Last year, the University Writing Center played a central role in reviving the Cotter Cup storytelling contest. Working alongside the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library—especially branch manager, Natalie Woods—we engaged K-12 youth throughout the city of Louisville in exciting literacy experiences as we helped them craft, revise and submit poetry to the contest. Writing about his hopes for the Cotter Cup, University Writing Center director Bronwyn Williams wrote, “We hope that this year’s contest is just the first of what will be a growing and important writing event in our community.”
A year on, and a second Cotter Cup under our belt, I believe it is safe to say that this event has met both of these criteria. During the 2022 Cotter Cup, University Writing Center volunteers worked with 28 youths, over twice the amount we were able to engage with the previous year. While we’re pleased with the growth of the Cotter Cup, we’re even more delighted with the depth and variety of experiences we cultivated with young Louisville writers and their families.
The writers who attended Cotter Cup consultations arrived with a diversity of ideas and experiences. For some writers, consultations were a space in which they could share their interests, like unicorns or pokemon, and turn them into subject matter for poetry. For others, the consultations were a space in which rhymes were built and imagery was developed. No matter the approach, feedback from family members suggests that these sessions resulted in writers feeling motivated to tackle the next step of their writing process.
Family members also played an important role in this year’s Cotter Cup. Through e-mail correspondence, we found that families were excited to participate in the Cotter Cup alongside their children. Many sought out ways to get started with the writing process, or even to keep the momentum from the contest going. These interactions reveal to us that the impact of the Cotter Cup extends far beyond the contest’s start and end dates!
This year’s successes would not have been possible without the help of our volunteers. We had an absolutely all-star cast of consultants who were excited to work with these writers. The enthusiasm and knowledge they brought to each session made a huge impact. Thank you to: Eli Megibben, Maddy Decker, Aubrie Cox, Brice Montgomery, Cassie Book, Kylee Auten, Yuan Zhao, Zoë Donovan, and Ayaat Ismail.
Reflecting on their Cotter Cup interactions, one tutor wrote, “These kids are wildly talented.” I think they speak for all of us in saying this. The writers who participated in this year’s Cotter Cup are incredibly talented, but most of all, they are driven. We are so grateful that we were able to be witness to their amazing creativity this spring, and we look forward to Cotter Cup ‘23!
One of our goals in our ongoing community partnership with the Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library, is to create programming and tutoring that not only engages young people in writing and reading, but also connects to and supports the distinctive and important history of this library. The Western Branch library, built in 1908, and the first library in the nation to serve and be fully operated by African Americans has a history of significant contributions to the city’s West End. One of those important contributions was the founding in 1913, by Louisville educator and poet Joseph Cotter, of an annual storytelling contest. The “Cotter Cup” was a ‘storytelling bee,’ intended to encourage children to read and learn through the art of storytelling.
A couple of years ago, Natalie Woods, branch manager of the library, raised the idea of reviving the Cotter Cup as a writing contest. Her vision was of a Cotter Cup in which Louisville K-12 students would produce creative writing and be supported in that work through consultations of University Writing Center staff. The goal of the contest would be to encourage creative writing in the community and to connect K-12 students with writing support and conversations with our university writing consultants. We were excited at the possibility and have been delighted to work with Natalie and her staff on planning and implementing the contest. On our end, Edward English, our Assistant Director for the University Writing Center, organized and facilitated scheduling and supporting the consultations.
It has been a great experience to take part in the inaugural Cotter Cup poetry contest. Although the pandemic necessitated that the contest and consultations take place online this year, we had a great time working with dedicated and imaginative students from across grade levels and across the city. All the participants in the contest received books and writing journals, funded by the UofL English Department Thomas R. Watson Endowment. The winners also received prizes and will have their names engraved on the new “Cotter Cup.” You can read the winning poems here! It was also meaningful, during the pandemic year when so many programs were cancelled and put on hold, to have the chance to create a new program with our community partner and connect to students across the city. We hope that this year’s contest is just the first of what will be a growing and important writing event in our community.
Our consultants also had a great time working with the young writers from across the city. Here is what some of them had to say about the experience:
Ayaat Ismail: I was completely taken aback by these young writers’ creativity and drive during our meetings. It was truly inspiring to watch such young students brainstorm ideas and write poems based on their interests and experiences, whether limericks, free verse, or narratives, as they immersed themselves in poetry and demonstrated their talents and capabilities. It made me appreciate writing in a whole new way, as well as the concept of progression and learning in general.
Caitlin Burns: I really enjoyed being able to tutor elementary students for the Cotter Cup. They were so creative and energetic. I loved hearing their ideas for their poems and working with them, and I learned quite a bit from them as well. It was so lovely to get out of my grad school bubble a bit and have fun playing with words with them. Thanks for all of your and the Writing Center team’s work putting it together!
Alex Way: It was a great experience tutoring students for the Cotter Cup. I worked with an elementary school student who produced an amazing poem and ended up winning first place. Not only was his work exceptional, but he had a deep knowledge of poetry forms and what makes good poetry. Even though I only tutored my student for one session (and he did all the hard work), I can’t help but feel proud of what he has accomplished
Edward English: Working as a consultant for the Cotter Cup was one of the most rewarding activities I’ve done this year. It was so fun and encouraging to work with such promising young writers and be inspired by their creativity and intelligence. It was also an incredible honor to be part of contest which continues the exceptional legacy of Joseph Cotter and Western Branch Libraries.
Maddy Decker: I really enjoyed expanding my tutoring horizons from working with college students to also working with high school and elementary writers. I feel like I learned more about myself as a tutor and about what creative writing looks like at different levels. As someone who started writing poetry and short stories in middle school, I’m glad to see so many young writers putting themselves out there, and I hope they continue to explore their talents!
I’ve been struggling with how to start this version of my annual, end-of-year blog post. Every attempt to find words to convey how the extraordinary events of the past nine months, from pandemic to protests to political insurrections, have affected us in the University Writing Center quickly crumbles to cliché. At the same time, just a proud listing of accomplishments doesn’t seem appropriate to capture what has happened in the past year. So I think I’ll leave the big themes to someone else and just keep it simple.
I am always proud of the people who work in the University Writing Center and often tell people we’ve got the best Writing Center staff in the business. Yet it would be hard to overstate how special this year’s staff has been. As you may know, we have a completely new staff of MA Graduate Teaching Assistants as consultants each year. Despite the challenges of having to learn how to conduct all their consultations online, under the public health protocols of the pandemic, this group of consultants were consistent in their commitment to helping and supporting UofL writers. Whether they were working, in their masks, from our on-campus space, or from their homes, our consultants continued to listen carefully to writers and to provide excellent advice about writing, and empathetic support about how to navigate, and respond, to writing in such deeply unsettling times.
The less visible, but every bit as essential, part of our work happens behind the scenes with our administrative staff who kept everything organizationally running smoothly given the unprecedented challenge of having both writers, and often consultants, scattered all over the city (and beyond). It is a testament to their creativity, patience – and tenacity – that the organizational aspects of the things ran splendidly, allowing the consultants and writers to focus on issues about writing. This year, as in every year, the work done by Associate Director Dr. Cassandra Book, Administrative Associate Amber Yocum, and Assistant Directors Edward English, Olalekan Adepoju, and Nicole Dugan was simply indispensable to everything we accomplished.
Though it may be hard to appreciate from the outside, conducting all writing consultations online is a far more challenging teaching context than conducting appointments in person. For our consultants and our administrative staff, having to work completely online, while dealing with taking their own courses online, technological glitches, screen fatigue, physical isolation, students in the Library not wearing masks, and the political turmoil all around us, really has been truly extraordinary. It has also been exhausting. Like everyone else, we’re tired. It’s been hard on all of us and that is important to acknowledge. What I am proud of – and moved by – is that all of the University Writing Center staff, weary as they are, have done their best to remember that the writers bringing their work to us are also weary and stressed and worried about their writing. We have done our best all year to keep the writers’ needs at the forefront and to provide the individual, one-to-one response that is the core of our work in the University Writing Center. It’s been amazing to watch.
Thanks to the Best Writing Center Staff in the Business
Our superb, dedicated, and brilliant consultants make such a significant difference in so many UofL writers’ lives. Our consultants this year have been Michelle Buntain, Lauren Cline, Maddy Decker, Amanda Dolan, Chuck Glover, Ian Hays, Andrew Hutto, Ayaat Ismail, Zoe Litzenberg, Demetrius Minnick-Tucker, Cat Sar, Spenser Secrest, and Emma Turner. Also special thanks go to Writing Center Intern Kendyl Harmeling. Our amazing student workers were Mikaela Smith and Jency Trejo.
We want to give our special thanks and congratulations to Jency Trejo, on her graduation with her BA in English. Jency joined us as a student worker during her first semester at UofL and has been a central and important part of the University Writing Center ever since. We wish her all the best in the future.
We will be open during the summer, starting May 10, 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 – Writing Groups, Retreats, Community Writing
We were particular excited to collaborate with the Western Branch Library on re-establishing the “Cotter Cup” competition. In the early 20th Century Louisville poet and educator Joseph Cotter established a storytelling competition for local youth called the “Cotter Cup.” We worked to support Western Branch Library in re-establishing the Cotter Cup as a poetry contest. As part of the contest, local K-12 students had individual writing consultations with our University Writing Center consultants. The contest entries will be judged by local poets with an awards celebration next month. We hope that this will become an important and vital part of writing in the community going forward.
Writing Center Staff Achievements
The University Writing Center is also an active site of scholarship and creative work. 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, gave a presentation on “Passing or Trespassing?: Asynchronous Tutoring, Consultant Practices, and Center Ethos” at the 2021 Southeastern Writing Center Association Conference.
Olalekan Adepoju, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing, gave a presentation titled,presented a paper on “Discursive Practices in Recurring Asynchronous Consultations: Implications for Peer Tutoring” at the 2021 Southeastern Writing Center Association Conference. He also published the essay, “Rethinking Tutor-Writer Engagement in Asynchronous Consultations: A Conversational Approach to Recurring Witten Feedback Appointments” in The Dangling Modifier .
Michelle Buntain completed her MA Culminating Project, titled,”To Listen is to Witness: Discovering Suffering Through Literary Analysis.”
Maddy Decker was an intern for the Miracle Monocle Literary Magazine in Spring 2021 and served as editor of reviews. She also completed her creative MA Culminating project titled “Register 16.”
Amanda Dolan was an intern for the Miracle Monocle Literacy Magazine and will have a book review published in the upcoming issue. She also completed her creative MA Culminating project titled “Precipitated.”
Kendyl Harmeling completed her MA Culminating Project titled, “Circumventing Self-Destruction: A Study on Imposter Syndrome, Affect Dissonance, and the Power of Hospitality in a first-year Graduate Program.” She gave a presentation, “Passing or Trespassing?: Asynchronous Tutoring, Consultant Practices, and Center Ethos” at the 2021 Southeastern Writing Center Association Conference . Kendyl also was a Writing Center Administrative Intern in Fall 2020 and will be joining the UofL Rhetoric and Composition PhD program next year.
Ayaat Ismail was an intern for the Miracle Monocle Literacy Magazine and published a book review with poet Steve Kistulentz in the current issue. She also became managing editor of the Miracle Monocle’s mini anthology called MONSTER.
Demetrius Minnick-Tucker completed his MA Culminating Project, titled, “Sho Baraka’s The Narrative: Hip Hop and the Social Role of the Church.” He will also be joining the Georgia State University Literature PhD program in fall 2021.
Cat Sar completed her creative MA Culminating Project titled, “Ghosted.”
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.
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“.
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.