Friday, April 28, 2017

A Garden in a Battlefield: Teaching in Turmoil

by Nicholas Hayes

I am waiting to be bored, and it is hard given our current political and intellectual climate.

I’ve never been compelled to rush into exciting situations although I admire those who are. I think of an acquaintance who taught at the American University of Beirut and ran an organization to help children traumatized by conflict. He spent a life running towards the conflict. On rare occasion, I hear tumult I think about how I can avoid it. I will never be heroic, but I can console myself with the fact I am not complacent. Another former colleague would scold me because I am just talking about teaching and writing. Yet the mood of many people who work in education has become dire because of increasing uncertainties. I find myself wondering how I can address the needs of my students and myself in such times.

Betsy Devos is not lurking under my bed. (I am fairly certain of this point, but I will check tonight just to be sure.) Yet the concerns I have for the policies she might implement do keep me awake. The anxiety about potential changes that could be implemented by people in positions of authority drain energy that should be devoted to my students. Someone with a more heroic bent to their nature might be itching for combat, but I will grab my rhetorical arsenal only when called. Until then I will look for spaces where I can replenish my energies and practice self-care.

To that end, I have been reluctantly pulling myself to the gym twice a week. Less reluctantly, I’ve been giving myself time to work in the Lillstreet ceramic studio. The break from email and news is a welcome relief, and it makes me a lot easier for my family and friends to deal with. It also gives me the opportunity to relax, so I can better address the stressors in the rest of my life.

But the energy I need to guide my students comes from a different place, the classroom. For me the classroom has always been paradoxical. A few hours of orchestrating classroom discussions and facilitating small group activities means there is a good chance I will fall asleep on the train as I go home. Despite my physical exhaustion, a good class will leave me psychically energized. And when I am not nodding off or drooling on one of my fellow passenger’s shoulders, I will often take notes for next week’s class.

The classroom has this exhausting and energizing presence because it is a space set off from the rest of the world. It is in many ways sacred. This is why I try to perform little rituals every class. At the beginning of a session, we engage in a free writing exercise where students are allowed to purge themselves of the psychic noise and anxiety they carry with them from their day. I have to remind myself that I too should be engaging in this ritual instead of doing stage business at the front of the classroom. This moment where we purge our concerns helps us inscribe the next three hours with a focus on other things. Similarly asking a check-in question and having everyone (including me) answer it can help reassert the communal nature of and safety to speak in this space. For as Ilan Stavans reminds us that “Safety is a basic principle of education: Knowledge results from trust, and trust comes from care.”

There is never a way to fully sever the classroom from the rest of the world, and I wouldn’t want to. But in setting this space off from outside tumult and establishing its communal nature, I hope we are able to cultivate a vegetable urge to grow and change. In this time, we devote to tending our mental gardens I know that my heart will be nourished even if I must have patience. It is also a reminder of what could be lost if it’s not preserved. As the class draws to a close, I know I may need to turn my metaphorical plowshare into a sword to defend this space. But I will always know my plowshare is meant to help cultivate.

Heroes might spend the movie saving the world from apocalyptic threats (an alien overlord, an asteroid, or another political appointee) through non-stop action. Regardless of their success, real life will happen after the credits are over, and the rest of us get back to our slow work: cultivating thought, cultivating change. Andrea Lunsford says in her address “Composing Ourselves”, we need to say “I will teach writing, and I will teach a way to write a new story, a new political reality” (75). To do this, we must create a space in which we can care for ourselves and our students.

Works Cited

Lunsford, Andrea A. “Composing Ourselves: Politics, Commitment, and the Teaching of Writing.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 44, no. 1, Feb. 1990, pp. 71-82, National Council of Teachers of English,

Stavans, Ilan. “The Safe Space.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 10 July 2016,

Confronting Writer's Block (Slides)

Even the most confident writers will have moments when they are unsure how to get started on a project. On April 27, SNL Writing hosted our Confronting Writer's Block webinar to give students strategies for dealing with writer's block.

For people who were unable to join us, we are providing a link to our Prezi slideshow:

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Writing Showcase Winners and Writing Showcase Live!

One week ago, SNL's Writing Program was happy to host our third annual Writing Showcase Live! event. Seven Writing Showcase nominees read from their submissions while a supportive crowd of family, friends, and SNL community members cheered them on. Topics addressed and discussed included everything from payday loans to the Winchester Cathedral, from makeup artistry to the Thompson Center.

Our featured reader, Annette Davis, read the prologue from her recently published novel, The Lost Codicil. She also shared her journey to publication and how her time at SNL shaped her writing.

Before the event, our Writing Showcase readers scored all of the submissions and determined our winners. Congratulate the students below for their outstanding work!

Sandra Arrington: “Payday Loans: An Unethical Financial Solution”
Noreen Hart: “An Examination into Economic Segregation” and “How Business Process Improvement Methodologies Can Improve Small Business Performance”
Jason Meyer: “Deadicated,” “It’s a Small Afterworld, All,” and “Loud, Uncomfortable and Neglected: The Thompson Center”
Aldo Vasquez: “3D Printing: A Creative Process” and “Experiencing Science”
Kenneth Washington: “Effects of Masculine Stereotypes in the African American Community”

Those students who have given us permission will have their winning papers posted to the SNL Writing Guide, and all winners will be honored at the SNL Awards Luncheon. We're grateful to all of our nominees for sharing their excellent writing with the SNL community.

Would your students like to be part of next year's Writing Showcase? SNL graduate and undergraduate students can submit work completed anytime between April 1, 2017 and April 1, 2018. Encourage your students to check out SNL's Writing Guide for an application form and have them mail it, along with their submission, to

More images from Writing Showcase Live! 2017 below (click to enlarge):

SNL Writing at the Student Success in Writing Conference

The 2017 Student Success in Writing Conference in Savannah, GA offered local color like crossing the Savannah river by ferry and the ham salad at the lunch buffet. Southern Georgia University likewise provided a regional frame for the event, but the ideas shared were far from provincial. The pressures that are facing higher education in the US are not isolated and this conference gave presenters an opportunity to share strategies and discussions with colleagues from across the nation. The SNL Writing Program’s presentation “From Gap Year to Gap Decade(s): Supporting Returning Adult Student Writers” allowed us to share our expertise in developing courses and support services for mid-career Adult students.

Monday, April 24, 2017

SNL Writing Boot Camps - Spring Quarter

SNL Writing Boot Camps are a great opportunity for SNL students to get one-on-one assistance from an SNL faculty member to complete writing assignments. Boot Camps have been scheduled for all campuses.

For more information contact:

Date​:                                                         Location:
Sat., May 13, 2017: 9am-1pm                  O'Hare, Lab 204
Thurs., May 18, 2017: 11am-1pm            Online [Registration required]
​Sat., May 20, 2017: 9am-1pm                  Naperville, Lab 140​
Wed., May 24, 2017: 5:30pm-9pm           Loop, 14 E. Jackson, Lab 1327
​​​Sat. June 3, 2017: 9am-1pm                      Loop, ​TBA

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Annette Davis and The Lost Codicil

Annette Davis is an SNL student and one of last year's SNL Writing Showcase winners. This year, she's a featured reader at Writing Showcase Live, an annual event where our Writing Showcase nominees read and discuss their excellent work.

Annette recently published a book, The Lost Codicil, and also took some time to answer a few questions for our SNL community. Check out her interview below, and be sure to come see her (and get a signed copy of her book!) at Writing Showcase Live tonight.

SNL Writing: Have you always enjoyed writing? How long have you been writing?

Annette Davis: I have always enjoyed writing! I started writing in grade school and every single story had Michael Jackson somewhere in the story. In high school I stopped writing. My father always thought that writing was a nice hobby, but not a serious subject to pursue as a career. I grew up in the 70s and back then, in my neighborhood, writing was not deemed a career that would earn “a decent living,” in my father’s words. With family, work and the demands of life, I had actually forgotten my love of writing. One day after my daughter joined her high school newspaper, we differed over her research of a story she was writing and I said, “Fine, I’ll write my own story.” Just like that, I remembered how much I used to love writing. I would say I’ve been writing full time now for about seven years.

SW: When did you start this book process? What gave you the idea?

AD: The book process began with a dream! The Lost Codicil story was a dream that I had back in 2014, concurrent with my lupus diagnosis. As my health deteriorated and sleepless nights of unimaginable pain became the norm, my doctor recommended a life-changing process of transcribing my dreams. She wanted to give me something positive to focus on. All of my stories began with dreams. Dreams that would not leave me alone. Dreams that were repetitive and persistent and in full Technicolor! I used to think that my dreams were a nuisance, but now I know that I am blessed!

SW: What is your book about?

AD: My book is about a young girl named Alex, who dreamed of living a simple life as a painter away from her aristocratic family in France. However, at 18, she was forced to run away from home. After arriving in America, she changed her appearance and her name to Gabriella Gruena previously forbidden family name. Four years later, after graduating from Harvard and about to be married, Gabriella finally felt free. She promised herself that she would tell Stephan her family history before their wedding that afternoon. An hour before the wedding, she received a visit from her French solicitor who told her she had fulfilled the mandates to a mysterious codicil, which included a massive inheritance, some very old letters, and a precious ring that everyone believed had been destroyed. Her solicitor also told her someone had committed murder to find her and she would have to disappear immediately. Was someone after her? The inheritance? Or the ring? Feeling trapped and determined to protect Stephanand their unborn childGabriella ran. Again! Just when she thinks it’s safe to stop running, her solicitor is murdered and her child kidnapped. With no one to turn to, Gabriella is forced to seek Stephan’s help. Will he help her? And if he does, will it be merely for the sake of the child he never knew existed?

SW: What was the most difficult part of writing your book? What was the best part?

AD: The most difficult part of writing my book was the editingit never stops. Every time I would try to read through the book to determine if it was finished, I would always find something to change or rewritealways thinking I could make it better. The absolute best part was writing the scenes I could see in my mindscenes that had plagued my dreams for so long. And of course reading those scenes out loud to my friends over Sunday morning coffee. There is nothing better than receiving confirmation that your story is actually interesting, when your friends ask, “What happens next?”

SW: How did you go about having your book published?

AD: After attending a writing conference, I decided to self-publish my book. At first it seemed like an overwhelming task. There was so much to read and learn, but by taking each task one step at a time, I got through it. Was it hard, yes! Did I make mistakes, yes! Did I learn from those mistakestotally! Was it worth it, yes! But hopefully, the next time around will be easier. The most important thing is to remember what you love, have patience, and be organized. Planning, budgeting and lots and lots of help from family and friends were crucial to the process for me. Without the help of my family and friends, I would not have finished by my deadline.

SW: Do you have any other projects in the works? What's next for you?

AD: My next project is my second book, The Divorce, which I’m planning to self-publish in 2017. I’m in my last year at SNL and I hope to graduate in June 2018. I also plan to start my master’s program with SNL soon afterward. I’m so excited for the future!

SW: What is the most helpful writing advice you've received?

AD: Actually, Steffanie Triller Fry, who I met in the Month of Writing class once told me to imagine my characters on a stage and ask myself, “Are my characters moving the story forward?” After she had read a few of my chapters, she said my dialogue moved the story forward, but my characters were stationary for two chapters. Best advice ever!

SW: How did your writing change during your time at SNL? 

AD: I have learned a lot about writing during my time at SNL, especially how to be inspired to write. Professor Craig Sautter taught me how to use pictures, news, and music to inspire my writing. A great example is that I never liked poetry before, but now when I listen to certain music the words to a poem will just flow through me. My best friend told me that she loves my poems, which is such a huge compliment to me, as I am such a novice with poems and I still have much to learn. But inspiration comes in many forms. Now after a class exercise by Professor Sautter, when I read a particular depressing news item, I am inspired to imagine a more positive outcome and write about it. And there are times when I can look at the most diverse and sometimes bizarre pictures, and based on another class exercise, I will write what I think about each picture individually. It really helps to create the most wondrous short stories or poemsat least to me.

SW: What writing advice would you give other SNL students?

AD: Be open to all types of writing styles and genres. Be open to going back to the basics of writing and refresh your mind of how to write. Be open to all forms of inspiration to help your creativity. Use the people and places you are most familiar with and write about how they make you feel. Use your feelings, use the feelings of others to make your characters more real. Writing can be beautiful and can help inspire others if you are willing to share your emotions, your vulnerability, and your imagination!

SW: Did SNL encourage your writing? If so, how? What support did you receive or value?

AD: Oh yes! Almost every single professor and faculty member that I’ve met has encouraged me to continue writing and has offered words of wisdom that has given me confidence and inspiration, which I will forever be grateful for!

SW: Is there anything else you'd like to share with your SNL community?

AD: I would not be where I am today without SNL; my professional mentor, Asha Nathan; my peer mentor, Kim Allen; another SNL graduate, Kim Lewis; and my family and friends that support my pursuit of higher education! I’ve published my first novel and soon to publish my second, I’m almost finished with my undergraduate degree and about to begin my master’s program, and I’m finally pursuing the passion in my life! This is all because of SNL. The day my co-worker, SNL graduate, and peer mentor, Kim Allen, told me about the SNL program was the day my life truly changed for the better!

Writing Showcase Live TONIGHT!

SNL's annual Writing Showcase is over, the entries have been scored, and winners will be announced soon. We had lots of incredible submissionsour blooming tree (one flower per entry) fits right in with Chicago's spring weather!

Now it's time to celebrate our Writing Showcase nominees with Writing Showcase Live, our third annual event where we're able to hear our SNL students read and discuss their excellent work. Please join us this evening, April 20, in room 1451 of the Daley building from 6-8 p.m. Light refreshments and pleasant conversation will be provided.

In addition to the readings from our Writing Showcase nominees, our featured reader for the evening is Annette Davis, an SNL student and one of last year's Writing Showcase winners. Annette will be reading from her recently published book, The Lost Codicil, and discussing her writing journey. Annette will also sell and sign copies of The Lost Codicil as we wrap up the Writing Showcase Live event.

Stay tuned for more information about our featured reader and her book; hope to see you tonight!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Resources for MLA Update

Sometimes it feels like getting students to use correct citations is a struggle. Many of us develop resources to help students learn the forms and formats. Then the organization makes an update, and we have to change all of our student resources.

Last year, MLA updated their style, and we are faced with another round of changes. Thankfully, Beth Gulley of Johnson County Community College has created this padlet to share resources and presentations on MLA 8.