Naropa University Summer Writing Program Review

Nestled in the heart of Boulder, Colorado, Naropa University is a private university with a unique take on higher learning.

I first heard of Naropa University when I moved to Boulder a couple of years ago. I did a search for schools with a creative writing major in the area, and Naropa showed up on the list. From my searches, its’ creative writing program had an excellent reputation and I immediately deemed it my favorite. Unfortunately, as a private school, I had to set it aside in the name of frugal practicality.

As if fate was tossing me a lifeline, I heard of Naropa’s Summer Writing Program about a year later from a friend. I was talking to her about wanting to learn some writing basics, and she told me about their Summer Writing Program. After spending a year and a half on their mailing list, and lamenting the fees ($500 per week for non-credit classes), I finally decided to just go for it.

The Summer Writing Program is a part of Naropa’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. (You can check out their site for a bit of history on the founding of the school.) To summarize, its a three-week program offering an array of workshops, lectures and readings from several different instructors each week. The two years I’ve been aware of it, the entire program has a theme, and each week a sub-theme.

This year’s program ran from June 11 to July 1, and the theme for 2017 was “The New Weathers”. I have no idea what that means, but I’m going to guess it has something to do with climate change and/or the tumultuous reign of the current administration. Anyway, despite my confusion about the ambiguous titles for each week, I was looking for something truly basic. I really just wanted some guidance with my creative writing.

There are three weeks, each class lasting one week, and each week you choose a different course instructor. They were very open to people switching classes at the beginning of the week, in case the course you chose turns out not to be what you expected.

Their offerings are interesting and unique, to say the least. Classes cover topics such as literature, creative writing, poetry, performance art and printmaking. I actually had a great deal of difficulty finding someone that was pretty much just focused on creative writing, and after looking over the options, Laird Hunt’s Outrider Fiction class in week two was an easy choice.

Although I was only going to be attending one week of the three week program, I went to the orientation out of curiosity and to scope out what the school was like. It’s a relatively small school right on Arapahoe Boulevard, which is a main thoroughfare in Boulder. (If you happen to attend and you’re out of the area, there’s lots of shops and places to eat in walking distance from the school.)

Not knowing much about Naropa at the time, the orientation was a hint of the school’s Buddhist-inspired roots with the Lhasang Ceremony, where people were encouraged to pass a notebook or other meaningful item through the smoke. After the brief outdoor ceremony, we went into the tiny auditorium where the faculty addressed the attendees (I’m guessing about 50 to 60 people) with some basic orientation info. The most interesting part of the orientation was when each person stood up to tell a bit about themselves.

Apparently it’s not uncommon for people from out of state and even from abroad to come to Boulder for the summer to attend Naropa’s Summer Writing Program. After attending my class, I can definitely see why.

A perfunctory search of Naropa University seems to bring up some negative-slanted clickbaity articles, and if you don’t do any deeper digging you might be inclined to write this program off. My experience however was very positive.

The classes are small, with my class having about 15 students. They’re held from 9:30am to noon every weekday except Wednesday. The classes are brief, but immersive. My class, led by author Laird Hunt, was called “Outrider Fiction”.

Hunt described Outrider Fiction as fiction that goes beyond common boundaries. We learned, among many other things, about allegory, fairy tale style writing and “the new weird”. (The New Weird is a literary genre that pushes the envelope of traditional fiction.)

Hunt had a varied array of writing samples for us each day, which we read together, and followed up the reading with discussions and brief in-class writing assignments.

Some of the writing excerpts included The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli, The End of Eddy by Édouard Louis, and Clarice Lispector’s The Egg and the Chicken.

The egg no longer exists. Like the light of an already-dead star, the egg properly speaking no longer exists. — You are perfect, egg. You are white. — To you I dedicate the beginning. To you I dedicate the first time.

Perhaps inspired by an LSD trip at the breakfast table, or maybe just inspired, there’s great depth to the strange amalgamation of words. Like everything else we read in class, the fiction was unusual and intriguing; the kind of fiction that really gets you thinking about the author’s meaning and intent.

Overall I really enjoyed the class. Time and money willing, I will absolutely attend next summer. I learned a lot from the instructor, and relished the exposure to new authors as well as the writings of my very talented classmates.

If I were to offer a critique, it would be to include a list of names and blogs or social media of any classmates willing to share the info. Everyone is so talented, and I really wish I could read more!

If you’re on the fence about attending Naropa’s Summer Writing Program, or just wondering if its worth looking into, I would definitely encourage you to go. Not only is Boulder a great place to spend a couple of weeks in the summer, you’ll get a lot out of the classes.