New England Literature Program
The New England Literature Program (NELP) is an academic program run by the University of Michigan that takes place off-campus during the Spring half-term. University of Michigan faculty and other staff teach the courses, and students earn regular University of Michigan credit. The program has been in existence since 1975. NELP recently raised funds to endow a permanent directorship in the English Department to ensure NELP's continuation.
The program takes place at Camp Wohelo on Sebago Lake in Maine. (Early years of the program were held on New Hampshire's Lake Winnipesaukee, first at Camp Kehonka in Wolfeboro, and then at Camp Kabeyun in Alton Bay.) It lasts for six and a half weeks, with 40 students and 13 staff members participating each year. In addition to formal academic work in literature and writing, staff and students offer non-credit instruction in canoeing, camping, art, and nature studies. Students also teach or co-teach classes as part of the NELP program, and several three-day hiking and camping trips round out the NELP curriculum. Students at NELP live without cell phones, iPods, recorded music, video cameras, and email/computers.
The course description of NELP states that, "Diverse kinds of learning are all valuable and pleasurable," suggesting that intellectual and physical challenges are often parallel with each kind of learning reinforcing the others. The program is run cooperatively: All participants belong to work groups. Work responsibilities rotate among the groups, which prepare meals, wash dishes, and clean common areas. NELP begins with a work day during which equipment is unpacked and camp set up, and it ends with another work day. The students and staff live together during the duration of NELP.
The academic program
NELP students earn 8 hours of credit. While NELP’s academic work is said to be taught as a single integrated academic experience, the credits nonetheless appear on transcripts as three separate courses.
The program emphasizes the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Frederick Douglass, Sarah Orne Jewett, Robert Frost, Galway Kinnell, Louise Glück, Ruth Stone, Wallace Stevens, Carolyn Chute and other 18th through 20th century writers of various backgrounds.
NELP offers creative writing workshops, but most writing is done in a journal. Journal writing is required and is central to NELP education. The journals are both personal and academic. The courses at NELP are graded. The academic program requires completion of a reading list, active work in the journal, and extensive participation in classes and groups.
The NELP program has had participants who have gone on to careers in writing and the arts. Among those are Bruce Weber, writer for the New York Times, Ryan Walsh, assistant editor of Rivendell literary arts journal, and Diane Cook, formerly producer at Public Radio International's This American Life. Books written by former participants of NELP include Snow Island by Katherine Towler and Voelker's Pond: A Robert Traver Legacy by Ed Wargin.