Passage to India inspires writers: 2016 trip set for Jan. 16-25

Alice-Catherine Jennings wrote poems, A.L.A. Covington wrote a short story, Skye Wallin produced a music video — and that was just the beginning.

Writers found a flood of inspiration when they trekked to India with Spalding MFA in Writing faculty member Helena Kriel in January 2015 for a writing trip that included the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Inspired by the literature festival and the deep immersion in the sights and sounds of India, Janet Schneider went on a reading binge of women Indian authors, then started incorporating references to India in a short story. Now, she is toying with a story about an encounter she had with someone while on the trip.

Since the trip, Angela Elles has written poems and started a creative nonfiction piece about the events leading up to the trip, when she experienced a mysterious illness that was behaving suspiciously like leukemia. “Which made me even more determined to make the trip happen,” she writes in an email interview. “I ended up being fine, and writing about it has been fun, actually, because it was so intense and now I can focus that intensity into the writing.”

Registration open for 2016 trip

In 2016, Kriel will lead another trip, which wraps a writing workshop around one of the world’s largest literature festivals. Kriel’s trip is Jan. 16-25, 2016, with the festival falling at the end of the excursion. The trip includes wildlife safaris in Ranthambore to find tigers; visiting the magnificent Taj Mahal; wandering around ancient palaces; experiencing rural India and the peace of village life; being a guest at a sumptuous wedding; seeing a Bollywood movie in an old cinema; riding rickshaws through one of the world’s greatest waterbird sanctuaries, and more.


Creative momentum

For last year’s participants,  momentum from the trip has continued well into 2015, as Jennings and two other writers on the trip are collaborating on a chapbook. Two of Jennings’ poems are published online on the trip website at

india-jaipurfestivalWhat hooked Katerina Stoykova-Klemer on taking the trip in early 2015 was Kriel’s missive that “”Before you sit down to write, you have to stand up to live.”

“So, I’ve taken this to heart,” she writes in an email.

Since returning home, the Bulgarian-born poet says India has influenced her writing more indirectly than directly. “I am writing about the same things (I was writing before), but I often drink masala chai while writing.”

Stoykova-Klemer says she found the country enthralling. It’s “the immediacy of every experience, and the unpredictability of living there,” she writes.

Gritty, sensual, and familiar

india-henna handsMany of those interviewed agree there is no such thing as a typical day. “What’s not to love about a country where people greet each other with ‘namaste?’ ” writes Schneider in an email interview. “India felt both familiar (humans living their lives) and other worldly (living their lives on an entirely different plane of existence both more spiritual and more gritty).”

Schneider says her writing is definitely more sensual since returning, and Elles says Kriel’s strength in screenwriting influenced her to focus on the dramatic moment in her poems.

“I am surprised how much is still flowing out of me nine months later. I must have stored it all in my giant “belly” just like I had hoped: to be like Ganesha was our goal–always taking it in,” Elles writes, referring to the elephant-headed Hindu god of beginnings. Ganesha is known as the patron of letters, who favors the writer.

What surprised Jennings most about the trip was discovering that there is order in chaos. Stoykova-Klemer was most surprised that women were rarely seen in the streets.

Jennings said she had been wanting to go to India for a long time. The big draws were wrapping the trip around the Jaipur writing festival, the fact that it would be a small group and the knowledge that Kriel offered. Though Kriel is South African-born and lives in America, she has immersed herself in Indian culture for more than 20 years, working and traveling there on projects.

How to register

The registration of $2,699 for twin occupancy ($3,084 for single occupancy) includes the workshop, the literature festival, accommodations and meals. Air travel to India and incidentals such as camera charges, tips and personal expenditures are not included. A deposit of $500 secures your spot.

Growing as an individual and a writer

india-tigerElles says Kriel’s writing trip can’t compare to any other. “It’s not about relaxing, and sipping a hot drink and putting down a few words,” she writes. “It is about getting outside your comfort zone, where you can really grow as an individual, and it’s about adding intensity to the writing process.”

Toward the end of the 2015 trip, Stoykova-Klemer experienced a magical moment. “We woke up in the most beautiful desert camp, and I took a stroll by myself in the desert, where I found a shed snake skin, which I consider a symbol of growth.”

To sign up, see photos, read poems, watch the music video or otherwise get inspired, go to

Helena Kriel on Passage to India writing trip – Jan. 19-28, 2015

Embark on a writing trip that awakens the senses

india-elephantWriters well know the power of a journey to awaken the senses and stir inspiration.

Many have followed in the tradition of Henry Miller, Paul Theroux or Marguerite Duras, and so it is for the Passage to India writing trip with Helena Kriel set for Jan. 19–28, 2015.

“So many extremely well-known iconic writers really lived by that whole ethic, which is leave your ordinary life behind, go on a journey. Embark,” says Kriel, faculty member of the Spalding MFA in Writing program.

The 10-day trip especially for writers is a tailor-made creative journey that includes being a VIP delegate at the Jaipur Literature Festival, called “the greatest literary show on earth” by noted magazine editor Tina Brown.

Jaipur is just one part of a journey that will include Taj Mahal at sunset, riding camels into the desert to a pristine dune and an overnight stay in a tented camp, being guests at a sumptuous wedding, doing yoga, learning how to cook Indian food, attending a temple “puja” and being up close with elephants.

It’s an extraordinary immersion that combines being active with being receptive. On any journey, she says, “you have to embark, which is really pure action. Then you head out, and you become receptive to anything that happens to you. That’s what interesting journeys do. They insist.”

The global writer

Paul Theroux once said, “You can’t sit down to write until you’ve stood up to live,” and he is one of the hundreds of writers from all over the globe who will be at the Jaipur Literary Festival at the heart of the Passage to India trip.

The global perspective is vital to what it means to be a writer writing today, Kriel says, quoting Spalding MFA in Writing director and co-founder Sena Jeter Naslund.

“It’s a world out there, and it’s asking for us to go and play with it and witness it and engage with it, and bring it back to the desk,” Kriel says.

Falling in love with India

In the 1990s, Kriel was working on a movie set in 15th century India, “Kama Sutra,” trying to imagine a place to which she’d never been, when she finally convinced director Mira Nair to send her to India.

Ever since, she’s returned as often as she can.

“All of my work now has India in it,” she says. “It’s a very exciting place on every single level imaginable. There’s probably no other place that will open your senses to that extent.”

It’s the vibrancy that enthralls her, what you smell, what you hear, what you touch, what you taste. “The street food calls to you,” she says. “The poetry is happening in front of you.”

She says she loves the way India welcomes you into life, to the point that wedding-crashing is just a thing there. “Nothing’s really held from you in India,” adding that writers on the Passage to India trip will get to crash a wedding or two.

When Kriel was in India one time with her mother, they crashed a wedding every night. “We were welcomed, like honored guests,” she says. It’s not like the West, where you have to be invited; it’s the custom, and during the Jaipur festival, many weddings take place.

“I know India extremely well,” Kriel says, from the Himalayas to the southernmost tip. She’s stayed in luxury hotels as much as she’s stayed in $1 a night rooms with stained mattresses and geckos on the walls. She’s stayed with families. She’s been to the banks of the Ganges. She knows the mountains and the sea. “I love the generosity of the place.”

Perfect for writers

Like no other place on earth, India offers an abundance of stories, threads in a tapestry. “In India, you follow a thread. Before you know it, you will find something fascinating.”

Adventure is built into the fabric of the country, and Kriel has built that into the way she has structured the schedule for writers. It’s her intent that every writer will come away with new, polished work.

“Exercises are going to specially chosen to encourage the people on the trip to come to the best of who they can be,” she says. “I’m going to ask people frankly, let’s discuss where do you think you’re good as a writer, where do you struggle? Let’s get better.”

Her intention is that many friendships will form out of the experience, because writing is a lonely business.

“It’s the potential for a new creative family to emerge out of the honesty and adventure that will happen,” Kriel says.

About the festival

When asked why Tina Brown (of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and The Daily Beast fame) calls the Jaipur Literature Festival “the greatest show on earth,” Kriel says, “because the whole thing is an extravaganza.”

Writers from all over the world — Indians, Americans, British, Europeans, South African, Southeast Asia, Pacific Rim — descend on the Diggi Palace, 100-year-old palace. The place is bedecked with streamers and balloons, and booths are set up in tents. “It has a circus feel to it,” Kriel says.

By benefit of being VIPs, writers on Kriel’s “Passage to India” trip get access to a little sanctuary set off from the hubbub, where they will be able to meet some of the literati on the festival lineup.

The VIP pass “gives you the inner track of the festival,” she says. “We’ll be invited to all of the parties, eat meals with visiting writers, have a chance to hobnob with Pulitzer and Booker winners, as well as bestselling authors.”

Who the writing trip is for

It’s for any writer, she says. “The truth is, any writer is welcome, and any writer should come. Because at which point do you not need this infusion and color? At which point do you not need to be engaged?”

She bears in mind, as she’s creating the experience, that writers need this kind of infusion and immersion. “Writing is not an easy thing to have taken on as a mode of life,” she says. This trip “gives you freedom to be adventurer and an explorer.”

Passage to India with Helena Kriel

Jan. 19–28, 2015

Early bird special of $2,699 if booked before Aug. 31.

$2,799 if booked after

The trip cost covers all meals, accommodations, VIP passes to the Jaipur Literature Festival, yoga class, cooking class, all special experiences, the camel safari, all tours, a luxury bus, English-speaking guides and Helena Kriel’s stewardship.

The price does not include international airfare.


For questions or to book:

About Helena Kriel

helenakrielHelena Kriel (screenwriting, playwriting faculty, Spalding MFA in Writing program). Helena Kriel was raised and educated in Johannesburg South Africa. After graduating with a Dramatic Art and Literature degree from University of Witwatersrand she worked in Television, directing and writing. Her plays Pigs on Passion, Arachnid and I Can’t Wait To Tie You To The Sofa premiered at the National Arts Festival and were all produced a number of times. She was nominated for playwright of the year. She immigrated to America and won the Steven Spielberg Dianne Thomas Award for her first screenplay Virtuoso. She has been a working screenwriter in Los Angeles writing for the studios and independent producers. The adaptations of Ahab’s Wife, The Good Soldier, The Arabian Nights, Tsotsi, Valley Song, and Wuthering Heights are a few of her adaptations. Heated and The Other Woman are amongst her original screenplays. Kama Sutra was produced with Academy nominated director Mira Nair directing and released in 1996. Skin was produced by Elysian Films and released in 2009. Skin has won over eight festival awards and was named in the best ten independent films of 2009. She has finished her first novel: The Burning Ground. She is completing her first memoir: Heart and Stone.

Calling all writers! Join Helena Kriel on the ‘Passage to India’






JAN. 19 – 28, 2015

Spalding MFA in Writing faculty member Helena Kriel has designed a 10-day trip to India especially for writers.

Imagine a tailor-made creative journey. Imagine being a VIP delegate at the Jaipur Literature Festival, called “the greatest literary show on earth” by noted magazine editor Tina Brown. Four simultaneous events, in all genres, happen under rainbow tents with the top literary names. Imagine regional food cooked by chefs and rocking to world music at night and invites to all the parties.

Imagine venturing into India: Taj Mahal at sunset, riding camels into the desert to a pristine dune and overnighting in a tented camp. Imagine teaching writing to street children. Imagine being guests at a sumptuous wedding, doing yoga, learning how to cook Indian food and attending a temple “puja.” Imagine being up close with elephants at a sanctuary in Jaipur with a chance to bathe them.

JAIPUR1Imagine accommodations in one-of-a-kind boutique hotels and interesting, varied food, from street food to meals cooked by chefs.

Imagine gathering material from the festival and talking, comparing, writing, reading with your fellow journeymen.

Under Helena Kriel’s stewardship you will return with pages written and an experience that should find its way into your work. If you feel like you have been writing in black-and-white, you will return writing in Technicolor.

The trip cost covers all meals, accommodations, VIP passes to the festival, yoga class, cooking class, all special experiences, the camel safari, all tours, a luxury bus, English-speaking guides and Helena Kriel’s stewardship.

The price does not include international airfare.

Early bird special of $2,699 if booked before Aug. 31.
$2,799 if booked after.



For questions or to book: