did, they added curly hair or glasses or a super power that they found more interesting and relevant to their own lives. They literally re-vised this character, remaking her in their own images. At the final workshop, I chose to do the same as I drew alongside the young writers. I created a superhero called Flash Mom inspired by my recent escapist foray into the Flash television show and my renewed interest in running—now with my one-year-old in tow in a jogging stroller. This required a lot more vulnerability than I expected as some of the writers asked me about what I was drawing and why, but it was also really fun to turn a male superhero into a mom superhero. I learned a lot from these young writers about the power of reimagining and revising our heroes as people more like us.
Jessica Newman, Assistant Director
I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to help facilitate one of the Western Branch Comic Writing Workshops this summer. The other University Writing Center facilitators did a great job of creating activities and prompts to help participants with different aspects of the comic writing process. During the workshop that I helped facilitate, Cassie held down the fort at the creating your superhero station—generally the first stop in the workshop—where participants thought about and drew their superheroes. Chris collaborated with an enthusiastic table of participants to create an entire universe of food superheroes and supervillains. At a third table, I helped participants think through their superheroes’ narratives (including things like conflict, resolution, characters and setting), and I was so impressed with the story lines and details that they come up with. I hope the participants had as great a time as I did creating superheroes (mine was Picasso Girl) and stories, and seeing what everyone else created. We could not have had such a successful series of workshops without Western Branch’s enthusiasm and support, and certainly not without the excitement and creativity of all the workshop participants.