Feature by Stacey Parker, LSWA staff

Dominique Witten, a current second-year Resident Advisor (RA), participated in this summer’s New England Literature Program (NELP), which is a six-week writing intensive in the “woods” at Camp Kabeyun on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. Dominique, along with 39 other students and 13 instructors, spent May 3 through June 19 together off-the-grid. This year was NELP’s 45th season as this program started in 1975. 

Dominique Witten (top row, far right). Photo credit: Lily Talmers

There is some intentional mystery surrounding this program. Dominique shares a bit about her experience featured here while confirming the mystique is “wholeheartedly on purpose.” People cannot do NELP twice, although people can return later as instructors. The personal experience is part of it; not just content gained. “We value hard work and simple living at NELP, as a way to build a solid foundation for our intellectual explorations during the program, free of unnecessary distractions” (NELP’s brochure).

A preconceived idea one may have is that this program is for English and Writing students only. In reality, the cohort is made up of students from all disciplines. Dominique described it as “It’s like Lloyd in the woods all day without weekends.” The cohort also ranged including underclassmen, upperclassmen, and graduates who missed commencement to begin this adventure.

Through this program, Dominique earned nine units as the courses focused on Transcendentalism and contemporary artists. Unlike other classes, these are done without technology. No cell phones or laptops were utilized. Her journal, now a treasured possession that makes her smile when talking about it, holds everything from class notes, essays aka “common writings,” lists, to poems to ideas for future poems. Dominique also mentioned a typewriter shack with some glee.

Dominique shared about the impact this kind of program had on her writing: “The part I loved most about NELP is that there wasn't this pressure that every work I produced needed to be great. Every piece of poetry or art that I produced was allowed to be a constant work in progress and in turn made my work better. Maybe every poem wasn't the best but the lines of a poem that lingered are what made some of my best pieces.”

By day, students attend class typically between 9AM-4PM, and, by night, they can be found completing reading and class assignments. However, students also serve on different teams to help cook meals and clean, as well as have time to bake, swim, hike, take a sunset in. NELP’s brochure captures the community aspect as “We live, work, relax, and study together—you scrub pots with the same people you study poems with and climb mountains with.”Time is not measured by clocks or calendars but as Week 1 Day 1 and so on. According to Dominique, “NELP weeks are between seven and nine days long.” How are weeks then measured? By the fact, students go on mini-trips at the end of weeks, be they hikes or time spent at local points of interest.

Photo credit: Leena Ghannam

Dominique shared that students are also given the opportunity to teach a class session if they want. She taught two classes called “‘It’s Not That Deep Poetry’ for people who don’t really do poetry” and “Spoken Word Poetry and Political Correctness.” Specifically about sharing her passion about spoken word and hosting a spoken word event, Dominique said, “I got to bring what I do back home, which is awesome.” Dominique has led various poetry clubs during her time in LSWA.

LSWA typically has one or two students participate in NELP each year. Our whole living-learning community benefits because as Carol Tell, LSWA Director, shares students return from this kind of opportunity impacted in such a way they join LSWA student leadership. Carol said, “I can think of several student leaders who came back from NELP ready to be RAs for our program—and these RAs have been some of our strongest! I think NELP really emphasizes self-reflection—knowing yourself as a writer and person—which obviously strengthens an RA's ability to support and build community for others.” Likewise, being a freshman in LSWA prepares you for later: “Many of our writing classes and clubs utilize the writing workshop format, where students share and discuss their work with peers, which is a key component of NELP. But beyond that, NELP emphasizes the importance on developing a writing community—something LSWA also believes.”

Thinking about applying for NELP? NELP’s Director Aric Knuth advises looking at the information provided on the NELP website. All applicants are interviewed. Aric shared, “I’ll say that we’re looking mostly for people who have a strong sense of who they are and what’s important to them as well as a level of maturity that will help them be successful (1) in dealing with the considerable demands and challenges of the program, and (2) in working with groups—since so much of what we do at NELP, from classes to climbing mountains, is done collaboratively.”

Dominique highly recommends talking to someone who has done it. That was what helped her as she decided to apply. Carol also recommends applying if this sounds like something you’d like to do and said, “NELP is fabulous if you want to retreat into the woods, read a lot, write a lot, reflect a lot, and be out in nature. It's an intense and world-changing experience, but it isn't for everyone. No digital technology, for example. So you should do your research to make sure NELP is right for you. If you are up for the challenge, you won't be sorry.”