“Writing is easy,” journalist Gene Fowler famously quipped. “All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” Well-intentioned as that tip may be, Mr. Fowler’s technique would never work with today’s Williston Northampton students. For one thing, students do most of their writing on Surface Pro tablets, not paper. And two, they have the Williston Writing Center.
Tucked in a cozy space on the second floor of the Clapp Memorial Library, the Writing Center is a welcoming haven. Encouraging quotations hang from the ceiling (“Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.”—Oscar Wilde), and a comfortable central conference table beckons like something out of an Internet coffee shop. On busy evenings, especially, the place hums with students at work, a creative community of writers and scholars. “It was one of my favorite places on campus,” recalls Cameron Hill ’15, now in her first year at Yale. “Ms. Sawyer is so encouraging and welcoming to anyone who wants to improve their writing.”
That would be Sarah Sawyer, the Writing Center’s founder, tireless advocate, and fun-loving brand ambassador. When she launched the center 10 years ago, she was newly hired from Amherst College, where, as a writing fellow, she had seen firsthand the benefits that a college writing center can bring to students. Today, joined by English Department Head Adrienne Mantegna ’94 and College Counseling Director Tim Cheney, she and her team of trained peer tutors offer students one-on-one guidance, instruction, and feedback on anything from English homework assignments to history research papers to that most formidable of tasks, the college essay. Each year, students visit the center more than a 1,000 times.