Harlem in the Woods

Harlem in the Woods: The CCNY Writers’ Nature Retreat

at the Stephen & Betsy Corman Harriman Outdoor Center in Upstate New York

“Harlem in the Woods was one of the most powerful experiences the school has offered––a retreat from city life that offers connection with nature, one another, and ourselves. I left with a full notebook and spirit.”

–“Harlem in the Woods” participant testimonial

In 2022, the CCNY Writers’ Nature Retreat was launched as a way to simultaneously deepen students’ appreciation for and connection to the natural environment, and provide them an escape from the city. As Michelle Valladares, director of the MFA, told participants when summing up what she hoped they might take away from the experience: “We cannot love what we do not know: oceans, lakes, birds, trees, the wilderness.”

This weekend in nature provides students an opportunity to shed the stress of city life and explore their writing skills amid the sugar maples and pine trees of Harriman State Park. Thanks to the generous support of the Office of the President through the College’s “Democratizing the Outdoors” Initiative, and in collaboration with the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and the CCNY Outdoor Club, students are able to participate at no cost.

Click here for more information on the Corman Harriman Center, including a complete list of amenities and how to become involved in the Appalachian Mountain Club.

To learn more about the CCNY Outdoor Initiative, click here.

Lametria Robertson (Fall ’22 participant) leads ahead of Michelle Valladares on a nature hike through Harriman State Park.

Retreat Overview

While the writing exercises and outdoor activities of each year’s retreat will vary, students can expect the following array of activities and outcomes:

  • Connect with nature through a variety of outdoor activities ranging from nature walks to kayaking
  • Attend formal or informal lectures and discussions on issues ranging from climate change, environmental justice and local ecology
  • Participate in group writing exercises and workshops
  • Take advantage of unstructured time to focus on your writing in an environment largely free of distractions.
Spring ’22 Harlem in the Woods participants during a playwriting workshop.

How to Attend the Retreat

Currently, only students enrolled in specific courses are invited to attend the retreat as a voluntary component of their coursework. In past semesters, this has included courses in playwriting, poetry and climate writing.



What does the retreat cost?
Nothing. The CCNY Writers’ Nature Retreat is free to students, thanks to funding from the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), the CCNY Outdoor Initiative and the Office of the President through the College’s “Democratizing the Outdoors” Initiative.

Is transportation provided?
Yes. A CCNY shuttle will pick up students from the college and transport them to and from the Harriman Center.

Are the accommodations individual or communal?
The Harriman Center provides two large cabins, each of which has four rooms connected to a large common room. Each of these cabins accommodates up to 18 individuals. We designate one cabin for men and one for women. If you need to discuss special accommodations, or for further information on these arrangements, please reach out to the retreat organizer (listed above).

What should participants bring?
A sleeping bag, a pillow, clothing to accommodate changing weather, and toiletries, bug spray and sunscreen are all recommended, along with a water bottle. The Harriman Center has its own dining hall, and a convenience store where you can pick up items like a toothbrush or other small essentials if necessary.