Two more days

One last look and…Wanner out. From a growth perspective, I could probably not have chosen three better years to be department chair, but it was growth that went hand in hand with massive disruption and loss and never-ending fear of failure to protect. The very best thing as chair? Learning about the level of excellence and creativity in every corner of a large department (200+ employees), working with colleagues committed to inclusive excellence and to making the teaching, learning, research, and outreach experience better for everyone, and hiring inspiring new colleagues who will bring their energy and a whole set of new questions to the department. And now: sabbatical — time to get back to my research and play with my new puppy.

End-of-year celebration

Big thanks to everyone who came out to celebrate the end of the academic year and the retirement of three wonderful colleagues — Robyn Shanahan, our longtime graduate coordinator, Mary Fiorenza, associate director of English 100, and ESL faculty Mary Wang — and especially to those who organized the event, including scouting rentable outdoor campus locations and schlepping food. And a heartfelt thankyou to my amazing and amazingly generous colleagues, who sent me off into a sabbatical (officially beginning in 86 days) after three years as department chair with a lovely and spot-on assortment of “things Anja likes more than most people.” So good to see you all smiling and talking to each other in person!

Center for the Teaching and Research on Writing

Today we’re celebrating the approval of the new Center for the Teaching and Research on Writing, housed in the English Department, by the University Academic Planning Council (which met for the last time this year in Bascom Hall, picture taken after the meeting). The CTRW will bring all writing programs in the Department of English under one umbrella, creating increased opportunities for intellectual exchange, professional development, and collaboration on larger grants. This was one of the big ticket items I wanted to see through as chair and I am so pleased that things have come together before I’ll step off (in 88 days).

A cover, a cover!

Cambridge University Press has sent the final cover of my new book, co-authored with Heidrun Dorgeloh, which will come out in the fall. I’m in love with the artwork by Lynn Zhang, which is supposed to evoke structure and an organic way of things fitting together. CUP gave us a snappy font.

Discourse Syntax is the study of syntax that requires an understanding of the surrounding text and the overall discourse situation, including considerations of genre and modality. Using corpus data and insights from current research, this book is a comprehensive guide to this fast-developing field. It takes the reader ‘beyond the sentence’ to study grammatical phenomena, like word order variation, connectives, ellipsis, and complexity. It introduces core concepts of Discourse Syntax, integrating insights from corpus-based research and inviting the reader to reflect on research design decisions. Each chapter begins with a definition of learning outcomes, provides results from empirical articles, and enables readers to critically assess data visualization. Complete with helpful further reading recommendations as well as a range of exercises, it is geared towards intermediate to advanced students of English linguistic and it is also essential reading for anyone interested in this exciting, fast-moving discipline.

Meet our new colleagues

I’ve been waiting until the last contract was signed to share this excellent news. Meet the colleagues who will bring their intellectual energy and creativity to the English Department in 2022/23. I still can’t believe our good fortune in having been successful at hiring such a stellar group of thinkers, writers, creators, and activists.
Paul Tran will join us from Stanford University as Anna Julia Cooper Fellow in fall ’22 (a position that will transition to joint assistant professor appointment in English/Creative Writing and Asian American Studies in fall ’23), poet Erika Meitner will join us as professor in creative writing from Virginia Tech, Kirk Sides comes to us as advanced assistant professor in Global Black Literatures from the University of Bristol, Raquel Kennon will join us as associate professor, also in Global Black Literatures, from California State University, Alison Rollins will join us as teaching faculty in creative writing in Fall ’23 (after finishing her MFA degree at Brown), poet Nate Marshall will join us as advanced assistant professor from Colorado College, Amadi Ozier just got her Ph.D. from Rutgers University and will be a beginning assistant professor in Global Black Literatures, and Amina El-Annan will join us as lecturer from Baruch College. Are we lucky or what?

Congratulations, Dr. Zhang!

Congratulations to Dr. Difei (Lynn) Zhang, who defended her dissertation (“Flipping those pages, swiping that screen: a corpus-based analysis of the digital transformation of the news register”) today!

In her dissertation Dr. Zhang investigated the linguistic features of online news as a unique register as well as the development, production and consumption of news in general. Her main research questions were:

RQ 1. What are the linguistic features of online news, and what do they inform us about linguistic research on online news?

  • What are some of the unique syntactic patterns of online news articles?
  • What is its relationship with printed/spoken news?
  • How does online news as a new register challenge the traditional spoken/written dichotomy?

RQ 2. What impact does online news have on the development, consumption and production of news writing in general?

  • News consumption: how have people’s habits of consuming news changed/shifted in recent years?
  • News production: how have the guidelines/procedures for producing/writing/editing news articles changed/shifted in recent years?
  • Does online news as a dominate sub-register contribute to this change/shift? If so, in what ways?

Dr. Difei (Lynn) Zhang

Enid H. Anderson Professorship

I am thrilled to have been awarded the inaugural Enid H. Anderson professorship, generously gifted to the English Department by UW-Madison English alum Dr. Erling A. Anderson (1949-2018) in honor of his mother, Enid H. Anderson. Professor Anderson was a scientist and tenured faculty member at the University of Iowa specializing in cardiovascular research, but he always valued the importance of his liberal arts education. In 2015, when tenure was taken out of state statute in Wisconsin, Erling Anderson wrote to the Capital Times:

Tenure exists for many good reasons. […] most importantly, the honor and stability of tenure ensures the retention of superior faculty. When a top-tier university such as UW-Madison abandons tenure, other universities can almost overnight build stellar departments by hiring departing UW-Madison faculty. […] My belief in the honor of a named tenured professorship is reflected by my signed commitment to fund in my estate two named professorships in honor of my mother and father and a named research fund in memory of my sister who died at the age of 15. These are not trivial commitments. And believe me, as a tenured professor and lifelong academic, I do not fund “lazy professors.” I love UW-Madison. It is a precious jewel. My UW-Madison degree in English set me off on a path to a tenured position based on a solid foundation in the liberal arts I never would have imagined.

I wish I could thank him in person for his generous and outspoken support of the English Department.

Spring ’21 Issue of Annotations

“Two weeks ago, I donned my regalia and favorite mask, showed my electronic green ‘Badger Badge’ on my cell phone…. and was admitted to Camp Randall to participate in the socially distanced in -person Commencement ceremony for graduate students. It was the first time in over a year that I saw colleagues and students in person, and it felt more than good.” [Read the rest of our departmental newsletter — with links to our online graduation celebrationhere]

Congrats, Dr. Kim!

Congratulations to Dr. Minhee Kim, who successfully defended her dissertation Patterns of Linguistic Variation in Research Articles: The Role of Methodology on April 28, 2021. Based on 120 research articles from different disciplines she investigated the role of methodology (theoretical, qualitative, quantitative) for syntactic variation and developed her own dimensions of variation. An experienced composition instructor herself, she also discussed the implications of these dimensions for teaching academic writing. Congratulations to Minhee for finishing her work in this most difficult year! She is returning to Korea, where a position at her alma mater, Sahmyook University in Seoul, awaits her.

The other members of her committee were Jacee Cho, Tom Purnell, Eric Raimy, and Kate Vieira.

Message to undergraduates at a time of crisis

March 13, 2020

Dear English majors,

This is a stressful time for all of us. There’s a lot of uncertainty about how COVID will impact the university and beyond. You will have read announcements from the Chancellor and you are probably checking https://covid19.wisc.edu/ for updates.

I’m writing to offer reassurance about your English classes. We are helping English instructors move their courses online in order to ensure that that transition is as smooth as possible. We have a task force made up of faculty and staff who have taught online before, and they are able to offer English instructors guidance. The university has also provided us with lots of information and resources. Undoubtedly there will be some bumps and glitches during the transition, but we are committed to supporting you and helping you succeed in your classes.

We do not expect English courses to be easier or harder moving forward, only different. Your grades won’t suffer as a result of the transition. You will remain accountable for learning class content and participating in class activities and completing assignments – the same as before, only the class format, some activities, and some assignments may be altered. We have been assured by campus leadership that libraries will stay open and that access to computers will be available.

Moving forward, communication is key. It is important that once class resumes, you check your Wisc email or Canvas course site at least once a day for any announcements. Make sure your Canvas Notification Preferences are set to receive Canvas announcements in real time rather than once a week. If you leave campus, make sure you take your books and notes with you.

Your instructors will be sending more detailed information before courses resume on March 23. You will also hear from the English advisor, Chris Logterman, about shifting to modes of advising that do not require your presence on campus.

Again, we are committed to helping you perform your best in your English classes and to making this transition as smooth as possible.We all need to work together, and we will.

Best regards,

Anja Wanner (Department Chair) and David Zimmerman (Associate Chair)

50th Anniversary of the Writing Center

Notes delivered on the occasion of the Writing Center’s 50th Anniversary Celebration, Nov. 8, 2019

Decorative image

Dear colleagues, students, Dean Wilcots, friends and supporters of the Writing Center!

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to this celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Writing Center. That’s 50 years of developing, sharing, and shaping the field of writing pedagogy, with 35 years under the extraordinary leadership and vision of Brad Hughes.

When I joined UW-Madison almost 20 years ago, I came from a country where universities at the time worked on the assumption that either studens are born to be good writers, in which case they wouldn’t need any help, or they are not, in which case, writing instruction would really be a waste of time. I was thrilled to see that I had come to a place that thought differently. But my understanding of what the Writing Center does was limited. I thought the ‘Writing Center’ was a space inside HCW where people go in with questions about their writing and come out with better texts and a deeper understanding of writing. And, yes, that happens, but the WC is so much more. It is not just a suite of rooms in HCW (although I envy it for its state-of-the-art multimedia learning space), it is a network of programs and people that reach every corner of this campus and well beyond. Let me talk about some of these programs.

Brad Hughes founded the Writing Across the Curriculum program – a program that supports faculty and staff who teach writing across the university. He started the online Writing Center, whose free Writer’s  Handbook has millions of unique visitors per month (I know, I am one of them), and he established 9 satellite locations across campus to make it easy for students to get advice when they need it and where they need it. Brad Hughes founded the Writing Fellows program, now directed by Emily Hall, which offers unique teaching experience to 50 undergraduate fellows every year and which has been analyzed and recognized as one of the most influential student leadership models in liberal arts education in the country.

But there is more: Through the Madison Writing Assistance program, the WC partners with local libraries and neighborhood centers to provide free, one-on-one writing assistance to community members throughout the city of Madison, all in the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea:  that the boundaries of the classroom are not the boundaries of teaching and learning. With all that, Brad still found time to teach workshops for faculty and staff himself. I took one such workshop a long time ago, on writing letters of recommendation. (Again, if you allow me a note on my background: I come from a tradition where “X is a good student and will more likely than not be successful in your program” is stellar praise.) I had a lot to learn in that workshop, and I did. But just when I thought I had kind of figured out how to write a meaningful and effective letter of recommendation, I found myself in the position of Associate Chair and in charge of the committee that selected students for teaching awards. Reading recommendation letters from Brad Hughes put my own recommendation letter writing in perspective and, as I publicly stated on Facebook at the time, made me feel as accomplished as a mountain troll again.

Brad’s letters of recommendation were not actually over the top: graduate students who work in the writing center are really, really good, thanks to the excellent training and mentoring they receive. We have two of these wonderful leaders – and many other of the terrific WC staff–  in the room: Emily Hall, the director of the Writing Fellows program,  and Nancy Linh Karls, who both now co-lead the Writing Center.

Former instructors in the WC and fellows in the WF program now direct and coordinate writing centers across the country and in Canada. Writing Center instructors win teaching awards and present at national conferences and publish their work in peer-reviewed journals. WC staff members are sought-after consultants all over the world and they are also just fabulous colleagues and people.

As chair of the English Department, I am proud and grateful to claim the Writing Center as “ours”, even though – or should that be ‘because’? – it is a center of excellence that we share it with the campus at large and communities in Wisconsin and all over the world.

The Writing Center is now led by a forward-thinking team of co-directors, Emily Hall and Nancy Linh Karls, who will make sure that the WC’s transition to its next permanent director will be smooth and successful.

Department Chair

Over the past five years, I have sought out several shared governance and professional development opportunities. After serving as chair of the University Committee (the executive committee of the faculty) I became a fellow in the Big Ten Alliance Academic Leadership program, which gives faculty and staff from the Big Ten the opportunity to develop their leadership skills. That experience will come in handy as I transition to the role of chair of the English Department and also take on the role of Provost Fellow this year. It’s an exciting time to be in this position. Our department has gained more than 10 new faculty members in two years, we competed successfully in the Provost’s cluster hire and target of opportunity hire initiatives, and the number of majors is going up. Forward!

See also: New Chair Q&A for our alumni magazine, Annotations.

A big thank-you to our graduate students

The other day, as I was rearranging the chairs in our conference room for a meeting with our graduate students, I saw a plaque with my name and the year 2017 engraved on the wall. It turns out that, unbeknownst to me, I won the annual Graduate Teaching Award given by the Department’s Graduate Student Association. This is a coveted award in our department and it has never before gone  to a linguist, so I am extra grateful for this recognition and for our graduate student’s support.

Fortunately, since we were about to have our fall pizza meeting, a number of our graduate students were in the room and I could thank them right away. You are the best!

ELL pizza party, Nov. 2018