LeMahieu elicits student skepticism.

Blame the Writing Center

4/16/2013 - Dr. Michael LeMahieu's class at Pearce Center in Daniel Hall.

Michael LeMahieu, Associate Professor of English, Clemson University

By Michael LeMahieu

Michael LeMahieu is Associate Professor of English at Clemson University and coeditor of the journal Contemporary Literature. He is the author of Fictions of Fact and Value: The Erasure of Logical Positivism in American Literature, 1945-1975 (Oxford UP, 2013) and coeditor of Wittgenstein and Modernism (U of Chicago P, 2017).

In the summer of 2011, I found myself in an unexpected position. I had just accepted an offer from the college dean to serve as Director of the Pearce Center for Professional Communication. This, some of my most trusted colleagues told me, was a mistake. Professional communication wasn’t my field. I still hadn’t finished my first book. The tenure clock was ticking. My kids were three and five.

So why did I do it? I blame the UW-Madison Writing Center. And that mistake forms part of a longstanding pattern of my experience in the Writing Center unexpectedly influencing my decisions.

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Let’s Chat: Considering “Friendly Talk” in the Writing Center

By Tori Thompson Peters

Tori has long brown hair, is wearing tortoise-shell glasses, a black shirt, and is smiling

Tori Thompson Peters

Tori is a PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric at UW-Madison where she works in the Writing Center. 

Last year, I had several appointments with an advanced writer named Linda Park who was working on an article for publication about language and cultural barriers in our healthcare system. As we were discussing the project, Linda explained to me that even though she was studying communication between doctors and patients with limited English proficiency (LEP), the language barrier didn’t appear to be the primary problem in these scenarios. Rather, it was an issue with cultural literacy, or doctors in the U.S. being unfamiliar with different expectations for communication.

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Writing the Body: Writing Centers and Pronouns

By Neil Simpkins

Neil is a Ph.D. candidate in Composition and Rhetoric at UW-Madison. He works at the UW-Madison Writing Center and teaches English 201.

Neil Simpkins

During my sophomore year of college, I was starting my gender transition, coming out to my friends and family about my disability, and taking a class about disability studies and personal memoir. In that class, we read Eli Clare’s Exile and Pride, Harriet McBryde Johnson’s Too Late to Die Young, and Meri Nana-Ama Danquah’s Willow Weep for Me (among others), and I drank it all in. I had already started reading every book I could get my hands on to help me understand what I was going through, to help me put to words knowledges about myself that I’d never been able to articulate. I wasn’t ready to come out as trans or to switch pronouns–it was way too early for that. I was simply seeking the words that would help me move through my feelings. Continue reading

Orange and Sardines: Art and Ekphrasis in the Writing Center

By Erica Kanesaka Kalnay

Erica Kanesaka Kalnay

Erica Kanesaka Kalnay is a Ph.D. candidate in Literary Studies at UW-Madison and has taught at the Writing Center since 2015. Her research focuses on children’s literature and aesthetic theory. In her spare time, she is also a creative writer and visual artist.

“I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not…”
— Frank O’Hara

In “Why I Am Not a Painter,” a famous ekphrastic poem by Frank O’Hara, the poet recalls drinking a few beers with the expressionist painter Michael Goldberg. As they drink, he watches Goldberg create a painting inspired by the word “sardines.” When the painting is finished, O’Hara observes that no sardines appear anywhere on the canvas. He goes home and writes a poem inspired by the color orange. The word “orange” does not appear anywhere in the finished poem, either. Continue reading

Writing Group as Community: The Case of DePaul’s Writers Guild

 By Jen Finstrom and Matthew Fledderjohann

Jennifer Finstrom

Jennifer Finstrom is the Outreach Coordinator for the University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL), a peer writing tutor, and a writing group facilitator. She is also an instructor in the First-Year Writing Program and the Honors Program and a poet. 

Matthew Fledderjohann

Matthew Fledderjohann is a fourth year PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric at UW-Madison currently working on a dissertation on how writers revise in response to experiences of radical dissonance. This is his third year with the Writing Center at UW-Madison. 

Jen Finstrom and Matthew Fledderjohann served together as graduate assistants and then professional staff at DePaul University’s University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL) for four years. During that time, Jen began in her capacity as a facilitator for Writers Guild—the UCWbL’s creative writers’ writing group—and Matthew was a regular participant.

The following is a conversation between Jen and Matthew about Writers Guild, its unique qualities, and what its success suggests for writing centers’ facilitation of writing groups in general.

Matthew: Hi, Jen!

Jen: Hi, Matthew!

Matthew: Thanks for agreeing to engage in this reflective dialogue with me about Writers Guild! Writers Guild is a group that has been influential for both of us across the years, and I’m excited about this opportunity to share some of its vibrancy with the wider writing center community. To start things off, could you describe what Writers Guild is?

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Writing with Evidence in the Age of Alternative Facts

By Leah Pope Parker

Leah Pope Parker

Leah Pope Parker has been a tutor in the UW-Madison Writing Center since 2014, where she also served as the Coordinator of Writing Center Outreach during the 2016–17 school year. Leah is also PhD candidate in English Literary Studies.

Conversations about evidence in writing center pedagogy traditionally focus on the genre of the research paper, where evidence includes the ideas, data, and quotations located through research that must be incorporated effectively into the prose of the paper. However, if we think about evidence more broadly within writing center teaching, as any aspect of writing that claims the authority of truth or expertise in order to achieve the objectives of the written document, then nearly every conference presents an opportunity to talk about evidence. Traditional forms of evidence (such as facts, figures, and the citation of authoritative perspectives) turn up not only in thesis-driven research papers, but also in literature reviews, scientific reports, and resumes. Forms of anecdotal or narrative evidence are also deployed in application essays, cover letters, and personal reflections. Even choices made around primary sources in class assignments that specifically do not call for secondary research can be considered a practice of writing with evidence. Thinking about evidence in all of these modes means that nearly every writing center conference presents us with the opportunity to encourage our students to think critically about their sources and the assumptions that writers and readers make around evidence and truth. Continue reading

The Tutoring Corona: New Perspectives on Professional Development for Tutors

By Bradley Hughes

Brad Hughes is delighted to be starting his 34th year as director of the Writing Center and his 28th year as director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The staff of the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison warmly welcomes you to our blog for a new academic year!

Brad, about 10 years ago.

As in many other parts of the US, on August 21st eclipse fever touched many of us here in Madison, Wisconsin. In southern Wisconsin, the eclipse was, alas, not total–just about 85%. Even though it was cloudy that day in Madison, I joined a number of colleagues who had spontaneously gathered at the peak, a little after 1:00 PM, outside our campus building (Helen C. White Hall, which houses the undergraduate library, a number of academic departments, and the Writing Center) to see what we could see without ruining our eyes. We shared a pair of eclipse glasses, which, to my amazement, allowed us to view the eclipse through the clouds. It was stunning—like a crescent sun, I thought. And I loved the fact that it was a communal experience—as we shared the glasses, we talked and laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. Continue reading

Honoring Tutor Excellence at UW-Madison’s Writing Center, Spring 2017

By Bradley Hughes

Brad Hughes is the Director of the Writing Center and the Director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and he is the editor of Another Word, the UW-Madison Writing Center’s blog.

It’s graduation and award time, and the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is delighted to honor two of our wonderful tutor colleagues, who are the recipients of our first annual teaching awards for graduate teaching assistants on our Writing Center staff. Every semester there are between 45 and 50 doctoral-level teaching assistants on our staff, in addition to c. 50 undergraduate writing fellows. Through all of the Writing Center’s programs, each year we work with over 6000 undergraduate and graduate student-writers from across the university and in the community through our Madison Writing Assistance Program.

We invited all of the teaching assistants who were on our staff in the fall of 2016 and spring of 2017 to nominate colleagues or themselves for these awards. All of the nominees were then invited to submit a 300-word statement reflecting on their Writing Center consulting and to include a summary of evaluations from their Writing Center students. The primary criterion for these awards is demonstrated excellence in individual consultations in the Writing Center, with both undergraduate and graduate-student writers. The selection committee read the nominees’ statements and evaluations from Writing Center students for evidence of–

  • dedication to students
  • success in tutoring
  • ability to work with writers in various disciplines and at different levels
  • evidence of student learning
  • innovation in tutoring
  • and reflective tutoring practice.

The selection committee (Nancy Linh Karls, Emily Hall, and Brad Hughes) then selected the recipients for our two awards. We had many very strong nominations and statements, and we honestly wish we had 20 awards to give! Continue reading

With, not for: Building and Strategizing Diversity in the Writing Center

By Hyonbin Choi with Dipo Oyeleye, Zach Marshall, Calley Marrota, Leigh Elion, Minhee Kim, and Elisa Findlay

Hyonbin Choi

Hyonbin is a Ph.D. candidate in Literary Studies at UW-Madison, writing her dissertation on modernist long poems. She has been a Writing Center instructor since 2013, and currently serves as a TA coordinator for the Writing Center. She also moonlights as a translator of children’s and YA literature.

Every semester, the UW-Madison Writing Center offers a series of on-going education (OGE) activities for continuing staff members, in addition to the 9 week proseminar for newly appointed graduate tutors. The OGEs help us further develop our Writing Center skills and practices, and think critically about our own teaching. The OGEs usually entail a four-hour time commitment spread over two or more meetings throughout the semester, involving reading, thinking, discussing and writing activities. During the Spring 2017 semester, we had 6 OGEs including “To Tutor is to Teach/To Teach is to Tutor: Intersections across Pedagogical Roles,” “Supporting Students of Color through Co-Curricular Campus Partnerships,” “Writing Center Instruction in ‘Post-Truth’ America,” “With, not for: Building and Strategizing Diversity in the Writing Center,” “Yet Another Word: Writing a Blog Post for the Writing Center Blog,” and “What does a ‘Growth Mindset’ Have to Do with Our Work with Student-Writers?”

Among the six OGEs, I had the pleasure of planning and leading the OGE “With, not for: Building and Strategizing Diversity in the Writing Center,” in which I wanted to think about diversity in the writing center from the instructor’s or administrator’s point of view. We often discuss diversity and inclusiveness in relation to students who visit the writing center, but diversity and multiplicity on the instructors’ side are also topics that should not be neglected. Multilingual and multicultural instructors often face skepticism and doubt, from both native and non-native English speakers. On the other hand, these instructors also have the resources and empathy to engage with students using another language or cultural perspective.

At the same time, I also wanted to think about issues of strategizing this diversity from the administrative point of view, and also how to address it in relation to our careers. How do we address the strengths and challenges of building a more diverse writing center from within? Another question raised by Elisa, one of our participants: How do we enact diversity without commodifying it? Continue reading

Searching for a Writing Center Assistant Coordinator: 1 Job, 2 Views, 8 Months

By Margaret Mika and Daniel Harrigan

Margaret Mika

Dan Harrigan

Margaret Mika has directed the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Writing Center since 1999 and  currently serves as Wisconsin’s Writing Center Consortium Coordinator. She is amused and shocked to note that her Center tenure spans two centuries. Her professional interests never fail to include tutor hiring and training processes, and writing center directors’ overlapping roles as teachers, administrators and employers.

Dan Harrigan is the Assistant Coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Writing Center. He was a UW-Madison Writing Fellow before graduating in May 2016 with double majors in English and Journalism.


The end of the semester—and graduation—is in sight, which means job hunting and job hiring may lie directly ahead.  Some writing center directors may be re-filling an established professional assistant’s position or hiring a full-time assistant for the first time.  Meanwhile, experienced tutors may be eyeing job ads for full-time professional center administrators.

From our very diverse perspectives—director and job applicant/new hire—we reflect on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Writing Center’s recent search for an Assistant Coordinator (AC) and his first months on the job. In offering a view into the other’s world, we hope to lure readers into commenting about our experience and their own. Continue reading