Ball State English Professor and Writing Program Director Jackie Grutsch McKinney’s first book, Peripheral Visions for Writing Centers, was published by Utah State University Press in 2013. She recently discussed her book with graduate assistant Kelsey Englert. Read below to learn more about her book and her writing process.
You open your book by addressing what you’ve deemed the cognitive dissonance between the work done in writing centers and how it is discussed. Was that the impetus for your book?
I think, in a way, yes. An article I wrote a few years ago reflected a moment where I did feel that cognitive dissonance, where every single article I read about writing centers emphasized how cozy, and how friendly, and how happy, and how warm and safe the writing center was for their writers. And not that I felt like the writing center here didn’t do those things, but I didn’t think those things could ever be universal. I realized there was something happening where the story was more powerful in shaping the scholarship than what the material realities were.
So your earlier article, “Leaving Home Sweet Home,” pulled you into thinking that this could be a book?
Right. Then I moved into talking about another narrative that happens in writing centers, that writing centers are like these iconoclasts, that they are the rebels within the university, that they might be in a university, but they’re not part of it and they don’t want to be. And I think that narrative is particularly dangerous, especially for those who direct writing centers because if you take on that ethos that you don’t want to be a part of the university, then it reinforces for others that you shouldn’t be a part of it. You’ll see lots of ads for writing center directors where they will even take a director who might not even have an M.A. And these kinds of things, I think, come as a direct consequence from the story where we say, “Well we don’t have to be scholars, we don’t have to be the same way that the rest of the university operates. We can be different.” And then another narrative that I pull at is the belief or the story that’s told in the scholarship that writing centers work with all students. In fact, only 10 to 20% of students in colleges and universities will ever seek out a writing center. What the title gets to, then, is that writing centers have been so focused on the act of tutoring that they’ve lost peripheral vision for any other ways to support writing on a campus. We know that 100% of the students, 100% of the faculty are doing writing, and so what other ways can a writing center engage or support those activities?
What surprised you most during the researching or writing of this book?
I came to that point when writing where I thought, maybe I’m just imagining
this. I wanted further confirmation that others have internalized what I call the writing center grand narrative because that was kind of the crux of my argument, that the narrative was so powerful that we just kept replicating it among ourselves. And so when I did the survey and saw that so many people were using the same language and playing on those same tropes, it reinforced for me that there is something happening here.
Are you thinking about what’s next on the publication horizon?
I am. It’s called Strategies for Writing Center Research, and it’s a guide for doing research on and in writing centers. I’ve pitched it to a series that is called Lenses on Composition Studies, and it’s geared towards undergraduate students, graduate students, and newcomers to the field.