It would be easy to start this post by talking about all the things that are different this year in the University Writing Center, from online tutoring to adapting to daily lives of masks, disinfectant, and physical distancing. Yet, by this point, we are all familiar with those aspects of daily life. Instead, I want to focus on the continuity of this year in the University Writing Center. This past week, our new consultants met for our orientation and began to plan for the year ahead. Just as in years past, this year’s new consultants are a talented, dedicated group of graduate students who are eager to start working with UofL students, faculty, and staff to provide them with feedback and strategies that help them become stronger and more confident writers. Our consultants remain committed to helping writers at every stage of writing – from brainstorming to revising drafts – and with every form of writing, be it academic, professional, or personal. And, as in the past, we plan to work collaboratively with writers, listening carefully to their concerns and working together to create plans for revision to make their writing more effective and engaging. Some things don’t change.
As you can imagine, however, we are making some changes to adapt to the pandemic. The most significant change is that all our appointments for Fall 2020 will take place online. We have two kinds of appointments from which you can choose – live video chat or written feedback. A live video chat is a real-time video chat with a consultant. Our live chat format, which is part of our online scheduling system, includes a video chat capability and a shareable digital whiteboard where both the writer and consultant can make notes on the draft. Live video chat appointments allow for conversation between the writer and consultant. Written feedback appointments are asynchronous. Writers upload a draft and receive a typed, written response by email. All our appointments are 50 minutes long. Before your first appointment, visit the our website to learn more about the two appointment types to decide which best fits your needs. http://louisville.edu/writingcenter/appointments-1.
Tips to Make the Most of Your Online Appointment
The online appointments we are using this year may be new to you, and so here are a few tips to help you get the most out of the experience.
When you make your appointment: For all appointments, the more you can tell us about the assignment, and your concerns, the more we can help you. It it a huge help to us if you upload a copy of your assignment prompt to your appointment form when you make your appointment. If you don’t have a prompt to upload, please tell us everything you can about the assignment or writing task you are working on. Along those same lines, the more detail you can give us on the appointment form about your top concerns about your draft, the more able we are to respond effectively to those concerns. If, rather than just list a few words, you can write a detailed note about your concerns, we’ll be better able to give you suggestions and advice to address your concerns. It is particularly important to provide detailed information and writing prompts for written feedback appointments, because the asynchronous format means we can’t ask you direct questions.
As you revise your writing: If you’re not sure where to start in using the written comments to revise your draft, we recommend out handout on “Using Written Feedback When Revising.” You may also find our other handouts that cover writing strategies from writing introductions to citation to grammar and usage issues helpful when revising.
Other Online Resources to Help You with Your Writing
In addition to our appointments, do keep in mind that we have a wide range of online resources to help you with your writing that are available to you at any time..
We have Video Workshops on issues such as citation styles and formatting and how to use sources effectively.
We also have more than 35 handouts online with advice about writing processes, grammar and usage, strategies for approaching different parts of a draft, and more.
We also have Writing FAQs that cover the kinds of questions that come up often in our work and offer you suggestions on how to approach common writing situations.
We will be using our social media accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Our Blog) to post ideas and resources about writing, and some things just to brighten the day.
Unfortunately, we have had to suspend our usual fall events, such as open mic nights and panel discussions about writing. We look forward to resuming them when we can so safely.
Flexibility, Patience, and Caring
One other crucial thing that has not changed at he University Writing Center is our commitment to treating all UofL writers with respect and empathy. We are writers, just as you are, and we are living through unnerving and stressful times, just as you are. We know that getting through this difficult time will require flexibility, patience, and caring, on all our parts, and we commit ourselves to those values in working with all writers.
We look forward to working with you in the weeks ahead.
When considering strategies for staying emotionally and physically healthy during these times of closed borders, social distancing, and toilet paper depletion, for most people writing would be an unlikely choice. Writing does, after all, carry a reputation for being a solitary enterprise. I do, however, believe that writing offers great potential to help many navigate these tough times and here’s why.
The importance of having projects. For those with an ample amount of free time, having a project, or projects, can be a fun and rewarding way to learn and stay occupied. My wife, a junior high science teacher now instructing entirely online, has a loom and is in a weaving frenzy. I’ve started gardening a bit and trying to get better at home repairs. It seems I’m not alone in taking on these tasks either—yesterday while driving around, I noticed what seemed to be a Louisvillian ghost town suddenly transform into a dense expanse of cars parked in front of Lowe’s.
For many attracted to writing, the biggest obstacles can be a perceived lack of time and difficulty overcoming writer’s block. Now, however, free-time is no longer in short supply for the bulk of us. Also, for myself, I feel that writer’s block is often a product of feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of a project. Perhaps now is the time for you to start that novel you always wanted to write, but something of a more manageable size might be a better strategy: a short story, a screenplay, or a thoughtfully crafted letter or e-mail to connect with loved ones, offer consultation to those in a difficult place, or express appreciation to those who are working so hard and acting bravely—particularly those in the medical field.
The importance of working through emotions—especially uncomfortable ones. These are anxious times—especially to someone in tune with the current headlines. As many people have little communication with others during this unprecedented time, it might be challenging to process through difficult emotions. For some in these and similar situations, writing can serve as an outlet. In my own life, I’ve found that writing, especially journaling and poetry, can be an excellent way to give definition and clarity to fears, questions, and concerns. And while these steps don’t necessarily eliminate problems, more often than not they help foster much clearer, and more pleasant, headspace.
If you have the ability to responsibly exercise, jog, or take walks, it’s likely a good idea. The benefits are numerous: physical health, increased serotonin levels, vitamin D to name a few. But also consider that exercise could be a great way to improve your writing quality and overall experience.
In a recent interview, acclaimed fiction writer Chuck Palahniuk (Invisible Monsters, Choke,Fight Club) detailed how much of his writing process actually revolves around lifting weights—arguing that the physical movement and circulation were conducive to helping him feel creative and organize his thoughts. While weight lifting might be a limited option for most—particularly with the closure of gyms—the sentiment is clear, and alternative ways of exercising indoors abound with a simple Google search.
Along similar lines, a few years back Psychology Today published “To Become a Better Writer, Be a Frequent Walker”exploring significant benefits walking can give to writers. As the article explains, avid walkers abound among great literary figures like Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, William Wordsworth and Henry David Thoreau. Furthermore, walking can lead to increased creativity, provide inspiration, and hone one’s observational skills.
The importance of staying connected.
While a successful writer is frequently imagined as sitting hunched over a laptop typing away in a disheveled apartment, sterile office, or library, more often than not some of the most successful writers I have met put great effort into figuring out alternative and creative methods that work better for them, and this often incorporates social connection as a significant part of their writing process.
And, as many are discovering creative ways of connecting online, it might be worth considering that writing could be a useful means to get feedback or just brainstorm ideas with friends or people with similar interests online. If you happen to be a faculty member or graduate student at the UofL and are interested, we are still our offering writing group online. For more details, check out: Faculty and Graduate Student Writing Group
For many, these various options and suggestions might not be feasible. But either way, we at the University Writing Center hope you stay safe, healthy, and connected. So happy writing…or whatever it is you do to help during these strange times.
Sharing writing can be challenging, especially when you’re joining an established community like a writing center or creative writing group.
It can be difficult to navigate the established norms and find just the right niche for your writing. Yet, every writer in the community has gone through those same experiences. It’s also okay to shop around a bit. Each writing community is unique, and some may be more or less accessible than others.
When I was a teenager, I started looking for an online, forum based, play-by-post fantasy role playing game (we’ll just call it an RPG). I wanted a place to create my own characters and explore their lives with the characters of other writers. Much to my dismay, some of the communities had hundreds of members, book-length lore files, and thousand-word posts. You could even be kicked from the community for being inactive for a week or two. Nope! Too scary. I ended up joining a very low-key forum, specifically picked for its small community and short posts.
I didn’t say very much at first. I would sign in, post, and leave for the day. That was about all of the social writing interaction I could handle; I did not, in any way, want to be around when the other members read my post. But guess what: no one complained. The stories continued on their merry way. I did not, in fact, derail the writing community.
Encouraged by this turn of events, I started talking to the other members through the forum’s chat box. The chat box took the stress out of socializing because it was so informal. There was no sense of finality when hitting the submit button like there was with a regular post. It also humanized the other members; they stopped being their characters and became themselves, and gradually they became friends, too.
At this point, the RPG really became fun. The social relationships improved the stories we were writing. We got to discuss where we wanted the stories to go and how we were going to get them there. Or, we complained when our characters refused to cooperate. We also started to recognize each other’s writing styles and got to watch as everyone’s writing naturally improved. We never set out to become better writers, though. It happened naturally, through time, practice, and experimentation.
I’d like to say that this experience made it easy to join new communities later on, but it didn’t. However, that didn’t stop me from going through the process again. I continue to make friends and learn through all of the writing communities I’m part of. There will always be some degree of anxiety when entering a new group, and that’s okay. Just try to keep in mind that writing communities tend to be very open and welcoming; we all have the same anxieties and reservations.
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“.
Have you ever considered pursuing a graduate-level degree in creative writing? If so, you’ve perhaps heard of MFA programs (Master of Fine Arts in Writing). An MFA in Creative Writing is a terminal degree (i.e. the furthest one can go in the field). There are two main styles of MFA programs: high- and low-residency. Despite this, information sessions on MFA programs tend to focus mostly, if not entirely, on the more traditional, high-residency programs. I interviewed recent Spalding MFA graduate and writer Martin Jennings in order to get some insight into the less-frequently-discussed low-residency MFA experience and, thereby, open up new opportunities to creative writers seeking graduate study. As a side note, writers can also achieve a terminal degree in creative writing by completing a PhD. The following interview, however, is specifically about the MFA process with a special focus on low-residency schools. Bear in mind that not all low-residency MFA programs are the same.
First off, why don’t you let us know what the difference is between a low-residency MFA program, like the one you recently attended at Spalding, and a high-residency program?
Sure. There are some key differences. The main one is that while you’re in a low-residency program, you do not stay on campus for two years and live in that area, as you would in a high-residency. For low-residency, you do most of your work from home, while staying in touch with your professors and regularly turning in packets of new and revised work. During the residency period, you have your lectures and workshops the same as you would at a high-residency program, except it occurs over a ten-day span, so it’s very intensive.
Early on into your MFA program, I remember you telling me that Spalding had helped you develop your own voice as a writer. Do you still feel that way, and if so can you explain that in a little more depth?
Yes, I do still feel that Spalding helped develop my voice. They were very encouraging in my low-residency MFA. The instructors were particularly interested in seeing students experiment and try out different styles, themes, and perspectives in their stories. And I was lucky enough to have had mentors who were very knowledgeable and able to point out new (to me) writers and books. One writer whose work I was introduced to was Nicholson Baker. He was recommended to me in my last semester at Spalding. I remember thinking, “How haven’t I heard of him before?” I saw my own voice, though much less refined, in his writing. My mentors were very perceptive and able to take what I had written, show me my strengths about my particular style, and also instruct me about things I could do better, so as to make my work more cohesive.
Were there any other changes that occurred in your writing style/lifestyle while getting your MFA?
Yes, there were quite a few changes on both fronts. As far as my writing style goes, I did a fair bit of experimenting with different types of stories and different narrators, subject matter, varying lengths (including a lot of flash fiction and longer stories) – just to get a feel for how you go about writing each type, what the differences were with each, and what they had in common. I found myself somewhat favoring the smaller, more concise stories.
And as far as the lifestyle changes go, since I was responsible for turning in 35 to 50 pages of work each month, comprised of both new and revised work, I had to find a new way to incorporate writing into my everyday life. And this was in addition to working a full time job and managing other responsibilities. So writing became more a part of everyday life.
How did the low-residency program work for you in ways that a high-residency program might not have? By contrast, is there anything offered by a high-residency program you feel you may have missed out on?
The volume of work that I produced in my low-residency program, based on what I hear from people who have done the high-residency, was much greater. You get more specialized attention on your writing in a low-res program, and you’re producing so much material, you get into the habit of writing on a regular basis. Spalding did offer experience in academic writing, but that was not the main focus – rather the creative writing work was. I think you could say that low-residency MFA programs are designed for people who want to become better writers, as opposed to people who want to have careers in the teaching or in the academic world. Generally speaking, high-residency programs seem to have greater teaching experience options – there seems to be more opportunity for it. This can provide you with job experience. There were workshops in low-residency that focused on creative writing pedagogy, but again, this was not the primary focus of the program. And I would be remiss not to point out that low-residency programs are generally not as well funded, which means you often have to take out loans or pay out of pocket. And it isn’t cheap!
What were some preconceptions you had about getting an MFA that didn’t pan out?
That I would graduate with sort of a collection of short stories that were ready to be published as such. That by the time I finished – after two years – surely I would have enough pieces to flesh out a full collection and achieve great critical and financial success. This wasn’t the case. I did graduate with a lot of strong pieces that have gone on to be published, but it is a much more intense and lengthy process than you imagine going in.
I also had a fear that I would come out with cookie-cutter pieces of writing after having been exposed to a specific program and set way of doing things. Fortunately, that didn’t come through at all, and I was allowed to experiment and find my own style of telling stories.
Finally, any cautionary words/suggestions for writers considering a low-residency MFA?
I do have some. I would caution writers to make sure that what they want out of their program is to become a better writer, not to secure a set of marketable job skills. The low-res program will teach you to be a better writer, and while it may offer some positive job-related skills, producing better writers is the primary goal of a low-residency program. The focus is always on the writing, not on securing you a job.
Martin Jennings graduated from Spalding in the Fall of 2015. His work has been featured in multiple publications since his graduation, most recently his story “Bodies of Water” in Sick Lit Magazine and “Hammer Space” in Under the Bed Magazine. Martin writes, works, and lives in Louisville.
Since we moved to the first floor of Ekstrom Library last October, we’ve hosted an open house/art exhibition, an evening of bad love poetry, a dissertation writing retreat, and graduate student and faculty writing groups. This academic year, our first complete one in our new space, we intend to continue growing our list of events and activities! For instance, during first-year orientation, we opened our doors for Kickback in the Stacks. Students dropped by to take a break from the controlled chaos in the library to play Story Cubes or Hangman. We like Kickback because it gives us the opportunity to talk to writers without the (often) added stress of a deadline or impending project. We also got a chance to plug some of our upcoming events and activities. When talking with students, I discovered that many were excited to hear that we’re starting a Creative Writing Group.
Playing Story Cubes at Kickback in the Stacks
Playing Hangman at Kickback in the Stacks
Tuesday, August 30 kicks off our new Creative Writing Group, led by Jessica Newman, an Assistant Director of the Writing Center. Though we’ve hosted graduate student and faculty writing groups before, a Creative Writing Group is a new adventure for us. We envision a diverse group of students, faculty, and staff meeting monthly to share writing, give and receive feedback, exchange ups and downs, and, of course, have fun. Anyone in the UofL community who enjoys creative writing is welcome—amount experience or investment doesn’t matter. At the kickoff on Tuesday, Jessica will facilitate discussions about writing, a few collaborative writing activities—poe-e-tree and prose—and ask for feedback about what participants want to get out of the Creative Writing Group. If you’re interested in creative writing, join us on Tuesday!
What: Creative Writing Group Kick Off When: Tuesday, August 30, 5:00-7:00 p.m. Where: University Writing Center, First Floor, Ekstrom Library Who: UofL students, faculty, and staff are welcome
Questions? Contact Jessica Newman or call the Writing Center at 502-852-2173
October, it did taken us a while to figure out how the furniture worked best, get some art on the walls, and buy some new plants. Now, however, as we get ready to start the 2016-17 academic year, we are settled in and excited about the opportunities that our new surroundings offer us.
We plan to take advantage of our new space with a number of new and expanded programs and events in the coming year:
Creative Writing Groups:We are starting new creative writing groups for anyone in the UofL community interested in working on creative writing projects. The groups will meet once a month on a Tuesday during the fall semester allowing people to explore creative writing in a safe, open, and encouraging environment. Meetings will be times when people can will write, investigate issues of craft, read and respond to writing, and have fun. Any member of the UofL community is welcome – undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff. We welcome any genre of writing and any level of creative writing experience—all you need is an interest in creative writing. For more details and the schedule of meetings, see our website.
from participation in the National Day of Writing on Oct. 2o, to a Finals’ Week Write-In to support getting final papers finished, to an open mic night on Halloween for scary stories and poems. See our Events page on our website for more details.
In addition to our Writing Center events, we also have some other new initiatives we are excited about.
New Undergraduate Tutoring Class : We have had approved a new course for undergraduates and MA students interested in learning more about teaching writing and then potentially doing internships in community literacy settings. The course, English 508 – Literacy Tutoring Across Contexts and Cultures will be offered in 2017-18. Students who take the course can then take part in tutoring internships in the community with organizations such as Family Scholar House and the Louisville Free Public Library.
Community Literacy Projects: We are also going to continue, and expand, our ongoing writing workshops and writing consultations at Family Scholar House. We view this partnerships as one of the key parts of our efforts to provide more writing consultation services to the larger Louisville community.
Of course, it isn’t only what is new here that is exciting. One of the most exciting things that will happen this fall is what happens here every semester. Day after day writers from across the university will bring their drafts and their questions about their writing to the University Writing Center and engage in thoughtful conversations with our consultants about how to make that work as strong as it can be. We have an excellent incoming staff of consultants who will be doing what we do best: helping writers improve the projects they are working on today, as well helping them become stronger writers in the future. On our exit surveys, more than 90 percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that their University Writing Center appointments both help them with their immediate writing concerns and that what they learn in appointments will help them with other writing projects.
The mission statement for the University Writing Center says that we believe writing is an “indispensable part of the intellectual life of the university.” We stand behind this belief and it is central to what we do. But, as the new semester begins, I think the events and programs we will offer in the year ahead will allow us to add to our mission the goal of creating and sustaining a culture of writing of all kinds, on campus and in our community.
When we get to the end of an academic year, we always feel there is a lot to be proud of at the University Writing Center. We can look back over a year in which we’ve worked with members of every college in the university, on both campuses, ranging from first-year students to faculty. If you can imagine a day where, in the course of three hours you might work with writers on an English 101 paper, an engineering dissertation, and a business plan assignment – and be able to help all three writers with their projects – you can understand the talent and flexibility of our consultants. By the end of the academic year we will have had more than 5,000 visits to the University Writing Center. The consultants here do great, great work, every day. We may be a bit tired by the end of the spring semester, but we enjoy the work and feel as if we’ve worked hard to help develop better writing and better writers at UofL.
I want to take a moment to thank the writers who came to us to work on their writing and also all the faculty and staff who supported our work by recommending us to their students.
We will be open during the summer, starting May 11, from 9-4 every weekday. Meanwhile, take a look at our website and we hope to see you soon.
Other Reasons to Celebrate
In addition to our daily work of teaching of writing through one-on-one consultations, there are other events and activities that we organize, and other plans we are making. It’s worth taking a moment to point to some of the accomplishments, and to talk about what they are going to allow us to do in the future.
New Writing Center Projects:
Our Move to the First Floor of the Library: During the summer, as part of the renovation of the first floor of Ekstrom Library, the University Writing Center will be moving from the third floor down to the first. This new location will make us much more visible (and easier to find) and allow us to create new programs and initiatives that will help us develop and sustain a culture of writing in the University. To see a video about the move, see this previous blog post.
WCOnline Scheduling Software: We are finishing the first year of using our new scheduling software and we’ve found it has been a significant improvement in making it easier for students to make their own appointments online. The software has also made our online, Virtual Writing Center Appointments more effective. To make an appointment, follow this link to our website.
Faculty Writing Groups: This year we organized our first faculty writing groups, one in science/engineering/mathematics and one in humanities/social sciences. These groups have gone very well and we plan to keep them going next year. If you’re interested in taking part, contact the Writing Center.
Writing Center Social Media: We continued to communicate our ideas about writing and the teaching of writing through our presence on Twitter and Facebook as well as our blog.
Dissertation Writing Retreats: Our Dissertation Writing Retreats remain popular and we are having the pleasure of seeing 90 percent of the students who attend the retreats complete their dissertations.
Workshops: Our Writing Center staff conducted a broad range of writing workshops in both courses and for student organizations on issues such as revision, writing a literature review, citation styles, and resume writing.
Writing Center Staff Achievements
The University Writing Center, in addition to its teaching mission, 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.
Mariah Douglas – Internship at Louisville Magazine with 11 published pieces.
Joanna Englert – Published poems in the Miracle Monocle and the Kentucky Poetry Festival and presented at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture
Harley Ferris – Co-editor and writer of KairosCast for the journal Kairos. Presented at Computers and Writing. Forthcoming publication in Computers and Composition Online.
Taylor Gathof – Presented at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture
Meghan Hancock – Presented at National Conference on Peer Tutors and Writing/International Writing Center Association Conference; the Conference on College Composition and Communication; and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Conference
Kristin Hatten – Presented at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture; Internship with Commonwealth Center for the Humanities.
Jamila Kareem – Presented at ACES Symposium; Conference on College Composition and Communication; Forthcoming chapter in the collection: The Good Life and the Greater Good in a Global Context
Tara Lawson – Presented at Southeastern Writing Center Association
Ashley Ludewig – Presented at the Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition; The Western States Rhetoric and Literacy Conference; and the Research Network Forum at the Conference on College Composition and Communication
Amy Nichols – Presented at Conference on College Composition and Communication.
Haley Petcher – Presented at Southeastern Writing Center Association Conference
Bobby Rich – Published poems in Hobart Magazine and the Kentucky Poetry Festival; Internship/Poetry Editor of Miracle Monocle
Adam Robinson – Council of Writing Program Administrators Conference
Chris Scheidler – Presented at Southeastern Writing Center Association Conference; Association of Professional and Technical Writers Undergraduate Conference, Computers and Writing, and Conference on Community Writing
Stephanie Weaver – Watson Conference on Rhetoric and Composition; Conference on College Composition and Communication
Jessica Winck – Co-authored publication in Kairos. Presented at National Council of Teachers of English Conference; Council of Writing Program Administrators Conference.