Bronwyn T. Williams, Director
Each year at the University Writing Center, in the sweltering last days of August, we welcome a new staff of consultants. And each year each staff has its own personality. Temperaments, personalities, areas of expertise, senses of humor, are individually and delightfully varied from one year to the next. The new consultants arrive at the end of summer with much to learn about teaching writing in a writing center, and with much to teach us through their new ideas and new approaches.
Now, as the dogwood and redbud trees start to light up with blossoms, and the season turns toward the closing of the academic year, it’s always a time at the University Writing Center of wrapping up and reflecting. We’re having our last consultations, finishing our own projects, and talking of plans for the summer. I’ve been watching these cycles as director of the University Writing Center for twelve years now and this time of year once again brings with it a mixture of gratitude, satisfaction, and a touch of weary wistfulness. This year will be the last time these cycles at the University Writing Center will include me as I will be stepping down as director after July (more on that later). Still, the cycles go on and it is indeed time for wrapping up and reflecting.
Our Ongoing Work in the Writing Center
For all the differences in personality among various University Writing Center staffs from year to year, what is more important is the consistency. What did not change this year was that the consultants in the University Writing Center engaged in the most interdisciplinary, wide-ranging teaching on campus, working with writers from every grade level, every college and from more than 50 different majors.
Whether working with first-year students or doctoral student writers, our writing consultants helped people at every possible stage of their writing processes – from the brainstorming at the start to the polishing at the end. Our consultants are exceptional teachers who never lose sight of the fact that they are working with individual writers, not just responding to the words on a page. Through their work, consultants help writers feel more confident, not just for the moment, but in navigating unfamiliar writing situations in the future. Such work requires that our consultants be good listeners and resourceful teachers. Working collaboratively, patiently, and focusing on learning, not grading, takes time and energy, but such approaches made significant differences in the lives of thousands of UofL writers this year. From our perspective, this individualized, personal teaching is the best way learning happens and it all depends on the talent and commitment of our consultants. I’m so proud of the work they do, every day and every year.
Collaborative, reciprocal learning also requires the contributions and commitments of writers and we are also grateful for the trust placed in us by the writers who bring their work to the University Writing Center. We are always learning from them as they learn from us. I also thank all the faculty and staff who supported our work by recommending us to their students.
This is my last semester as director and I will be writing more about that on this blog next week week. Today, however, I want to focus on this year’s amazing staff and what they’ve accomplished.
Transitions at the University Writing Center
The most important transition at the University Writing Center this year was the arrival of Dr. Annmarie Steffes to the position of Associate Director. In this full-time position she provides the intellectual core and ethical heart of our work. Annmarie came here from a faculty position at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne where she had developed a writing center and made huge contributions to our daily work and long-term planning as soon as she arrived. Annmarie brings to the position energy and innovative ideas that will help move the University Writing Center forward in vital and exciting ways. For example, just since starting her position in September, she has developed a series of workshops for faculty about teaching writing and has many more ideas ahead for how to improve our work as a center of writing on campus.
Dr. Tim Johnson, associate professor of English, will become director starting in July. Tim has exceptional insights into approaches for teaching writing across disciplines and in professions. He’s an exceptional teacher and and insightful researcher. He’s friendly and warm and will help energize and inspire both staff and writers in the years to come.
I am excited to see what innovations and new strategies Annmarie and Tim will bring to the University Writing Center in the future. Writing support and teaching at UofL is in excellent hands.
The Best Writing Center Staff Around
It is also essential to thank the fantastic administrative staff who carried us through this year with calm creativity and good humor. In addition to Annmarie, Maddy Decker, handled the front desk and office managing responsibilities flawlessly and was supported in this work by our undergraduate student workers Katelin Wilkinson and Tera Hathcock. Maddy also coordinated our social media, including this blog, with imagination and wit.
The assistant directors were also indispensable this year. Liz Soule, as Assistant Director for the Writing Center, helped both with mentoring new consultants, but also researched and held workshops to respond to the many questions we received about AI in writing, such as ChatGPT. And Kendyl Harmeling, the Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing, both facilitated the Faculty and Graduate Student Writing Group and engaged in outreach at the Health Sciences Campus.
All of these people make the Writing Center work, day in and day out, and make it a positive, inclusive, and productive place for the UofL community.
Writing at the Center – Community Writing, Workshops, Writing Groups, and More
Community Writing and the Cotter Cup: Our commitment to writing is not limited to the UofL Campus. Once again we worked closely this year with Western Branch of the Louisville Free Public Library (LFPL). This participatory and collaborative partnership, under the coordination of Assistant Director Liz Soule, is an important part of how we understand writing as transcending communities and boundaries. You can find out more about these community writing projects, including how to get involved with them, on our website. We worked with Western Branch to provide workshops and mentoring. But our primary project for the year was the third annual Cotter Cup K-12 poetry contest. This is the third year we have partnered with restoring the 100-year old tradition of this contest. University Writing Center volunteers met at the Western Branch Library with K-12 writers to brainstorm, draft and revise their poems for the contest. We worked with 30 student writers and the contest winners will be announced later this spring. We’re grateful to the contributions of our volunteers: Liz Soule, Jessica Gottbrath, Clay Arvin, Cassidy Witt, and Dylan Williams.
Writing Groups: We continued our commitment to provide UofL writer with safe, supportive communities where they can write and talk about writing. We continued to facilitate our LGBTQ+, Faculty and Graduate Student, and Creative Writing writing groups. We have always believed that writing, and the confidence to explore new ideas in writing, is a social activity as much as a solitary one. Through our writing groups we want people to be able to gather and learn more about the craft of writing, but also build the confidence that comes from writing in a supportive community.
Writing Events: Once again we hosted or took part in a range of writing-related events, including our Halloween Scary Stories Open Mic Night and a Valentine’s Day Open Mic, both hosted with the Miracle Monocle Literary Magazine. Annmarie also organized our annual celebration of International Mother Language Day. We’re always delighted to celebrate writing of all varieties and hope to continue with more such events in the future.
Dissertation Writing Retreat: In May we will hold our 12th annual Dissertation Writing Retreat. During the retreat, 14 doctoral writers, from 10 different disciplines, will spend a week writing, talking about dissertation writing strategies, and having daily consultations about their writing. This event is the capstone to each academic year and an important moment for us.
Workshops: This year, Annmarie planned and facilitated a series of workshops for faculty both on issues of using writing effectively in their courses, and also on thoughtful and creative ways to respond to the development and use of more sophisticated AI in writing. We also held our regular workshops on issues of graduate student writing, organized through the Graduate School.
Writing Center Staff Achievements
The University Writing Center is also an active, ongoing site of scholarship about the teaching of writing. Staff from the University Writing Center were engaged in a number of scholarly and creative projects during the past year in rhetoric and composition, literature, and creative writing.
Bronwyn Williams, Director. In terms of writing-center focused research, my article, “Writing Centers, Enclaves, and Creating Spaces of Change Within Universities” has been published in Writing Center Journal
Annmarie Steffes, Associate Director, presented ““Instructor Autonomy: Exploring the Role of OER in Composition Classrooms” at the Conference on College Composition and Communication.
Liz Soule, Assistant Director, will be the Assistant Director of Writing in the College of Business next year. She also held two workshops this spring on ChatGPT and writing and also completed her doctoral exams and will be moving on to writing her dissertation.
Kendyl Harmeling, Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing, had a book review published in Rhetoric Society Quarterly (in press): “Writing Their Bodies: Restoring Rhetorical Relations at the Carlisle Indian School” By Sarah Klotz. She will be the Assistant Director for the Writing Center next year.
Christina Davidson, presented a digital humanities project at the UofL Graduate Student Regional Research Conference (GSRRC). Next year she will be an Assistant Director in the Composition Program.
Braydon Dungan, presented on “American Dreams, Desires, and Deception: Nationalistic Pride and Toxic Heteronormativity in Theodore Roosevelt’s ‘The Strenuous Life'” at the Community in Peril: From Individual Identities to Global Citizenship Conference in Brno, Czech Republic. He also visited Longbranch Elementary School to exemplify how public educators can apply Writing Center techniques to elementary composition curriculum and pedagogy. And he self-published a book of poetry titled Songs for the Public from a Poet Who Can’t Sing.
Katie Fritsche, presented at two conferences, on “Princess Mononoke: Animated Solutions for the Global Climate Crisis”, at The 16th Annual Graduate Student Conference, University of Ottawa, and on “Colliding Forms in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Collin’s The Hunger Games” at The Louisville Conference on Literature & Culture. She also published an article in the St. John’s University Humanities Review titled, “A Freudian Interpretation of Familial Dreams in the Demon Slayer Anime.”
Mahde Hassan served as a Scholastic Awards Juror at SUNY Oneonta for Leatherstocking Writing Project, which is writing contest for secondary students. He also worked as a volunteer with facilitating the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture
Wendell Hixson chaired a panel at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture.
Andrew Messer will be the Assistant Director Creative Writing in the English Department next year.
Elizabeth Pope will have the poem “Coal Camp” published in North Dakota Quarterly. She was also awarded The Annette Allen Poetry Prize sponsored by the UofL Humanities Department and read her work at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture.
Charlie Ward, presented “Exploring Gender in Tommy Orange’s There There” at the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture and “Black Identity and Performance in ‘Sonny’s Blues'” at the Coast-to-Coast 2023 Conference. They also have two poems accepted for publication, “nightmare.” in Printed Zine and “fire” in Louisville Zine.
Yuan Zhao presented at the 2022 International Conference on Romanticism and the16th Graduate Student Regional Research Conference (GSRRC) at University of Louisville. Yuan also completed his MA Culminating Project titled, “Formulaic Writing and Technology in TOEFL: Algorithm in e-rater and White Supremacist Desire.” Yuan will be joining the UofL Rhetoric and Composition PhD program next year.
On behalf of all the University Writing Center staff, thank you again for another fulfilling and exceptional year. We hope to see you back this summer or in the fall.