Joyce Seligman

Offered by Jill Reich, Dean of the Faculty, on May 5, 2008

Today we honor Joyce Seligman on the occasion of her retirement from the College. As the founding director of the Writing Workshop and a lecturer in writing, Joyce touched the writing lives of a generation of Bates students. By my estimate, Joyce and her fellow writing specialists at the Writing Workshop have offered guided instruction in writing to more than 13,000 Batesies over that last 27 years. In so doing, Joyce and her colleagues have given our students new perspectives on thinking, on honing ideas, crafting persuasive arguments, defending conclusions, and organizing their mastery of a subject.

Joyce Seligman works with a student in the Writing Workshop in 1992. Photograph by Frank Siteman.

Working with 13,000 undergraduates on their writing across 35 disciplines is no small feat. As we know, first-year students come to us with a wide range of training and talent as writers. Many have a long road to travel before effective written communication is achieved. By the time they are seniors, our more seasoned thesis writers are able to convey complex ideas in ways that engage the reader, communicate information, and stand up to comparison with master’s-level work. We know that individuals between the ages of 18 and 22 are developing in innumerable ways as they work toward a more nuanced approach to knowledge and integrated thinking: no where is their growth more striking than in their development as writers. And Joyce and her Writing Workshop have been right beside these many students through this process; dedicated to cultivating adults who write well.

Equally important in her service to the College, Joyce has been for the faculty a perceptive and indispensable resource for how to teach writing — she is a teacher of teachers. From workshops to teaching tips to guidebooks to Web sites, Joyce has helped us all become more effective teachers. She has cultivated a generation of teachers who teach writing well — not only at Bates but nationally through her workshops at professional meetings, her publications and her consultations.

To Joyce’s legacy—of cultivating excellent writers and excellent teachers of writing — we must add the place of writing at Bates, for writing now holds a central position in the College’s curriculum. The new General Education requirements boldly state that a person educated at Bates must leave the College as an effective and articulate writer, and that attentiveness to writing must be a curricular focus throughout each student’s career. Joyce, in her tireless advocacy of writing as an essential skill of an educated person and in her celebration of the sheer joy of writing, has helped us chart this course for future generations of Bates students.

But, describing Joyce’s work as the founding director of the Writing Workshop at Bates as implementing a program of writing instruction for Bates students, designing faculty development programs to improve the teaching of writing across the curriculum, and collaborating in creating the writing component of the Bates curriculum does not do justice to her hard work and talents. Let’s take a bit deeper look at what it took to get the Writing Workshop up and running by looking at its history in SPACE, always a tricky part of any accomplishment. During Joyce’s first year (1981), the Writing Workshop was in the basement of what is now the Security Building — who knew it even knew it had a basement! Joyce referred to this home as “far away and deep.”

And so, the second year, she moved the Writing Workshop to what is now the Math Lounge in Hathorne. The next year, the Writing Workshop moved to the basement of Hathorne, to a room with no number. Joyce is convinced that this room is now a closet for AV storage. When the elevator was in use, the lights dimmed and when the spring rains came, Joyce and her staff periodically escaped the deluge by moving to the Library. Finally, in 1986, Joyce moved the Writing Workshop to its present home on Campus Avenue where the space accommodated her increasing staff, provided student’s some privacy and ensured a warm and homey place for writing.

What this story underscores is the passion and persistence that characterize all that Joyce does. She is an “inveterate knitter” probably outfitting most of the babies on campus through ‘lo these many years. She has been a friend to many with a liveliness and warmth that captures one’s imagination when discussing a good book and teaches local lore to the newcomer. And, somewhere in this time, when she wasn’t looking, gardening took over her life. When first she moved to Maine from NYC to begin graduate school, she had only a stray houseplant or two. Now, she is a certified Cumberland County master gardener and a certified landscaper helping people to design ecologically sound gardens. Joyce began a listserv for gardeners at Bates and was a founding member of the annual plant swap.

One of our great American writers, E.B. White, described one of his most enduring characters, a spider, this way: “She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” We can say the same about Joyce Seligman.

Joyce, we thank you for your many years of service to the College, for your commitment to making us better teachers, and for the countless ways you have enriched the lives of our students.