“We don’t need, and we shouldn’t want, one idea of a writing center,” says Elizabeth Boquet, author of Noise from the Writing Center (2002) and co-author of Everyday Writing Center (2007). At this time, writing centers increasingly function within multiple communities—on-campus, local, regional, national, international, virtual, textual. In her nearly 30 years in writing centers, Boquet has found that it takes “all of those communities, often intersecting, to sustain [her] work over time.” This interdisciplinary, inter-institutional, and international approach to writing center studies is part of what makes Boquet an exciting keynote speaker for this year’s joint IWCA/NCPTW Conference, to be held October 30 – November 1, 2014.

Currently a Professor of English and the Director of the Writing Center at Fairfield University, Boquet believes in the transformative power of play and creativity within writing centers. She believes that creative questions (asked by WPAs, tutors, and tutees) inspire critical and generative practices to help us do magic in writing centers all around the globe. In particular, Boquet says that multimodal and digital composing and publishing environments offer exciting new worlds in which to write, revise, and communicate.

“I’ve been interested for a long time in fostering an environment where tutors can offer imaginative, creative response to writers,” says Boquet. Because today’s new media forms and genres open up “texts that incorporate different kinds of media or cases where writers have more facility with technical programs than the tutors themselves do,” these moments can inspire either intimidation or enlightenment and growth for both tutors and writers. Ultimately, Boquet says, it’s important for us to greet these new kinds of sessions with “gratitude” for what we can learn from them.

While it can feel scary to observe these paradigmatic shifts in higher education more generally and writing centers more specifically, Boquet views the present as a time of great opportunity for writing center administrators and tutors. Ideally, she believes that we can capitalize on these shifts to “expand our sense of a writing center’s mission.”

Boquet is realistic, acknowledging the challenges facing writing centers (including the sluggish economy, the rising cost of education, and contingent employment), but she still believes in the vital work we do in writing centers. By approaching these challenges and reinvigorating writing center communities through rigorous research, creative approaches, and outward-reaching initiatives, writing center administrators can combat the assumption that imagination is necessarily at odds with the educational process. Instead, we can continue intervening both from within and outside of traditional disciplinary structures in order to bring creativity back into the college writing environment.

This invigoration can partly be brought into effect through the Writing Centers Research Project (WCRP), asserts Boquet. She argues that we now possess “the technologies to work across institutional programs and across sites to share and analyze information. We need to make better use of those opportunities.” Boquet’s agreement to attend and keynote the IWCA/NCPTW 2014 conference affirms her deep commitment to inspire the next generation of writing center administrators, staff, and tutors around the country and world.

At the upcoming IWCA/NCPTW conference in Disney World, Florida, Boquet will both inspire and challenge participants to keep asking the following question: “how do we work in ways that highlight the centrality of writing in our lives (and, by extension, in our institutions) while also fostering and nurturing the openness that is essential to acts of meaningful creation?

With her insightful blend of optimism, irreverence, and deep commitment to the work (and play) of writing centers, Boquet will energize and challenge conference participants with stories, research, and practical applications to keep us moving forward in the wonderful work of writing

By Janel Atlas, University of Delaware