The History of the WLN: an interview with Dr. Muriel “Mickey” Harris

Editor’s note: I asked our fearless leader, Dr. Muriel “Mickey” Harris, to share a bit of history with us, especially for those of us who began directing in the past few years. I’m sure you’ll find Mickey’s responses to be as friendly and informative as I did! Here’s Part One of the conversation (Part Two can be read here.)

IN THE BEGINNING

An informal snapshot of Dr. Muriel "Mickey" Harris
An informal snapshot of Dr. Muriel “Mickey” Harris

The Writing Lab Newsletter began in 1977 as a list of names and addresses gathered after a session at the Conference on College Composition and Composition, in Kansas City, Missouri.

Given that the CCCC planners didn’t expect many people to show up at a session on the little known topic of writing centers, we had a small room in which to gather. But very quickly there was standing room only, and the feeling of delight and amazement was palpable as we all looked around and realized we had colleagues who shared our interest in one-to-one tutoring of writing!

The very first issue!
The very first issue!

As the session ended and people waiting for the next session began filtering in, I grabbed a notepad and asked those who were leaving to sign up, and I’d try to keep us in touch with each other. Needing a name to place at the top of the list, I called it The Writing Lab Newsletter, since “lab” had a “hands on, anything goes” connotation that we liked.

Unknown
from 1979

The English Department head at that time agreed that as long as I collected enough donations to cover mimeographing and mailing costs, the little publication WLN could continue. Slowly, as the dollar bills came in, people began including information they wanted to share, and gradually, those bits of prose began to resemble brief articles.

 

THE WLN TAKES SHAPE

A “reader survey” indicated that the WLN readers wanted a publication that was useful, informative, reasonably scholarly, somewhat informal (“no MLA jargon” as someone wrote), and fairly short in the number of pages. And because I wanted tutors’ voices in there, we began to include a Tutor’s Column, by and for tutors, in each issue.

From 1991
From 1991

The mimeographed sheets morphed into printed pages when the English Department acquired an office for printing materials for faculty. Our Writing Lab secretary typed up notices, articles, book reviews, tutors’ columns, and whatever was going to be in each issue in 2-column format, and I took those sheets home, cut them up, and pasted them on “masters” to be printed. (Our children enjoyed hovering over the kitchen table as I prepared each issue and the odor of rubber cement pervaded the kitchen.)
With the advent of computers, WLN acquired a more professional look and I began to call on friends to read, comment, and decide. When the National Writing Centers Association (NWCA) was organized—later to become the International Writing Centers Association (IWCA) and an affiliate of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)—WLN became an informal publication of NWCA/IWCA.

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

From 1995
From 1995

In 2006, when an administrator at the university suddenly—and unexpectedly—withdrew support (even though WLN was self-sustaining), I feared the worst. Colleagues asked their universities to take on WLN, but in each case, their administrators wanted proposals with budgets to study. All that would take months and months. In the midst of this crisis, Richard Hay, an ex-writing center grad tutor who had gone on to start his own tech company that sells WCOnline, offered to take on the management end of WLN without charging for their work. Richard rapidly rebuilt the mailing and subscription list and created a website with such speed that WLN never missed putting out an issue. Shortly afterwards, I issued a call for editorial staff help, and Mike Mattison and Janet Auten became our first Associate Editors.

From 2010
From 2010

Since then the staff has grown along with our social media sites and new projects. Today, hundreds of schools get the newsletter and participate in the dialogue in its pages!

Currently, I continue as Editor, Kim Ballard and Lee Ann Glowzenski are our Associate Editors, Alan Benson is our Development Editor, Josh Ambrose is our Blog Editor, Steffen Guenzel is our Associate Blog Editor, and Sherry Wynn Perdue is our Book Review Editor.

Have a question for Mickey? A favorite memory of the WLN? Comment below! 

Part Two of the conversation can be read here, touching on the Purdue OWL, the future of writing centers, and next steps for the WLN.

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