Finding the Right Word on the Airwaves and in the Classroom

Senior Lecturer Lynne Viti Wins NPR Limerick Challenge

December 17, 2014
Students presentations during Lynne Viti's writing class

In a proverb attributed to Mark Twain, it is said that “the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

Senior Lecturer Lynne Viti is well-versed in the art of finding the right word. She put that skill to use recently in a slightly unusual forum: an episode of National Public Radio's news quiz Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me. Viti won the Listener Limerick Challenge in early November—earning a prized voicemail message from the show’s scorekeeper emeritus Carl Kasell, and matching wits with host Peter Sagal in light-hearted banter about Wellesley.

Viti teaches in Wellesley's Writing Program, where she works with students to improve written communication and critical thinking skills. While all of her courses emphasize the importance of learning to write and edit well, the subject of her classes range across her diverse interests in law, medicine, ethics, and even HBO.

As a native of Baltimore, and as a former lawyer, Viti fell in love with the HBO show The Wire early in its run. She realized that the show was not only a fantastic story, but could be a fascinating educational tool, a means of considering complex problems of the contemporary American city. WRIT123: The Wire and the American City focuses on a single season of the show, while introducing students to scholarly research and commentary on urban life. One semester, Viti invited Wire cast member, actor Jim True-Frost, to make a surprise appearance in her class and talk about his role in the wider context of the show.

Last year, Viti joined several other faculty in offering the first year of the Calderwood Writing Seminars. These capstone courses, offered to juniors and seniors, train students to communicate complex topics to the general public in clear prose. The courses range in topic from environmental studies to English. In Law, Medicine, and Ethics, Viti encouraged her group of students to wrestle with controversial medical issues from egg donation to euthanasia, and to experiment with different writing styles as they did so.

While her courses, and her interests, cross media and disciplines, Viti continues to help others write precisely, cleanly, and well, finding just the right word in a first-year essay, a senior’s research paper, or even a limerick.