Beyond Writing Conferences & Residencies: More Summer Opportunities for Writers who Teach

Erika Dreifus | January 2005

You’re reading correctly. This is an article about summer opportunities. Yes, 2005 has barely begun, but already application deadlines for the summer’s programs are starting to appear on my calendar, and probably yours too.

For many of us, thinking about the summer means applying for openings in residency programs, or seeking a position teaching at a writing conference (or two, or more). But once in awhile, it can be nice to spend part of the summer another way. And it can be even nicer to be supported, financially and otherwise, in the process.

Writers who teach can find a number of summer opportunities that allow them to focus on their combined interests in writing, teaching, and scholarship, and that also reward them for their multiple expertise. Several summer seminars and institutes give us the opportunity to return to the classroom as students. We can refresh ourselves creatively and intellectually in these environments-and we’re often well-fed and housed at the same time.

These seminars and institutes can address a wide variety of topics. Sometimes these subjects may not seem directly related to either our past training or our current work, but the benefits of participation can still be considerable. "Writers who are teachers and teachers who are writers stand to benefit from the substantive challenges these programs afford," says Thomas M. Adams. Adams is Senior Program Officer in the Division of Education Programs of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), which administers both the Summer Seminars and Institutes for College and University Teachers, and the Summer Seminars and Institutes for School Teachers:

Because NEH seminars and institutes focus on the interpretation of the humanities, they provide significant opportunities to examine models of writing and to apply one’s skills as a writer. Moreover, the literary qualities of important texts in the humanities are often examined as an integral element in the work of interpretation. Some seminars and institutes focus on particular authors such as Emile Zola, Cervantes, Emerson, or Faulkner; others deal with broader topics such as ‘American Literature and American Pluralism,’ ‘the Arabic Novel in Translation,’ or ‘Women Writing- Venice, London, Madrid, Paris, 1550–1700.’ Yet others deal with criticism on a more general plane, addressing topics such as narrative theory and ‘the pleasures of poetry.’

The National Humanities Center’s Summer Institutes in Literary Studies "are designed to give bright, promising, young literary scholars the chance to study intensively under leading critics," says Richard R. Schramm, Vice President for Education Programs. "The programs focus on the close reading of a single text or small group of texts." Last summer, he notes, a seminar on "Five Major Odes" included poets among its participants. "That seminar offers a good example of the value of this program, for it gave aspiring poets the chance to study under Susan Stewart, a published poet of keen sensitivity and subtle skill."

But what if a seminar or institute topic is not directly related to a writer’s own past or current work? Are there still benefits to be gleaned? Yes, according to Michael Griffith, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Cincinnati and attendee of a Summer Institute in Literary Studies at the National Humanities Center in 2003:

The subject of our seminar was Jane Austen, a writer I love but whose work could not be further from what I do in my own fiction. I wasn’t working on or planning a project with any direct link to her, nor have I embarked on one since. But I expected to find (and found) the experience invaluable precisely because it brought me out of the prison-house of my own work and made me engage a great writer who works with wildly different themes, tones, diction, and so on. The whole premise of teaching creative writing, as I understand it, is that the way to become a better writer is to become a better-a subtler, more meticulous, above all more empathetic-reader, and the summer institute gave me a chance to put this theory into practice. I came home reenergized, having been made to think about writing in an unfamiliar way, and through the prism of a wonderful book.

Is there anything a writer who teaches can do to strengthen his or her application to these competitive programs? For the Summer Institutes in Literary Studies, at least, "an applicant would want to articulate why he or she has a special interest in close reading," says Schramm. "If an applicant applies close reading in teaching, he or she might want to stress that as well. An applicant might also want to say how close reading would complement other critical approaches."

What follows is a brief introduction to some of the summer opportunities available to writers who teach. Take a look at these opportunities; bookmark the sites that interest you; and note appropriate application deadlines in your planner. Generally speaking, these programs will offer you something very special-time. As Schramm describes it, this is time to be "doing what we all thought we’d be doing more of when we entered higher education-living the life of the mind."

Summer Opportunities

Erasmus Institute Summer Programs
1124 Flanner Hall
Notre Dame, IN 46556-5611

Each summer, the Erasmus Institute sponsors seminars, according to its website, "for scholars seeking to enrich their research by engaging it with the intellectual traditions associated with Catholicism or those of other Christian religions and the Abrahamic religions more generally." One of these seminars is open to faculty members at any rank; two others are open to advanced graduate students (at the dissertation level) and postdoctoral scholars. In 2005, the seminars will be held at the University of Notre Dame from June 11–29; one Graduate Seminar, led by Patricia Hampl, will focus on "Writing a Life: The Spiritual Witness of Autobiography." Each seminar is limited to ten participants; the Institute covers their food, lodging, and transportation costs. Graduate seminar participants also receive a $500 stipend. Visit the website for more information and the downloadable application, which must be received by February 18, 2005.

National Endowment for the Humanities, Summer Seminars and Institutes

.his program annually provides teachers opportunities to study topics in the humanities in a wide range of Summer Seminars and Institutes. Depending on the program’s length, selected college teachers receive stipends (in 2005: $3,000; $3,600; or $4,200) to manage travel, books, research, and other (living) expenses. The program for school teachers is open to K-12 teachers. Those teaching abroad who are American citizens, and librarians/school administrators may also be eligible. the stipend amounts range from $1,800 for a two-week program, to $4,200 for one that lasts six weeks. Application deadline for 2005 is March 1.

Summer Seminars and Institutes for College and University Teachers

Addresses vary for each seminar and institute. View program descriptions at the above Web address, and contact individual program directors for specific information. For general inquiries telephone (202) 606-8463, or e-mail

Summer Seminars and Institutes for School Teachers

Addresses vary for each seminar and institute. View program descriptions at above Web address, and contact individual program directors for specific information. For general inquiries, telephone (202) 606-8463, or e-mail

National Humanities Center
Summer Institutes in Literary Studies

7 Alexander Drive
P.O. Box 12256
Research Triangle Park , NC 27709
Phone: 1 (877) 271-7444

According to the their official website, this program is open to "scholars who have received a PhD within the last ten years and who teach in departments of literature or other relevant disciplines," these institutes offer week-long seminars that focus on "the detailed operations of literary texts." Some of the 2005 course offerings include a seminar on "Benjamin Franklin: Reader, Writer, Printer," conducted by Peter Stallybrass, the Walter H. and Leonore C. Annenberg Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, and another on "Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy," led by Deidre Lynch, Associate Professor of English, Indiana University. Past seminars have focused on "Five Major Odes," "Gustave Flaubert’s Sentimental Education," "Jane Austen’s Emma, " and "The Poetry of W.B. Yeats." Each seminar is limited to twelve participants and will take place July 10–15, 2005. The National Humanities Center supplies all texts and covers expenses for travel, food, and lodging. Seminar participants also receive a stipend of $1,500. Application deadline: February 25, 2005.

National Writing Project Invitational Summer Institutes

Unlike the programs previously described, these annual summer institutes are specifically targeted to focus on writing. They allow teachers to "examine their classroom practice, conduct research, and develop their own writing skills." Institute structure and content may vary from site to site, though most include K-16 teachers. Compensation also varies. For sample programs see the Denver Writing Project’s website and the Western Massachusetts Writing Project’s website Check with individual programs for application information and deadlines-these also vary quite a bit! Addresses vary for each local project site; check the main website to locate a project in your area.

Additional Summer Support Opportunities

In case you have already made other plans for summer work and writing-but may be seeking extra funding to pursue them-check out the following possibilities.

NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education Learning and Leadership Grants
1201 Sixteenth Street, NW, Suite 416
Washington , DC 20036-3207

Grants to individuals (up to $2,000) support "high-quality professional development experiences, such as summer institutes or action research." Applicants must be public school teachers in grades K-12, public school education support professionals, or higher education faculty and staff at public colleges and universities. Preference may be given to members of the National Education Association. Application review occurs three times each year; applications received by February 1.will receive notification by June 15. See website for full application instructions and information.

Surdna Arts Teachers Fellowship Program
Surdna Foundation
330 Madison Avenue, 30th Floor
New York , NY 10017

Unfortunately, if you’re interested in this program you’ll have to wait for the 2006 summer season to apply for it; for 2005 the initial letter of intent to apply was due in November. But the program is worth noting for future reference. It’s open to "permanently assigned full- and part-time arts faculty in specialized public arts high schools. "Eligibility includes teachers of the visual arts (including film, video, and other media), theatre arts, music, dance, and creative writing." Teachers must have been teaching arts in high school for a minimum of five years, with plans to continue teaching in the arts during the following school year. The fellowship is intended to support an individualized course of study that combines one’s own creative work with interaction with other professional artists. Awards up to $5,000 (plus $1,500 to the school to support post-fellowship activities) are made "to defray the costs of tuition and other fees, room and board, travel, purchase of materials and/or equipment for personal art-making, childcare and other relevant expenses."


Erika Dreifus (EdM, MFA, PhD) writes and teaches in Massachusetts. In 2003 she participated in the National Humanities Center’s Summer Institute in Literary Studies on "The Poetry of W.B. Yeats." Editor of the free monthly newsletter, The Practicing Writer, she has published several resource guides for writers, including The Practicing Writer’s Primer on Low-Residency MFA Programs. Visit her website at

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