Zoe Litzenberg: Okay, we're putting together an oral history of the UofL WritingCenter and so just to kind of give you an overview, I'm going to ask you about your time there, what you experienced actually in the Writing Center in sessions, and then how that has carried over into your life post-Writing Center. Uhm, so yeah. This is cool, this is--I've never done this before.
Brice Nordquist: Yeah, I've not thought about the WC, at least intensivelyreflecting on it, in a while so this will be fun for both of us. Z: Good, good I'm glad. So yeah, tell me about what--when did you work at the WC, like what dates? Where you an MA or PhD student? What position did you hold? B: 1:00Yeah, sure. I'm very bad with dates and numbers just generally, so if this is wrong, I apologize for the record. I was a PhD student--I know that--and I started working in the WC my first semester at UofL when Mary Rosalind was the director of the WC I believe that it must've been-- I graduated with a PhD in 2014, so this must've been like you know 2009? Something like that, which seems like so long ago! No wonder I'm having such a hard time recalling and my mind is fuzzy in this Pandemic era already. So yeah, uhm I remember, you know... I don't know if this is still a required course? [Z nods] Writing Center Theory and Pedagogy was required, it involved new tutors and students enrolled 2:00through the English department, MFA or rhetoric and composition. And it was brilliant--a brilliant course--and I really so appreciated having this initial connection to a new program, a new city, a new university, and having a sense of community among writing center consultants and staff and director-colleagues. It was a really fantastic way to connect to a new place. Z: That's awesome! And so, since you were doing PhD stuff, does this mean that you were an assistant director, or a regular consultant? B: I was an assistant director, but I can't remember if I was, like-- right away? Or if it was after a while? I was assistant director for a lot of things at UofL. At some period of time, I [at] 3:00was both the physical WC and then also the virtual WC -- what we called at the time the virtual writing center. I'm not sure if that's what it's called, but I think I might've been the very first assistant director of the virtual WC. And I was an assistant director with a colleague named Eric Detweiler, who was an MA student at the time and is now a professor of rhetoric and comp in [University of] Tennessee and that was brilliant. I remember loving that collaboration. We actually published an article in the KY English Bulletin about virtual writing centers and it was like kind of a novel thing at the time and now we're all only online all the time in this COVID era, so I'm sure that article seems super out of date and quaint at the moment, but yeah. So, anyway, yeah. I served in both of those roles and got really fantastic administrative experience but also experience being kind of steeped in writing center theory 4:00and pedagogy, which has absolutely informed my teaching and my practice moving forward as you alluded to in that first question. Z: So because you were maybe one of the first or the first virtual writing center director, tell me more about what that role was like. Did you sort of have to define what you did, or was it defined for you? Tell me more about navigating that? [Time stamp, 04:37] B: Yeah, I do remember--again, this feels like reaching back, you know, to a distant past -- deciding or working with Eric and with Mary Rosner to figure out how we were going to do both synchronous and asynchronous tutoring. I think we had like, kind of, phone sessions available to talk to 5:00people on the phone, as well as live chats that we had decided to set up, and then we did the bulk of asynchronous writing consultations. I think at the time I remember that, before we kind of started this virtual writing center initiative, then most everything was asynchronous, and we really tried to emphasize the synchronous connection. Now it seems like clearly there are all kinds of tools and levels of comfort with engaging in this way; but at the time, I remember [it] being a new thing for the writing center there. I also remember developing some kind of virtual resources, like, a series of videos these animated videos on Joseph Harris's book Rewriting. Brilliant book. So, I kind 6:00of did a series of videos--breaking down different moves in rewriting--which I don't know if they're still up or circulating somewhere or not--but I do remember getting questions about them long after, you know, I had left UofL, which is strange, because I did them my first year there and they were super basic. I'm not a video producer or editor so they were nothing fancy, but yeah I even remember--now this is kind of coming back a little bit--but I also remember doing a podcast. I think we started a Writing Center Podcast and I remember spending, like, days and days editing and producing the intro for that podcast which at the time-- At the time I was really into this podcast called Radio Lab. 7:00I don't know if you remember it? Maybe it's like way before your time. I don't know if it's even still on the air. It was an NPR show and then [they] made a podcast and they had this great intro. So, I spent all this time mocking up this WC podcast intro. It was great! It was a really fantastic intro and I remember, you know, interviewing people like Mary [P Sheridan] and professors of the department, and consultants, and students that had come into the WC and having a series of podcasts about the work of the WC or the importance of academic writing along all kinds of different contexts. Who knows where that is, either? All of these things should be part of your archive. Z: Definitely! 8:00That's so cool; I wish we did podcasts. They have us write blogs, which is great. I like having good conversations though--so that's podcasts are good, especially for people my age. We really like podcasts; we're podcast people. B: Well now they're--I am too. They are constantly--especially on the move, right? When we were all moving around more, I was listening to quite a lot of podcasts. Yeah, I think it was a creative outlet so that we could work with multiple--across media and I could have some of my sound producing aspirations [laughs] fulfilled. Eric, actually--the so assistant director at the time--has gone on to study rhetorics of sound--sonic rhetorics and he's kind of a really important contributor to that subfield in rhetoric and composition. Who knows if 9:00he would say that it all started with our UofL WC podcast--I doubt it! But that would be cool. He's be a good person to reach out to. Z: That's really cool. So, speaking of the other tutors or writing consultants, tell me more about that. How many people were in the WC? Were they called tutors or consultants? Like do you remember any of that? B: No, I have no idea. [laughs] I would not be able to say how many were there. But I do remember it being a unique opportunity to connect across cohorts, from MA students all the way up to PhDs in their final years. It was a writing center as a connecting place for graduate students across different stages of their careers. It was really important for me and developing relationships with students that were kind of 10:00with graduate students that were ahead of me in the program and folks that were MFA creative writing students who were working on completely different types of projects. That was such a kind of valuable a really valuable and healthy community for me to be a part of. I do think it contributed in a great deal to the sense of collaborative collective work that I feel like is really characteristic of the graduate program at Louisville. It is not the case in every graduate program, [laughs] so I always felt like the WC was central to this culture or ethos of mutual support and collaboration. Z: [nodding]. That's so cool; so, did you find yourself working with a lot of one type of student, or how would you describe the population of students you worked with when you were there? [Time Stamp 11:00] B: I remember a lot about the--(sorry 11:00you're going to get dings on this recording)-- Z: That's okay! I know you're a popular person! No worries! B: --Haha, I don't know about that [whether he's popular]. So yeah, I do remember a lot of work in the administration part of it [The WC]. I do remember meeting with students. It feels like I met with, for some reason, I feel this sense that I met with a lot of student athletes? Uhm, you know having long-term relationships with different athletes, you know track [and field] or basketball players. Maybe because of the times of day I would be--I think so much of it depends on when you're scheduled to tutor and who has availability at those times. I remember athletes being only available in these really brief windows of time for whatever reason lined up with mine. 12:00I remember it being a pleasure. Really, to work with students across diverse student population at UofL. I remember especially in relationship to the students I would teach--you know, first year writing--or that I just would get exposure to assignments and to student writing across a much larger range of disciplinary backgrounds and historic backgrounds and that was great. So, yeah, but I don't know if there was anyone that stands out as the particular kind of student I saw regularly. Z: So then thinking about, like ,then your particular consultations, what do you remember about working with writers? What 13:00was rewarding? What was challenging? Maybe something that stood out to you as your main struggle or win working at the WC? B: To me it's like what's always rewarding in any of this work is relationship building. So, you know, I think the most rewarding thing in the context of the WC, that I found, was having an ongoing conversation about a student's work over time. And getting to know people through their work, through their writing, which is I think an amazing window into sort of knowing someone. So, I think--and also being [able] to form that relationship without the power dynamics or, like the hierarchical teacher-student relationship, that is so the discourse is so strong, and 14:00expectations are so set, that you have to do so much working against to get to a place where you feel like you can collaborate on something, or where you feel like the power dynamic is a little flatter. Of course, it's not completely flattened out, but when there's not the threat--that I'm assessing their writing to give them a particular mark or that it's not going to affect their transcript--where we can have this long conversation over time about what they're trying to accomplish with their work, and they can approach me and others in the WC as sort of genuine investors in that work, support for that work, without sort of having to speculate what my "end" or motivation is. That's incredibly valuable and such a unique type of context to engage with writing and 15:00so that was really valuable for sure. And at the time, the WC wasn't doing as much community-based work as you all have been doing. Really, Bronwyn [Williams] has helped lead the effort to push that effort. But even before that, I remember having this sense of the tremendous potential of community writing centers or community-based writing groups that I think was borne out of this experience that I had working across differences in the setting or the context of a WC. And that kind of glimpse into possibility has really, dramatically shaped my career. It's really shaped what I've kind of put work into and have devoted my career to, up to this point, so that was incredibly formative. 16:00 Z: Define for me what you mean by "community-based writing center." B: I think, you know, at the time, I had like classmates or colleagues that had fantasized about creating something like a WC but located in a public library or a community center or, you know, a literacy center. I think that for me it was really more theoretically about complicating or challenging the boundary [of] the academy or the university and the surrounding community. At UofL, it was easier to imagine because it was a public university with a public 17:00mission and it's an urban university where the permeability of the boundary of the institution is clear as you walk around the space. At Syracuse, where I am now, which is also technically an urban university--a metro university--it's much more bounded and the kind of boundary-ing efforts are much more pronounced. But I think that the idea that a WC could engage with writing across contexts academic, nonacademic, in school and out, K through 16 rather than just higher education-- I think that that idea of what would be possible in terms of creating environments or contexts for exchanging or engaging with writing across all kinds of different genres and spaces. I think for some reason because of the way--the practice of the writing center, that was imaginable to me. I was 18:00able to imagine the possibility for that. So yeah, I think it could be the concrete--a set of consultants, sort of a drop in space that functions like a WC, just off campus, like at other schools or centers--or for me it was much more like, well, what does community engagement mean and what is the community outside of the boundaries of the university? Z: Yeah, thank you! That was really cool. I'm glad you defined that. So, would you say that you had a strategy for your consultations that you brought with you when you worked at the WC, and do you feel like it changed over time, maybe as a consequence of maybe 19:00the WC theory and pedagogy class, or just your experience of having been there? [Time Stamp 19:01] B: I mean, yeah... I don't know in terms of strategy. It... is hard, I guess it's hard to learn to listen. It felt like painful--that learning process for me to sort of--I guess it seems like a commonplace to let a writer guide the session and to sort of really follow them through their own work and follow the articulation of their needs, and what they want to accomplish. I still have a hard time with it, you know, when responding to my own students who are now like how my kids were. To not be heavy handed, to sort of... learn alongside someone as they are pursuing their own project-- I think 20:00that felt [like an] un-natural type of like--position to take. It took a lot of learning and failing and struggling to get to a place where I was really present and able to listen and attentive in the context of the session. So, I don't know; I think what helped me most was not, like, reading WC theory [laughs] and pedagogy although maybe it sort of just seeped in some ways. But I really think that what helped me most was--you know, kind of being around other consultants that were experts at this and taking the lead from writers themselves who give really clear signs that this--"you're hearing me" or "you're not hearing 21:00me"--and "direct me" or "guide me" in a way of listening that I think that has been really valuable as I've gone on to the rest of my career. I am certainly still learning how to do that. But I think in terms of strategy, I think it's not easy to be able to listen. It's actually really complicated. So, I think the more I was able to learn to listen, the better consultant I became for sure. Z: Yeah, and kind of on the topic of listening: what would you say was the main concern that writers came in with, and how do you feel that you or the WC as a whole negotiated writer needs, and then [balanced] writer needs and then maybe your own vision? B: Uh, I mean, I guess some of the concerns that come 22:00to mind would be really stereotypical. I think a lot of concerns were around just really not understanding what they were being asked to do. So I kind of remember like, prompts that seemed really nebulous or unclear and students who were frustrated because they cared a great deal about their writing and about achieving what they wanted to achieve, or had set out to achieve, but they couldn't find like an entry point into doing their work because--either because they didn't have... a history of experience being able to enter into this academic discourse or dialogue in a way they understood or because, really, [laughing] the assignments were super unclear and it was hard for everybody to figure out what was being asked. So, I kind of remember a lot 23:00of interpreting together, a lot of sort of, "Let's try to make sense of what we're being asked and to find an entry point into this question or into this prompt that you feel like you could kind of make the prompt your own or take it up as your own work." So I remember, like, a lot of translating of how can you take up this work that's given to you in a way that you can make your own, which I still am trying to encourage my students to do, even with prompts I give them, which are also unclear sometimes! So, I kind of remember that a lot; that is a common struggle that people were trying to work through together. And then I forget what the second part of the question was. Z: Yeah, it's the whole question. But I guess I'm curious about how you felt--I guess you kind of 24:00already answered it--but how you felt you navigated writer needs and whether those felt in conflict? Like, maybe what the WC wanted versus what writers wanted? B: Yeah. I mean, that there's like some conflict, I mean, in every exchange like this. But I think some of this is aligning expectations which is always kind of like--especially if you're just meeting with a student one time or their dropping into the WC periodically, or maybe for the first time, and there's this sort of tension around alignment of expectations, and it's kind of like--"well, what is this thing we're doing together? What are we supposed to be doing together?" But I mean, I felt so much autonomy [as a consultant] and sort of like agency in the context of the WC that I never felt like anybody was sort 25:00of like breathing over my neck[?]--"breathing down my neck"--I think is the way to say it. I never felt like I was being judged or surveyed, so I felt like I could have the space to work through the tension with writers, and the flexibility from directors and peers to kind of negotiate in ways that felt like... safe and felt beneficial--mutually beneficial. So, yeah. I can see the sort of underlying theme of this question being like, well students come in having all kinds of different needs or expectations and then the WC has to, 26:00like, adhere to a particular mission or set of beliefs or standards in common, and sometimes there's a friction there. But I felt like the writers were always so generous, so I never had the sort of situation where a student would say like, "well I don't want to hear about this. I just want you to fix my paper!" or I felt like students were really understanding and appreciative and I never--of course it could be that I'm privileged in all kinds of ways so a big part of it could be my body and how I'm embodied in terms of feeling like the tension or friction was too much to bear. I'm sure it's intense for lots of consultants or student writers, and so I can certainly understand the reasons for that. Z: Definitely. So, do you remember whether your PhD work 27:00at the time was connected to your work at the WC? Were they interwoven or were they separate? B: I mean, you know, there's always this sort of like I guess like in PhD work in graduate work in a particular field there's always that pressure to define your work in terms of a particular subfield or a particular set of conversations. I definitely didn't consider the work I was doing in the field of Writing Center studies or something like that. Although, it was about writing across context. My work was about writers--practices in and out of schools and across stages of life, across educational institutions, certainly across undergraduate curriculum, where they're having to write across a lot of 28:00disciplinary contexts and for a lot of different sources. I think the connections between getting to work with and see students writing not only in my own writing courses but across as entire undergraduate curriculum was really beneficial in thinking through how writers navigate the demands of different contexts and write for pleasure and for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with school. That was something also that I saw in the writing center. It wasn't uncommon to see someone bring in a piece of creative nonfiction or a poem that they were working on for themselves. So getting a sense of that desire to write that was not only attached to or motivated by grades--that was a 29:00glimpse I got through the writing center that definitely shaped the dissertation at the time, and of course that just becomes a larger project always. Z: Yeah, so then on that seam, will you tell me more about how your work now relates to the work you did at the WC? B: Yeah, sure. I think I can do that. Mainly--maybe the connection to the sort of the way that I saw the WC positioned at the university, as not a possession of one department but functioning for an entire campus community. And now increasingly, since I've left, increasingly functioning for a city--for a region or surrounding 30:00area. Yeah, I mean, my work now is as a kind of somebody who's doing a lot of public humanities-based projects, who's building coalition or collaboration across programs that are related to the university and many that are not related to the university but share a place in common. I think that that kind of seeing the potential for building relationships from a center that is really a place where people come together to develop projects and ideas, to collaborate, that is sort of centrally located--has been really impactful on the way that I see myself operating in the university and see the potential for 31:00a university that extends or relationships that extend well beyond the bounds of a university. So, yeah, I think that that influence and then getting exposure to a lot of different types of writing across a university setting was really valuable and informative for the work that I ended up doing as well. [Time Stamp 31:34] Z: That's awesome. Kind of in closing--is there anything else you remember that you feel like is very important that I haven't asked you about [regarding the WC and your time here]? B: ... You'll have to edit out this long pause [laugh]. I mean, I guess I would reiterate the sense of community 32:00that was developed through work at the Center, or even just sharing a space together. I remember the back office at the time--I know you all have moved since then but we used to have this little office back behind the consulting area where all the consultants who were off duty would just hang out, and I do remember like this kind of like more informal social time being some of my favorite time in the graduate program and some of the most long-term valuable time in building relationships across the differences that I mentioned before; across stages of education or different experiences, some of my 33:00closest colleagues now across the nation I met for the first time at the writing center and sort of like am in regular contact with and share work with and still feeling community with. So yeah, that. For me, it was like it was key to surviving as a first-gen[eration] college student in a graduate program that I felt like I had no business being in. But I immediately felt like a place a sense of kind of belonging from the work in the Writing Center. I think without that, I would've been pretty overwhelmed as I entered into graduate program. So, yeah. Z: Thank you so much for sharing; I'd love to talk more and ask 34:00more questions, but in the interest of the interview, I've finished my questions! [End Time 33:59]