By Rebecca Lorimer and Elisabeth Miller.
The 2011 Midwest Writing Centers Association Biennial Conference will take place here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison October 20th-22nd. This year’s theme, “On the Isthmus,” gestures quite literally to the conference’s location, but also to the quality that makes this conference unique: just as writing centers bridge disciplines, locations, and widely diverse writers, so does this conference connect writing studies professionals across institutions, interests, and multiple points of view.
In fact, this year’s conference is unprecedented in its size and diversity. This MWCA conference is its largest ever, with over 300 attendees from Midwest states like Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Kansas, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, and Nebraska, as well as those making the trek from as far away as Florida, Colorado, Georgia, South Carolina, and Frankfurt (Oder), Germany. Attendees can look forward to three pre-conference workshops, a welcome reception, a keynote address, a featured closing session, three special-interest sessions, 43 individual presentations, 27 panels, 13 workshops, 12 roundtables, three fishbowls, three performances, and two lightning talks. Needless to say, there is much to look forward to.
Marquette University Assistant Professor Beth Godbee says that, for her, MWCA is “a place for challenging and extending my thinking about composition theory, practice, and pedagogy.” And the variety of the presentations on this year’s program attest to how far one’s thinking might extend. Pre-conference workshops range from developing a writing fellows program to viewing the writing center as a research site. Panel presentations focus on topics as diverse as “Transatlantic International Writing Center Collaborations,” “Rethinking Dissertation Support in the Writing Center,” and “The Writing Center and Student Athletes: Writing Center Consultants at the Football Study Table.” Further, Professor Godbee says that the relationship-building opportunities of a smaller, specialized conference are important to her, as she’s “met many close colleagues-friends through MWCA” and is looking forward “to making new connections as well.”
This opportunity to bridge and connect is central to this year’s conference, with presentations addressing relationships across institutions—2-year and 4-year writing centers, university and community centers—many of which are presented collaboratively by writing center professionals of differing institutional positions—undergraduates, faculty, directors, and graduate students. A panel on “Adapting Writing Center Pedagogy to an Elementary School Setting,” for example, will be presented by a writing center director, adjunct tutor, and undergraduate tutor. “Weaving an Effective Web of Writing Center Relationships at Small Liberal-Arts Colleges,” for example, will also be presented by undergraduate consultants from Coe College in Iowa together with writing center director and Professor Robert Marrs.
In fact, Marrs, who is bringing 17 of his undergraduate students from Coe, is committed to involving a wide variety of writing center professionals in conference conversations. “These trips are invaluable in helping the staff acquire new ideas we can adapt for our own Writing Center, and at the same time they are forced to explain to other people what we do at Coe and why we do what we do,” says Marrs. As a small liberal arts college, Coe has a staff of entirely undergraduate tutors, and conferences like MWCA’s expose students to writing center expertise beyond Marr’s direction, ensuring a professional, prepared staff.
For undergraduate attendees or for those who advise or direct undergrads, one special interest group meeting (SIG) especially offers ideas about the larger profession of writing center studies: “How to Keep Doing What You Love” offers undergraduates a unique opportunity to hear from faculty about how undergrads can continue studying and teaching one-to-one writing work in writing center, rhetoric/composition, and WAC/WID graduate study and in careers as professional writers.
As Professor Marrs says, MWCA is an opportunity “to keep rethinking what we are doing and how we do it.” The conference’s two keynote addresses especially show how valuable radical “rethinking” can be for writing center studies. We’re very sorry that Professor Eric Darnell Pritchard from the University of Texas at Austin will not be able to join us as our keynote speaker, and he sends his deep regrets. But we’re delighted that Professor Deborah Brandt from the English Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the top literacy scholars in the United States, has graciously agreed to speak at our Friday keynote luncheon.
Deborah Brandt’s research focuses on social and economic histories of mass literacy; the status of mass writing within late twentieth and early twenty-first century culture; and diversity, equity, and access in literacy learning. Author of Literacy in American Lives and of Literacy and Learning, she is currently working on a project called “Writing Now: New Directions in Mass Literacy,” a study that explores the ascendancy of writing as a second stage of mass literacy, focusing on the impact of writing as a means of production in the American economy since about 1960.
And on Saturday afternoon, Professor Michele Eodice–who is Executive Director of Learning, Teaching, and Writing at the University of Oklahoma and co-author of The Everyday Writing Center–invites you to meet at the “Charette,” a group brainstorming method from architecture. Eodice will call on all attendees to draw connections and build bridges between the tremendously varied expertise at the MWCA conference.
Even as conference attendees share knowledge, make connections, and challenge each other’s theory and practice, Professor Marrs also notes that it’s “important that these trips are a lot of fun.” MWCA has taken fun seriously, weaving it throughout this year’s conference. Thursday’s welcome reception features the Chick Singer Band, led by the talented Madison College English Department faculty member Anna Purnell and self-described as “a lounge-a-licious band of musical masterminds.” There’s also plenty of fun to be had around the table, both during the on-site conference luncheons and at the diverse restaurant options around campus, as presented in the conference’s locally produced Madison Restaurant Guide. Conference participants, as well as those who aren’t able to attend, can follow all of these conference happenings and highlights on the MWCA Twitter feed (twitter.com/m_w_c_a).
As Professor Godbee says, “Fall in Madison is absolutely beautiful—what a wonderful place to have the conference this year!” This year’s MWCA’s attendees can take a short stroll out the Pyle Center’s doors to watch the sailboats dotting Lake Mendota and enjoy the oranges and reds of autumn’s falling leaves. Such a location for this varied and exciting conference will undoubtedly invigorate the hundreds of brilliant writing center thinkers who find themselves ready to network, re-boot, inspire and be inspired “On the Isthmus.”