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 is currently raising funds to endow a permanent directorship in the English Department to ensure NELPs 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 Winnepesaukee, 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 12 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.

The program has a strict policy against drugs and alcohol, the violation of which will result in a student's removal from the program. Students at NELP also live without cell phones, iPods and recorded music of any kind, video cameras, and email & computers.

In 2007, longtime Director of the New England Literature Program, Jackie Livesay, retired. Aric Knuth, a lecturer in UM's Department of English Language and Literature, will take her place for the 2008 season.

Educational Philosophy

The course description of NELP states that, "Diverse kinds of learning are all valuable and pleasurable," and suggests that intellectual and physical challenges are often parallel and that each kind of learning reinforces other kinds. 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. Although 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.

Alumnus / Alumna

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,


  • The New England Literature Program webpage
  • The New York Times, August 1 2004, Education Life Supplement. "A Sense of Place" by Bruce Weber
  • Rivendell: Literary Arts Journal
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