First-Timer Stories

coolstorycatThe first time at a conference can be confusing, scary, exhilarating, epiphanical, nerve-racking, amazing, and career-changing. We’ve all been first-timers at one point, so by sharing our experiences we hope to make you feel more comfortable. Nothing helps quite like knowing you’re not the only one!

The stories here were originally submitted for the 2002 Computers and Writing Conference. They are presented here as they originally appeared. School affiliations and other details were correct in 2002.

To submit your story, fill in the details at If you would like to share an audio recording, video, or image as, or with, your story, please email the media to me at tengrrl at tengrrl dot com.

My first Computers & Writing conference was in Missouri in 1994. I had just completed my sophomore year in college, and, to my amazement, the paper proposal I had submitted on hypertext and feminism had been accepted. Because my mother was writing program administrator, I’d been to CCCC and MLA a couple of times, but not as a participant. In contrast to these impersonal, bewildering conferences, Computers & Writing was remarkably intimate and friendly. My paper was well received and well attended. Dale Spender, a keynote speaker, even referred to it in her talk. The editors of Computers & Composition invited me to submit it. (And it really wasn’t that good!) I was shocked at how open the leaders of and participants in the conference were to a complete newcomer, an unchaperoned undergraduate at that. Ever since, C&W has been my favorite conference. I probably attend 10 conferences a year on average now, within and outside of the field, but I’ve yet to encounter any gathering so consummately collegial. Make friends. In addition to being staggeringly smart, there people are fun to hang out with.
— Darren Cambridge, U of Texas

My first C & W was in 91, Biloxi. There I met Becky Rickly for the first time, and we were both celebrating having passed our Ph. D. comprehensive exams. I was also really happy to be welcomed so thoroughly by folks like Cindy Selfe, get invited to eat dinner at a nice restaurant sitting between Gail Hawisher and Charlie Moran, and hear Hugh Burns on trombone! This was also the conference at which I got to hear Nancy Kaplan talk about the electronic version of Blake’s marginalia and went to an evening presentation by Bill Wresch at which he passed out beers to everyone who came!

One day I figured that the pool was boring, and I ought to go see what it would be like swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, so I donned trunks, grabbed a towel, and walked across the highway to the beach. Imagine my surprise when I was met by a police line with yellow tape and a crowd of bystanders watching two alligators, one about 10 feet long and one about 6 feet long, crawling up the beach. Apparently the big rains had washed them out of the bayous and into the gulf, or so someone said. I never did get that swim.
— Michael Day, Northern Illinois U

1999. 15th Annual C&W conference. Rapid City, South Dakota. I was a grad student at Arizona State, and had joined ACW-L (tech-rhet’s predecessor) a couple years before my first C&W conference. Flew into SoDak and started putting names to faces at the airport as soon as the plane landed, beginning with Kate Coffield — horse lover compadre and regular email friend to this day.

That first town hall meeting was almost overwhelming. My heart pounded, and I had to take a couple of deep breaths before I walked into the crowded roomful of faces that belonged to the names I’d come to know and respect from the discussion list — Traci, Cindy, Dene, Barry, Fred, John, Dickie, Ronan, Slang, Scog, Janice, Mike …. it was almost too much all at once! They were all really real — and had their very own bodies and voices and everything. All my cyberfriends coming to life. It was like getting backstage passes to Lilith-Fair or a ticket to the Oscars. Stars all around me. I got a grip on my nerves, and grabbed a seat next to Barry Maid.

At the end of the meeting, people were wandering out of the crowded room, when a tall, friendly gentleman with a big warm smile stepped over 2 rows of chairs, and as we shook hands he said “Hi — the only person you could possibly be is CJ. I’m Keith Rhodes.” After that, for the rest of the conference it never even occurred to me to be shy or bother with much in the way of introductions other than to say, “Hi, I’m CJ.” People knew who I was, told me they actually read my stuff on the ACW list, made me feel like I belonged. There really are no strangers at a C&W conference — just friends you haven’t bumped into yet.

Now I’m a tenure-track assistant professor at Missouri Western State College, where Keith Rhodes’ office is just down the hall from mine, and I’m getting ready to attend my fourth C&W!
— CJ Jeney, Missouri Western State

Ann Arbor 1993. I found in person some of the names I’d been reading. We spent a crowded, hectic hour trying to do IRC chat in a computer classroom. I shared my computer with Smokey [?] and we managed a few successful forays into networked synchronous communication. I heard the Daedalus boys and went to sessions. On Saturday night, Ty Herrington and I sat in the lobby of the campus hotel wondering where everyone was. We had a wonderful conversation about the field’s potential and began a long term friendship. We heard, later, that we had missed some excellent parties! Wasn’t this the conference where MAC users were categorized as not as serious as PC users when they used computers for academic work? I had found my future colleagues and knew this would keep me challenged and productive as my teaching evolved.
— Judi Kirkpatrick, Kapiolani CC

My first Computers and Writing Conference was in 1995, in El Paso. Will Hochman, Director of Writing at the University of Southern Colorado at the time, corralled me and a few colleagues together to “show off” some of the “computerized” pedagogies we’d been using in our first-year writing courses. I must admit I was a bit reluctant; my graduate training had been in poetry, literary theory, and 19th-century literature, so this tech stuff seemed far a-field from what I thought I wanted to do with my career in higher education. But the enthusiasm of participants at the conference — and the exciting pedagogies we’d been playing with at USC — were just too, well, seductive. Two years later I was writing an article for Computers & Composition. Two years after that, I was creating student-oriented e-zines and publishing more essays about teaching writing with computer technology. Have I left poetry and literary theory behind? Hardly. Their energy flows digitally through my teaching of writing… Ask me how.
— Jonathan Alexander, U of Cincinnati

My first C&W was in Austin, Texas, in May 1990. It wasn’t my first academic conference — in fact, I had been to two previous conferences, a huge, stuffy, multi-track, international conference (not CCCC or MLA), and a very small technical writing conference. But C&W 1990 in Austin remains the only conference I have ever attended at which the banquet entertainment consisted, in part, of a bunch of people acting out a synchronous chat session. E-mail interaction was still a new phenomenon in 1990. At that conference, a new e-mail list, Megabyte University (MBU-L) was introduced. I carefully wrote down the instructions for subscribing, and jumped on the bandwagon the minute I got home.

Since then, C&W has gotten in my blood. The chattiness of today’s version of the e-mail list sometimes gets on my nerves — as did MBU-L — but mostly I’ve found the C&W crowd to be smart — bordering on brilliant at times, generous with ideas, inspired in the classroom, and hilariously funny. Where else can you learn about writing assessment, MOOs, blogs, and where to buy the best beer in a given city, all without leaving your e-mail account?
— Karla Kitalong, Central Florida U

My first time was at the 1989 conference in Minneapolis hosted by Trent and Geoff that was partially sponsored by an ENFI grant. Had no idea what to expect: Went up from Lubbock (everybody else from Austin except Patricia who joined us in Ames) in a 15-seat van with Paul Taylor, Wayne Butler, Locke Carter, Valerie Balester, Patricia Gambrell, Nancy Peterson, and Kay Halasek, and six IBM XTs to use for demonstrations and a Daedalus exhibit. And about ten jugs of wine (Wayne had some idea about a Daedalus hospitality suite).

Many adventures during that trip up and back. The wine was consumed not by prospective customers in the hospitality suite but by us. My most memorable moment was during an open bar watchamacallit (natch) when Cindy said, “Hey, we ought to do this next year” (the conference had been dormant for two years previously), and I said, “Sure. We’ll do it in Austin.”

Easy for me to say. I lived in Lubbock. But Locke, Paul, Wayne, and John Slatin did a great job on the 1990 conference in Austin, and I got the glory. THAT was when I learned what professoring was all about….
— Fred Kemp, Texas Tech U

My first C&W was 1994 in Columbia, Missouri. Unpacking at the hotel, I realized I’d only brought jeans and t-shirts, so I hurried to a nearby mall to buy what I imagined to be a “conference wardrobe”: dresses, real shoes, jewelry, makeup, a handbag. Thus attired, I walked into my pre-conference workshop, where everybody else was wearing … guess what?

Then I didn’t understand what the sessions were about. Presenters were doing all this fancy multimedia (or was it hypermedia?) stuff, and somebody remarked, “Gee, remember back in 1984 when we were thinking about word processing in the fycomp classes?” That was exactly what I was thinking about, and it was pretty shattering to learn that I had just arrived in 1984 ten years late!
— Kate Coffield, American U in Cairo

My first Computers and Writing was the one in Ann Arbor, 1993. Bill Condon hosted.

I remember being prolific on the online conference bulletin board, and having been prolific on MBU-L, which was still extent then, for a year or so before that. So I went to the conference ‘knowing’ a lot of people already.

I was on panel with Charlie Moran and Paul LeBlanc; my first panel ever at any conference, and I’m with two of the biggest and brightest in the field. I remember a lot about that being nervous, not having much to say that was all that new, Dickie Selfe dozing in the back row as I spoke. Which ironically enough was actually very soothing to me then. Paul was a riot, with a great and witty presentation on how his class did a multi-media rendition of Henry V; Charlie was eloquent; and I was obvious. But it was great fun.

Charlie made the trip very easy, doing a lot of mentoring things that made so many differences. He booked the flight through his travel agent — I’d only flown once in my life before that trip, when I was in the eighth grade. I met him on campus and he drove us to Springfield, MA to get Paul, and then on down to Windsor Locks to fly out of Bradley. Charlie and/or Paul paid for the cab into Ann Arbor. They bought dinner one night, maybe two as well. Charlie also introduced me to Cindy Selfe, Dickie Selfe, Gail Hawisher, and Trent Batson, whom we sat w/ at the opening night banquet, and then visited a nice little Mexican restaurant with a night or so later, where Charlie treated with his Nold Award money. I ordered, for a cocktail, a shot of tequila and a Corona, not sure such an aggressive drinking choice was a wise social choice among such luminaries. No one batted an eye. In fact I think Dickie ordered the same thing. Nothing like *that* to make one feel at home.

And I kept meeting people I’d met online. Cindy introduced me in no time to Johndan and Locke Carter. I met Judi Kirkpatrick, Mike Day, Becky Rickly, Eric Crump, Wayne Butler, Dawn Rodrigues, Mike Palmquist and more than a few other people face-to-face for the first time. The shared sense of things was that we should have had email addresses instead of academic affiliations under our names.

And so it went; the virtual and textual community I’d read and conversed with online and in print came to exist in person. And everyone was nice.

Charlie even paid for the ride back to the airport, and then drove me home, offering good advice and takes on the sessions he’d seen, and quiet observations on the art of presenting. Talk about door to door mentoring.
— Nick Carbone, Bedford/St. Martin’s

At my first C&W in South Dakota I stayed in a dormitory and bummed rides to the conference hotel. My graduate buddies and I went to the badlands and composed bad haiku on the way back. R.U. Sirius, who had I had only read from afar, spoke to us, and I was able to talk to him briefly. I attached faces to names, and names to faces. I saw Michael Day playing in a military band, and thought, “He is saying goodbye right now.”
— Mark Crane, U of Louisville

1994, in Columbia. I was scared to death. I had been to CCCC in 85 & 86 as a grad student, but this time I was presenting, and I’d been active on discussion lists. All these people knew online were about to meet the real me. What would they expect? I showed up to help at a Daedalus workshop led by Judi Kirkpatrick, with Janice Cook, Becky Rickly, and Locke Carter all there to assist as needed. Someone had a problem finding a command, and I leapt right in. I fit perfect.

That didn’t help when I got ready to give me paper later that weekend. As Barry Maid enjoys telling, I hid in the hallway and cried I was so scared. Here were these people waiting in the session room who expected me to know what I was talking about. David Ericcson, also on my panel, wisely knew to find me a Diet Coke. He returned with the can of magic liquid. We started the session. I was shaky, but I survived.
— Traci Gardner,