Category Archives: Issue 1: Spring 2014

Newsworthy Notes


We have been a productive bunch this past year with publications, babies, and awards springing from the creativity of our department members. We also say goodbye to some colleagues and students and wish them well in their future endeavors.

The Writing Program welcomed three new babies this year:

Eva Patricia Kehoe born to Ted and Mandi Kehoe  on December 3

Walt Dyer Barents born to Kevin and Brandy Barents on March 15

Theodore Nelson Prentice born to Jason and Jennifer Prentice on April 11

Your summer reading should include these books and articles recently published by our colleagues:

Poems from Jason Tandon‘s latest collection, Quality of Life (Black Lawrence Press 2013), have recently appeared in Esquire, Spoon River Poetry Review, Natural Bridge, Passages North, Poet Lore, and The Southampton Review. His reviews of contemporary American poetry have also appeared in AGNI online, Harvard Review online, and Pleiades.

In September, Elizabeth Stevens published her book Make Art Make Money – Lessons from Jim Henson on Fueling Your Creative Career, and had an article, “Millenials Don’t Get It: How the Muppets Created Generation X,” featured in Salon in April.

Joelle Renstrom became a staff writer for Giant Freakin Robot and has had numerous pieces published, including  “Here’s How to Convince the Public That We Need to Invest in Space Exploration,” in Slate (Jan 2014).

Diane Greco-Josefowicz published “The Last of the Nuba”  in the Spring 2014 edition of the Saint Ann’s Review.

In April, Chris Walsh published two essays:  “The Execution of Private Slovik, 40 Years Later” in the LA Review of Books and “Boston Marathon Bombing, One Year Later: Were the Tsarnaevs Really Cowards?” in Salon.

Joe Bizup edited and revised the 11th edition of Joseph Williams’s Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace (2013) and the 5th edition of Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace (2014).

Jessica Bozek published her second book of poetry The Tales (Les Figues Press 2013).

We are all proud of the awards and achievements of our colleagues this past year:

At the annual November conference on Jack the Ripper organized by the Whitechapel Society and the Belfast Titanic Museum Martin Fido was given the first Achievement Award for work on the history of the Whitechapel Murders.

In December, Michelle Hoover won an NEA Creative Writing Fellowship in Prose.

Tony Wallace won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize in September, 2013 and on April 6th Tony  was honored as one of three 2014 finalists for the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction for his short story collection The Old Priest.

On May 7th, Maria Gapotchenko and David Shawn will receive a College of Arts & Sciences Award for Distinction in First-Year Undergraduate Education.

Bill Skocpol, Professor of Physics (and WR150 K2 “The Evolution of Computers”) is looking forward to his promotion to Emeritus, effective June 1st.

Best Wishes to our Outgoing Members:

Emily Goldstein left in December to pursue a new job at Harvard University.

Michelle Hoover will leave BU for the Fannie Hurst Writer-in-Residence program at Brandeis University beginning in the fall.

Full-time lecturer and former graduate writing fellow Seth Blumenthal graduated last May (2013) with his PhD in History.

Part-time lecturer and former graduate writing fellow Ingrid Anderson graduated this past January with her PhD in Religious Studies.

Full-time lecturer and former graduate writing fellow Holly Schaaf graduated this past January with her PhD in English.

Part-time lecturer and former graduate writing fellow Ulrike Praeger will graduate this May with her PhD in Musicology.

Part-time lecturer and former graduate writing fellow Brian Sirman will graduate this May with his PhD in American and New England Studies.

Senior Undergraduate writing fellows who are graduating include:

Kristina King
Gill Ober
Miriam Bachman
Jesse Crane
Christopher Fitzgibbon
Stephen Krawec (graduated in December)



Sighting Readings

jessica bozek berls
Jessica Bozek reading at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop, April 2014.
Diane Greco-Josefowicz reading at the KGB Bar and Lit Journal in New York City, February 2014.

WP Faculty in the Press

Thomas Oller’s jazz class uses music as a universally accessible subject. Photo by Jackie Ricciardi

Tom Oller’s innovative Jazz Now! course was featured in the February 27th issue of BU Today.

David Shawn was featured in The Daily Free Press about the needs of ESL students and their use of Writing Centers. The article considers a variety of viewpoints about the ESL students’ use of Writing Centers.

Tony Wallace was recognized in BU Today for being a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award for Best Debut Fiction.




Welcoming Adam

By Sarah Campbell

Everyone knows Adam. He’s our official greeter, helper, and Senior Staff Assistant at the CAS Writing Program’s headquarters. Adam joined us just three months ago in late January. He already has us figured out (names, dates, classes, and so on), but we may not know all about him. First of all, his whole name is Adam Znideric—Slovenian version of the German Schneider—so the Z is an S is English.

Adam Znideric

The Facebook facts are that Adam is a dog person, especially malamutes or collies, and he likes reading, photography, military history (the War of the Roses, for example), walking (or rambling), and traveling.

Adam, as you can tell from his accent and funny ways of saying things (chalk ‘n cheese or bits and bobs and sweets for candy) that he’s not a native Bostonian; he’s from the UK, more precisely, a small town called Mossley in Lancashire just outside of Manchester.

Adam knows his way around the world of university administration having worked at Manchester Metropolitan University where he dealt with cases of plagiarism among others duties. Now he’s settling into our microcosm of the university administration world here with Dan, Alyssa, and so on.

Mossley, Lancashire

He came to Boston to marry Sharon, his online best friend, and is slowly getting used to our American ways. He likes the fact that both Mossley and Boston have varied architecture,neo classical and modern, “jammed together.” But he does sorely miss aspects of British life: Lancashire cheese, Yorkshire Puddings, the English countryside, free health care, British TV and full English breakfasts.

So welcome Adam! We’re very glad you’re here.

Presenting at the CCCC 2014


Interview with Melanie Smith

1. Could you tell us about the theme of the CCCC this year?

The national Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) is an opportunity for writing teachers at all levels to meet and share knowledge, practice and research. This year’s conference was held in Indianapolis from March 18 – 22 and the theme was Open Source(s), Access and Futures.

2. What was the topic of your panel and paper?

I was one of four instructors on the panel, “Fail Better, Write Better: Making Use of Failure in the Composition Classroom.” Steve Himmer, a professor at Emerson College and member of BRAWN (Boston Rhetoric and Writers Network), asked me to participate after I shared the “Inner Critic” paper that I assign WR 100 students at midterm. Steve was looking for exercises or practices that help students frame failure as an opportunity to become better writers.

The Inner Critic exercise invites students to express the critical voice that distorts their shortcomings as writers and typically gets loudest the night before a paper is due. Students invite the critic to sound off, then respond, using reasons and evidence to make the case for their own progress. Students love the creative aspect of this assignment, and I like not having to read another academic paper!

In the panel I talked not only about the assignment, but also about themes that consistently emerge in student essays. The “Inner Critic” seems at first pass to be disparaging, but on closer look one finds it is often protective. He or she worries about losing scholarship money, not getting into graduate school, and disappointing parents. ESL worries include limited vocabulary and fear of sounding “stupid.”  These kinds of concerns dampen creativity, encourage students to “play it safe,” and often generate disabling writer’s block.

Something about “talking back” to the Inner Critic helps students correct distorted thinking and put grades in their proper perspective. This isn’t to say that grades are unimportant, but rather to underscore the message that grades are about what you do, not who you are. And you can always improve what you do.

The perfectionists are able to ease up because they see that they can deploy the critic in service of their goals; the anxious students can laugh at their dragons; the ESL students gain an ally in the teacher. And all students are – after the exercise – better positioned to tackle the last and most challenging essay.

The other presenters on my panel talked about deliberately inducing failure to reframe the revision process as an integral part of writing; writing about the topic of failure; and being willing, as instructors, to model a healthy response to failure by talking openly with students about something we planned that didn’t go quite right.

3. What were some interesting panels you attended while at the CCCC?

I attended two panels of note, one on BEAM by our own Joe Bizup and another on “plagiarism in an increasingly open-source world.” Joe’s panel talked about creative ways to use the BEAM (background-exhibit-argument-model) taxonomy not only in straightforward writing classes, but writing in the disciplines (e.g., in chemistry papers, business memos, etc.).

The plagiarism panel framed poor attribution as a problem associated not with a student’s willingness to cheat, but rather a lack of knowledge about how to appropriately use sources. I like attending an event that gives me stuff I can take when I leave – I was scribbling away at a list of ideas about how to use what I had learned. And of course I had the chance to meet a lot of interesting teachers, who gave me an even greater appreciation of our own WP.

4. What was the highlight of your experience?

The highlight of my experience was the five-minute spot immediately following my panel when I was able to pause, mentally, and let it sink in that I had just given my first conference presentation and to reflect on what it means to work in Boston University’s Writing Program, with its excellent faculty and generous leadership. I realized that a good mentor is someone who knows when to prod a mentee, to get them to take a step to the next level – to undertake work that the mentee might not do otherwise. The Writing Program offers many opportunities and role models for this kind of development, including the handful of faculty who listened to a dry run of my presentation and suggested ways to make it better, and Joe Bizup, who sat in on my panel and asked me some great probing questions.

5. What will you do with the feedback?
The Inner Critic exercise will likely be the focus of an action research project in the WP.  A faculty group has been meeting informally to discuss better meeting the needs of ESL students. We are thinking about asking students to describe the way they learn in their first writing assignment of the semester, a self-assessment that gets at their perceived strengths and weaknesses as writers. We are thinking about how to use the self-assessment, together with the Inner Critic exercise at mid-semester, to gauge not only what students are learning, but how they are learning. This project may offer a new way into understanding ESL student needs, stepping back from sentence-level mechanics, which are the dominant focus, to a broader view of students as unique learners. The goal is, of course, to become more effective teachers.


ESL Full-Day Faculty Seminar: May 13th


By Christina Michaud

Though we miss the able leadership of Maria Z., the ESL part of the Writing Program marches on! This year we’ve been having discussion groups and workshops on various topics 4-6 times a semester. We feel strongly that everyone in the Writing Program–not just those of us with formal training and/or ESL-specific experience–is called to teach the intelligent, world-traveling, multilingual writers in our classrooms, and we would like to do whatever we can to help you in that task.

With the growing numbers of international students at BU, we are all becoming de facto ESL teachers as students move from WR 097 and 098 into WR 100 and 150. We therefore invite you to join us for a special one-day faculty seminar in May, after portfolios are finished and grades are filed, but before everyone scatters for the summer. Following the innovative and successful Arts Now model, and applying it to current research on multilingual writers, we present:

ESL Now: A Faculty Seminar — Tuesday, May 13, 9:00-3:00.

Readings will be drawn from the most recent three issues of the Journal of Second Language Writing (yes, there is one!) and will highlight the following topics, among others: corpus-based linguistics, collaborative writing, metacognition, linguistic accuracy, and cluster analysis. Generally, these articles are very accessible: no previous knowledge of or experience with ESL or linguistics is assumed. We’ll discuss what, exactly, it means to be teaching “second language writing” here, in our particular WR 100 and 150 classes, and how we can take pieces of this scholarship and return with it to our classes in September.

We’re going to try a different format for this faculty seminar: instead of meeting four times, each for an hour and a half, we will meet for six hours in one day (with a few breaks; Joe promised the Writing Program might be able to spring for lunch) for a sort of ESL “bootcamp” experience. (Also, if you haven’t yet attended a Faculty Seminar this year, this is your last chance to earn the generous $200 book stipend!) This should be a friendly, intellectual, bootcamp, though, if that makes sense, and we hope the scheduling allows for a diverse group of faculty to join us. Whether you have made it some or all of our “ESL Transfer of Knowledge” sessions last fall, or have attended the ESL Discussion Group this spring, or haven’t been able to get to any of those meetings, given the constraints of teaching and grading and life and time, we hope you’ll join us now.

Use Doodle to sign up here:

Email questions off-list to Christina at

The “X” factor

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By Sarah Madsen Hardy and Gwen Kordonowy

This month, as the end of the spring semester approached, faculty teaching experimental “WRX” sections attended one of two coffee hours to share ideas and experiences. Enthusiasm ran high. As one attendee commented as she headed out the door, “I think that is the happiest bunch of writing teachers I have ever seen.”

Since teaching WRX sections gives instructors leeway to break away from the typical assignment sequence and pilot some of their own ideas, you might think that there would be little overlap in experiments and experiences. And it’s true: the diversity of innovations—from asking students to write from the perspective of a species that they’ve researched (Holly Schaaf’s “Imagining Animal Minds”) to having them develop a single independent research project over the course of a term (Sam Meyers’ “Burning Questions”)—is striking. Yet, time and again, instructors were excited to see connections between their experiences and the larger goals of their curricular experiments.

One similarity across nearly all of the WRX150 sections is the integration of an assignment that asks students to translate their research into another genre. Just some of the alternative genres being explored by students in WRX classes this semester include websites (Prentice/Gomez), online tours of local architectural sites (Robbins), literature reviews (Bennett-Zendzian/Goss), public intellectual essays (Madsen Hardy/Kordonowy), reports and posters (Breen). In conversations during these coffee hours, faculty emphasized the ways in which their students seem to be developing a better sense of audience and occasion as they tackle these assignments.

Another common thread in these discussions had to do with the place and parameters of research in the assignment sequence. In many WRX classes, breaking away from the three-paper rhythm is allowing for a greater emphasis on student-driven inquiries. This greater freedom has led to some moments of panic for students and instructors alike. But as Dora Goss put it, “Panic is good!”⎯when it is brought on by allowing students to pursue ideas with passion. Instructors ranged from merely excited to positively ecstatic about the level of work their students are producing.

What is making our WRX instructors so happy? Since, as everyone knows, so many instructors in our program take innovative approaches in their standard courses, and since students learn in inspiring and transferable ways across the Writing Program’s classes, maybe the most unique thing that the WRX initiative is offering its instructors is a way to collaborate, to share their innovations, and to learn from each other.

Original Research

Cover of report

By Sarah Madsen-Hardy

As part of Deb Breen’s WRX 150 class on Mobilities this term, students did research at the library—but not the kind one might expect. Her students made Mugar the object of study by designing a collaborative research project around how, when, and why people use the space. Students devised their own methodology – including observations, interviews, and surveys (using BU’s new survey platform, Qualtrics) – and then wrote their findings in several genres.

On March 23, the class presented its research to a captive audience of Mugar librarians. The main act was an impeccably paced PowerPoint featuring charts, graphs, and an embedded video that students created. The class also presented a bound report on its findings to Tom Casserly, Head of Reference and Instructional Services, and unveiled a poster that will be displayed on the first floor of the library. In her introduction to the presentation, Deb said she was “very proud of what the students achieved,” and praised them for their initiative and willingness to work together to complete the project.

Next year, Karen Bourrier will work with Deb and adapt this kind of experiential research assignment to her own WRX 150 topic. She is planning to ask her students to devise a study of accessibility on campus as part of a class on Disability.

The WR150 students presented their original research to the Mugar librarians.

Teaching Steampunk


Interview with Jade Luiz

1. Your course is called “A Past That Never Was: Steampunk and the Reimagining of the Victorian Future.” What does it mean?

When looking through Steampunk media or talking to members of the Steampunk community, you often hear an offhand definition of Steampunk as “the past that never was.” Another easy definition for people is that Steampunk is “Victorian Science Fiction” which, as my students will tell you, is not entirely correct. I wanted some of the big questions that we grapple with in class to relate to what Steampunk is, what it is doing, why it has grown in popularity in the last ten years, and what relationship it has (if any) to Victorian culture. A way that we are looking at this is by thinking about what Victorian Science Fiction (particularly projections of the future, such as H.G. Wells The Time Machine) actually look like, and how Steampunk is the same or different.

2. Could you describe an exercise that’s gone over particularly well in this class?

The exercise that I consistently find works well is a reverse outline of an advanced paper draft (usually draft two). I use this in draft workshops at the end of “conveyor belt” editing when papers are as far from their writers as possible and the person doing the reverse outline is anonymous. I find that students sometimes have problems reverse outlining their own papers because they unconsciously fill in the gaps in their arguments. Seeing the outline someone else has made of their paper, however, is very eye-opening for most students.

3. What have you found most challenging in teaching this course?

Definitely the most challenging thing I’ve encountered is finding a balance between discussing background information and doing writing exercises. This is especially hard at the beginning when we are starting from square one and at the end when we are discussing really contentious and fascinating issues like colonialism, multiculturalism, and gender and identity. The debate gets heated and interesting and it is really hard to stop them and switch focus to writing issues.

4. Are there any innovations/methods/technologies you would like to recommend to your colleagues?

I have found that venturing into blogs, message boards, and other non-academic writing helps provides real-world context for the elements of Steampunk culture that we discuss in class. I also interviewed a number of active Steampunks at a convention using a combination of my own questions and questions provided by my students which my classes have found very useful. The candid, varied perspectives demonstrate that, despite the rising academic interest in Steampunk culture, there are many underrepresented approaches, and that the research questions that they ask are valid. Methodologically, I would recommend exploring non-traditional venues of academic argumentation. While many of my students have been intimidated by academic literature (especially when it comes to background information), they develop confidence in their authority interacting with less formalized sources. It really allows an in depth discussion of why academic sources are important in formal research as well, since biases and lack of citation are blatantly obvious in items like blog posts.

5. What has been one of your proudest moments in teaching this course?

My most proud moments are when I find a way to get writing concepts through to struggling students. I made a breakthrough with one student who was having issues with linking arguments, and who was allowing competing, extraneous information to derail his arguments, by equating paper structure to sitting down to build something with a tub of mixed up Lego pieces (there are parts in it to build a plane, but you aren’t building a plane, you’re building a house, so you have to pull those out). The analogy worked for him on different levels, but the expression on his face when he finally (visually) understood what the comments I had been making on his drafts meant will forever warm the cockles of my heart – and as a further perk, his final paper was a solid, academic essay.