October 4, 2023

Gwen Hale: The ‘Write’ Touch

Writing Center Director Gwen Hale says she and her team are here to help with everything from citation to grammar and punctuation. Photo by Karen Pearlman.

Writing Center Director Gwen Hale says she and her team are here to help with everything from citation to grammar and punctuation. Photo by Karen Pearlman.

As students head home for the holidays, many of them can rest assured knowing their final papers were top-notch, thanks to Gwen Hale and UMW’s Writing Center.

For the past six years, Hale has served as the Center’s director, overseeing day-to-day operations and ensuring that she and her team of writing consultants are meeting the ever-changing needs of students, faculty and staff.

“From brainstorming to organization, from citation to grammar and punctuation, if it’s written, we help with it,” said Hale, who earned a Ph.D. from Middle Tennessee State University, where she discovered a passion for helping people put words to page.

In addition to one-on-one work with students – Hale’s favorite part of the job – the Writing Center offers workshops in all the above-mentioned areas, as well as events like last week’s Pajama Writing Jam and sessions to help students overcome their writing anxiety.

“Usually a teacher or an adult made them feel badly about their writing, and they internalize it,” Hale said. “Writing, while not easy, is a skill that can be learned if practiced.”

Indeed. The repeat customers are a testament to the Center’s success.

“It’s the initial fear of the unknown that keeps students away,” Hale said. “But if we can get them in the door and show them how friendly and helpful we are, they keep coming back.”


Q: What do you suggest for writer’s block?
Walk away for a bit, but don’t procrastinate. Your writing may not sound elegant at first, but sometimes all it takes is clearing it from your brain before the jewels start spilling out.

Q: The Pajama Writing Jam sounds like fun! What’s it like?
A: The Saturday before finals the Writing Center is open from noon until midnight to help students finish their papers. It started three years ago when we noticed students pulling all-nighters and sleeping in the HCC. At our event, they can wear pajamas, and we have coffee, soda, pizza and pep talks to keep them going. It’s been a huge success.

Q: You were one of the driving forces behind the Eagle Resources Closet on the fifth floor of Lee Hall. What led to this initiative?
A: So many students were coming to me and saying they had no laundry detergent, no winter coats, no clothing for interviews or student teaching, and no money for food. I figured if these students had the guts to come to me and others on campus, how many did not? (To date, nearly 100 visits have been made to the closet since its launch in August, and students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents have donated goods and their time.)

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: My colleague Victoria Russell once told me I’m a woman with many layers. Even with stage 4 ovarian cancer and being on chemo, I still stand in the pit at heavy metal concerts and can rap a bunch of old school ’80s songs. People are always surprised I was a cheerleader, because that defies everyone’s expectations of me.

Q: What are your winter break plans?
A: I’m going to crochet scarves for my students, visit my family and watch movies with my brother. Lately, I’m often in doctors’ offices, but in my downtime, I love being with my dogs, Sheldon and Doodle, and watching old horror flicks.

Q: What’s your motto?
A: If you ask the Writing Center consultants, they’d probably say, “I don’t hire mean people.” But I love what my mom would tell me: “There’s no act too big or too small that does not deserve a handwritten thank-you card.”