Martinson Award

of Excellence for Writing Program Administration

This award recognizes the accomplishments of our colleague Deborah Martinson, who passed away in 2014. Deb was an active, engaged member of SLAC-WPA: she hosted our annual conference, served on the executive board, and built and supported writing communities both within our organization and outside of it. Deb was known among her colleagues both at Occidental and beyond for her boundless spirit, her insight and intelligence, and her wisecracking sense of humor.

martinsonIn the span of her career, Deb created a pedagogy focused on inclusive practices and resistance to the status quo in higher education. As a high school teacher, she inspired many of her students to attend college and graduate school in English and Rhetoric-Composition. She earned her PhD in English Literature at USC, focusing on literature and autobiography. Her first book, In the Presence of Audience: The Self in Diaries and Fiction, pursues her interests in writing and identity, establishing the scope of her teaching and scholarly career. Her work on playwright Lillian Hellman and southern radical Virginia Durr displays her interests in the lives and accomplishments of what she termed “difficult women,” and reflects the depths of her exploration of the ways the self is created in writing.

She arrived at Occidental College in 1991 and immediately began developing the writing program curriculum, restructuring a remedial course into a more vibrant, theme-based sequence of writing courses. Under Deb’s leadership, the writing program expanded to include writing courses at all levels, including her immensely popular Creative Nonfiction course. In her role as Writing Program director, she initiated a now-flourishing Writing Fellows program, provided leadership of the first-year program, and became the writing mentor for faculty across the disciplines. She was widely known at Occidental for building cross-disciplinary support for writing instruction and innovative pedagogies, for which she was recognized with the Todd and Linda White Teaching Prize.

Deb’s work in writing program design and support was also influential beyond Occidental across small liberal arts colleges. She facilitated conversations about how writing programs might gain support from administrators and faculty colleagues as they worked to integrate writing within and across disciplines. At the same time, she modeled the benefits of intensive student conferencing, and she consistently demonstrated her deep commitment to helping students gain confidence in themselves as writers.

This simultaneous dedication to both writing program design and writing instruction that helps students overcome academic barriers characterizes Deb Martinson’s career and the criteria for this award.