Nynke Passi — Testimonials from Students
Student in the MFA in CW program at the University of Minnesota
During my undergraduate career at Maharishi University of Management I had the privilege of taking Nynke Passi’s Poetry of Transcendence class. And her Memoir of Transcendence class. And her Writing Personal Memoir class. And her Travel Writing class. And her Creative Process: Memoir class. Twice.
In other words, my first writing classes with Nynke inspired me to make the smartest decision of my undergraduate career (and the one that got me into a top-ten MFA program): to take every class she offered, even if I had already taken it and would subsequently receive no academic credit for my work. The reason I did this was that Nynke’s classes offered me something immeasurably more valuable than academic credit: they offered me the opportunity to bloom creatively from the deepest level of my being.
Nynke’s curriculum sets up the framework that makes this level of personal and creative development possible. Nynke brings in inspirational examples of creative writing from multiple genres, cultures, and styles. Texts I’ve encountered in Nynke’s classes range from modern day international classics such as Angela’s Ashes and Persepolis, to the canonized works of Dickenson and Whitman, to lesser-known songs of Hindu mystics and the peculiar poetic observations of 11th century Japanese court lady, Sei Shonagon.
With texts like these as her springboard, Nynke not only teaches foundational techniques (the use of sound, strong verbs, imagery, etc.), but also addresses topics discussed at the graduate level: how to give shape to abstract themes through the bones of specific language, innovations in structure and style and the effect these have on a reader, and approaches to understanding and nurturing the creative process itself.
Out of all the writing courses I’ve taken (including those at the MFA level), Nynke’s remain my primary model when designing my own creative writing classes, including the Intermediate Nonfiction course I’m teaching at the University of Minnesota this fall.
But Nynke’s curriculum is only the skeleton of what makes her classes unique (a vital and peerlessly proportioned skeleton, it bears mentioning, but a skeleton nonetheless). The beating heart and breath that bring her classes to life are something else entirely.
As a friend and fellow former student of Nynke’s once said: “She teaches the unteachable.” Nynke achieves this not through her curriculum, but through the continual one-on-one focus and feedback she tirelessly gives to each of her students (a reason to take any of her classes over and over again until they blockade you from the waitlist).
With her reservoir of literary knowledge and a talent for perception that toes the line of psychic ability, Nynke peers deep into the heart of both student and writing project and asks just the right questions, makes just the right suggestions to unstop that hidden wellspring of creative intelligence that I now really do believe lies within each of us. I’ll admit: I’ve been in class with peers whose writing ability I initially scoffed at, only to squirm with hoarder’s jealousy at the end of a block when seeing what they produced under Nynke’s guidance.
Now, as I near the end of my MFA in Creative Writing program, I look back at my time in Nynke’s class not just with fondness, but with a sense of possibility. While I respect and admire the teachers I’ve had at the University of Minnesota, I can’t help but imagine what an MFA in Writing with nothing but classes of this caliber could be like. The standard MFA program, backboned by rigorous literary instruction and designed to support the completion of a book-length project, offers a precious opportunity to any aspiring writer. However, adding to that mix the unique quality of Nynke’s tutelage would engender a caliber of writing instruction that I’m not sure exists anywhere.
Freelance writer, former Executive Editor iPhone Life
In a sketch on “Laugh-In,” the comedian Lily Tomlin in the character of a little girl named Edith Ann, said of teachers, “I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.” Nynke Passi does just that. In fact, all of the classes I’ve had with her have been life-transforming. She has a way of getting you to dig deeper into yourself than you knew you could and produce genuine, deeply personal material—writing from the heart. I like to refer to Nynke as “the MUM muse.”
One special thing about Nynke is her ability to make you feel as though you are the only other person in the room when she is talking to you. When giving feedback, she immediately tunes in to your individual strengths and weaknesses and tells you exactly what you need to hear. We had a visitor in class the other day who graduated from another university. After a brief discussion on the previous night’s homework, he turned to me and said, “I just learned more in the last 15 minutes than I learned throughout my entire college career! And that is the sweetest woman I’ve ever met!”
Nynke is amazingly warm and supportive, yet she has such strength underlying that sweetness. She never lets you get away with anything less than your best. She is demanding and has a keen eye for editing. As one student said, “She may tear your drafts apart, but the knowledge she’s giving you is very helpful, and when she compliments you, it means a lot.” Another student remarked, “Nynke’s is the only feedback that I’ve ever enjoyed or found useful. I consider her to be a resource as precious as any great book for my development as a writer.”
Nynke always provides a safe and nurturing environment in which to learn and share our work. She recognizes that writing is an intimate process, and that sharing that process and its results can be daunting at first. But the rewards of expressing yourself freely, without fear of censorship or criticism, are great, and in doing so, you leave each of Nynke’s classes with new comrades and a more profound understanding of yourself. She brings out the writer within each of us. She compels us to delve into our souls, unafraid, and we unfailingly come back stronger than we knew we could be.
Writing is a difficult business because failure is the absolute norm.
Encouragement is hard to come by because even the writer must accept the fact that acceptance and success are hard to come by; because of this it is easier for a young person to give up on the arts—particularly writing, a craft which is almost exclusively dedicated to solitude—than any other field of study. Every writer desperately needs a good mentor.
For some this comes by way of admiring another author; for some it comes from a supportive family member or friend; but likely the most direct and useful link between a writer and their strength to continue their work is a teacher. The right teacher at the right time has an immeasurably important effect on a young writer’s soul and I can say, without any doubt, that Nynke Passi is a teacher capable of such effect.
When I attended Maharishi University of Management I was determined to get the most of my time; for me, that meant getting the best teachers for the best classes, and after I asked around campus about the merits of MUM’s English department, the word was clear: If you’re serious about writing, go with Nynke. I was able to weasel my way into one of her advanced fiction classes that semester and, to this day, I think back to her kindness as being the exact thing I needed at that time in my life. Nynke is an honest teacher who is able to bring out the best in any piece.
If a writer is clearly concerned with voice and action, as I was, Nynke brought that out, helped me hone it. The flipside of this is that I learned what I was not good at; the things which I was not finding as sharp, I learned to retool. I’ve had teachers who focused purely on the negative, and for a young person’s mind it can become nearly impossible to ever see the positive. However, with Nynke, I was able to see what was not working after we cleared away what was already good enough. I cannot express how well that method worked for me and how expertly Nynke handled it.
Her classes were always warm and inviting, but I never felt like I was being had; never did I believe I was being falsely patted on the back. It’s good to know when a teacher is sincere, and Nynke always was. She was the first person to encourage to send my work out into the world and, while I’m sure I must have been rejected (I didn’t include a SASE with my submission, whoops), it was an amazing feeling to have a teacher take the time to help me, especially in such a technical/practical aspect of the writing world.
Whenever I can, I will support my first writing teacher because, at the end of the day, she was the most important one. Anything I have done or will do is tied to her help.
- Student in the MFA program The Foundry in New York City
- Author of the story “Trap” published in Joyce Carol Oates’ anthology Prison Noir
Director, M.U.M. Alumni Office
Whether she is teaching Poetry, Graphic Narrative, or Memoir Writing, Nynke Passi is more than a teacher; she is a mentor, confidante, and muse. She inspires students to be bold, authentic, and honest.
I heard about Nynke long before I ever met her. From the moment I started class at Maharishi University of Management, students everywhere were recommending her to me. By the time I finally took a class with Nynke, I had extremely high expectations, and when I met her I knew I wasn’t going to be disappointed. Her class was unlike any I’d ever been in.
What set Nynke apart from many professors, and I’ve had many, was her remarkable ability to make her students feel comfortable within her classroom. Students who on the first day were distant and uninterested, by the end were open and involved. Nynke made her students feel good about themselves, and yet she wasn’t a teacher prone to over-sentimentality. She never gave her students unwarranted praise, but rather she pointed out their flaws in a practical, gentle manner that left them feeling good about themselves, while also instilling in them a desire to be better than they were before. She is honest, and yet gentle, a quality that few professors have been able to master as tactfully as she does.
In essence, Nynke is by far the greatest teacher I’ve ever had, and I don’t say that lightly. I came to her class lacking the confidence needed in my work to make me successful, and because of that lack of confidence I lacked a voice. Nynke taught me to be honest with myself, but not overly critical; she taught me to follow certain rules, and yet never to let them restrain me.
Through her I learned that failure is okay, and so is criticism, but never to let those things make me feel that I’m worth less that I am. I not only gained the skills to be a better writer through her guidance and direction, but I gained the appropriate skills needed as an individual to be successful.
There’s not a single student I know who hasn’t loved Nynke as much as me (which is a lot), and we can all agree on one thing for certain: Nynke is a phenomenal teacher, and we’ve all become better people in some way because of her.
Staff, MUM’s Media and Communications Dept.
Nynke is the only teacher I ever enjoyed getting feedback from. As soon as I read her comments, I felt like revising my work. I felt excited.
Nynke’s ability to guide her students without subjectivity or forcing a particular direction, yet stretching them beyond their boundaries, is not only a rare talent, it is also where teaching turns into mentorship. With her firm belief that there is a creative space within each and every one of us, she allows creativity to blossom. As a result, I ended up with writing I never thought I was able to produce, and I think many of my classmates had the same experience about themselves.
She does not only teach her students how to enliven their inner creativity, she teaches the tools to maintain and cultivate it as well. I’ve noticed I am able to express myself more clearly through writing, which has been greatly beneficial for my work and personal hobbies such as poetry. With all of this combined, she has been one of the most memorable mentors in my life and I think back to what I’ve learned and read in her classes with utter fondness.
I really appreciate your compassion and your willingness to give me the best possible vantage point from which to decide my course work. A travel writing class that also describes the publishing process is invaluable to any literature student hoping to publish anything at any time in his life. Thank you again, you really do go above and beyond what is expected of a college professor, that is, your heart is in your work.
I was always a math and science kind of student in high school and was discouraged by my high school teachers to pursue language, but the craft called to me. I came to MUM with some faint hope in my heart that I could be a writer, but I didn’t have the confidence to allow myself to indulge in my dream.
That all changed when I had my first class with Nynke Passi. She created an environment where as a class, we were all free to explore our creativity. She brought our strengths to light and gave such clear and constructive feedback on our weaknesses that it made me want to improve. I remember the first time I received an essay back from Nynke, I sent her two pages and she sent me something close to triple back. Somehow that wasn’t daunting, but enlightening, and I began to believe in my dream of being a writer.
I don’t believe that I will ever find a teacher more valuable to me than Nynke. Her mentorship through my first writing internship helped me to secure my own monthly column. Her encouragement and confidence in me has helped me to become the writer she saw in me.
She is gentle and angelic, but full of strength, full of wisdom, which she willingly shares. To me she is the goddess of writing incarnated; she is a gift.
Nynke Passi taught me undergrad creative writing between 2002-2006 at Maharishi University of Management. I still consider her a friend and a mentor eight years later.
Nynke’s classes inspired me to make creative writing permanently part of my life. Her classes were like a coming home, she made a safe place for students to be able to share their most well kept secrets and imaginative musings. She taught me that being concrete and transparent in my writing was the best way to write a gripping narrative. In her classes, I always felt the freedom to be completely myself and express with unmitigated creativity.
She infused the joy of creating into the most mundane grammar lessons. She always thoroughly prepared for her lessons, creating novel-sized syllabi, always anticipating the hunger of her most enthusiastic students for great literature and readable essays. She always had engaging exercises to tap into our creativity.
I was fortunate enough to work with Nynke after I graduated and help her with her classes as a TA. It was an inspiration to see her process and the amount of work that went into her classes. She thinks deeply about her classes and cares deeply about her students. She is a constant inspiration to me.
Nynke, it was thanks to your inspiration and support that I dared to apply to graduate programs in creative writing. Now I have my MFA from the University of Montana at Missoula. I can’t believe I did it.
Managing Editor iPhone Life Magazine
Nynke is a gifted writer, teacher, and mentor who has helped me discover my love of writing and develop confidence to pursue a career in journalism. While studying for a communciations degree at MUM, I took as many writing courses as I could from her, including poetry and travel writing.
As a self-conscious young writer, I was drawn in by her inclusive attitude, passion for writing, and her wit and humor.
Nynke is skilled at creating a safe environment in class where students of varying experience and skill levels are encouraged to experiment and find their voices. She puts so much care into giving and leaving feedback for every assignment, giving students a chance to workshop and improve every piece of writing. She has the rare skill of being kind and encouraging while also challenging students to think critically about their work and make improvements.
I loved the curriculum and course materials Nynke crafted for her classes. She compiled amazing collection of writing both in poetry and travel writing for us to learn from, and structured the course so we tried a wide variety of writing styles and structures.
I discovered my passion for journalism during Nynke’s Travel Writing course. She helped me see how naturally and enthusiastically I was completing assignments, and how I didn’t view assignments as work. If it weren’t for this experience, I might not have gone on to pursue my masters degree in journalism and taken subsequent jobs as a newspaper reporter and magazine editor.
They say that football players become more deadly with ballet training. Nynke is the one who led their ballet class. They say samurai warriors become more masterful with calligraphy. Nynke is the one who knows the way of the ink: gentle, generous, but yielding the way a river yields to the pull of the ocean.
She is the meaning of the empowered feminine and a very wise choice of ally to have in the wilderness of writing. Her playful and serious approach to structured poetry forms, as a way to deepen my freewriting and experimental techniques, has opened my mind to the evolution of poetry as a whole and deepened my courage to think both inside and outside the box.
She is a huge gift to creative writing as a whole and a true champion of emerging poets and writers.
Nynke Passi was a teacher who has never left the classroom of my heart. In school, she breathed gentle life onto the skeletons of my thoughts and ideas; my ideas lived under her guidance. Through inquiry and kind instruction, Nynke helped me to develop authenticity in fiction writing.
Now in my life as a writer, I have gone on to the seemingly different playing field of auto-ethnographic research writing. The creative writing classes I took with Nynke helped to develop the heart and tenor of my voice, reminding me to “keep it real” and keep it alive, no matter what the format.
Beyond school, Nynke has never flagged in her role of friend and advisor. I trust the rapport that was developed within the roles of teacher and student, and feel the constancy of her support. Years later, I feel comfortable reaching out to Nynke for her perspective and her wisdom.
What a Creative Writing course under the mentorship of Professor Passi has done is to enliven the creative side of me in writing, which for a long time I thought had died.
Since I took her class, my mind was born again. I have become a better writer and I have not gone a day without writing something. Writing has become my way of life and a good addiction–I am loving it! Now I am proud to call myself a perpetual writer!
Not only has her mentorship enhanced my ability to love writing creatively, but it has also increased my interest in reading and paying attention to how people use their words in describing things.
In short, Professor Passi’ guidance has provided me with creative writing skill sets I needed as a writer and has strengthened my ability to express myself effortlessly in my storytelling events.
In the classes I have taken with Nynke, I have noticed she is able to locate and highlight the beauty in and the essence of every student’s work. In particular, after a student presents Nynke brings the attention of the class to the magical elements of any work, from someone’s free-writing to a final project. This gift alone of refined perception that Nynke possesses is so enriching to be a part of.
Also, Nynke’s detailed feedback on each piece of writing (or poetry!) we submit is extremely helpful as a writer and artist. Her words of motivation and consideration for each component of the written work is monumentally beneficial.
By the end of her course, whether two weeks or four, Nynke progresses each student as a whole person and as a creative being. I feel so blessed to have been fortunate enough to land under her nurturing wing of love and discipline.
Nynke is far and away the best Creative Writing teacher I have ever had or even heard of. She is one of the best teachers I have ever had the privilege to learn from, and I’ve had some amazing teachers. Her care for her students, her ability to open people to their own creativity, and her exceptional clarity in editing and teaching effective writing technique is astonishing, and any college of any caliber would be fortunate to have her.
The fact that she is at MUM is a stroke of extreme good fortune for the school and the quality of teaching it can provide to its students.
I returned to school late in my life. I am 62 years old and still had no idea what I wanted to study. Then, somehow, I landed in one of Nynke Passi’s creative writing classes. She immediately caught my attention and never let go. The challenge was full but yet very exciting. When I am in Nynke’s creative writing classes, I feel at home, and when I leave, I feel fulfilled and inspired to continue writing. It’s a wonderful opportunity.
You made the study of poetry in the MUM MA in Professional Writing program fun and easy! As in your fiction writing course, your feedback shows intuition and style.
Thank you for such a wonderful Poetry class. The syllabus was well-thought-out, everything was highly organized. This class was an all-time high. You are simply inspirational and you embody the ideal teacher and friend.
You are my biggest fan!
I absolutely loved being in your Poetry class. Not only was it a phenomenal class because of the exquisite content, but also because of your delightful teaching style. I am grateful for your charm, wit, and deep understanding of this art of arts. Thank you so much!
Graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing, University of Arizona
I had to write you and thank you for being an incredible teacher and friend to me through all of my years at MUM. You guided not just my poetry but all of my writing to a level of excellence that I never thought myself capable of. You have a way of gently but firmly guiding my writing in the right direction. You’d do it in a way that was inspirational and made me want to write more.
Now when I write I can still hear your voice in my head, giving me strength and inspiration and power. You will always be my favorite teacher.
High School drama coach
This Poetry course was self-referral at its best. The discovery of the unfoldment of the infinite within me pressed through in my individual voice. I loved the immersion in great minds and hearts. My eyes were opened to elements of craft such as beginnings and endings, and forms such as the ghazal. I learned to let things be.
The theme of this course was: Poetry is the Wimbledon whisper of language bouncing with a giggle off your skull. It’s too clever to wander; it says its point in a dozen ways before you get to the first word. It’s deadly tricky smart. The single most important thing I learned was that writing is the direct craft of ideas themselves, hammering thought in its raw form. This class worked. Even when Nynke speaks, she teaches without words.
I learned a lot about fiction writing in this course. Nynke handled the time constraints well and gave a lot of individual attention. She really was a guide to expression; she didn’t impose her own ideas, but rather encouraged each of us to discover our individual voice.
Faculty, MUM’s Media and Communications Dept.
I can’t tell you how much I am missing the fiction writing course now that it is over! It was such a joy to work with everyone in that class; I found it challenging in just the right way. You gave me more detailed feedback than any other writer teacher I ever studied with. I so appreciate that!
This Personal Essay class has helped me to be comfortable with my voice. I’ve busted through my writer’s block. I can’t remember a class in which I’ve learned so much, had so much fun, and progressed so quickly. I’ve always felt that I had the ability to write, but I have been a bit insecure when it comes to what I write. I never really was able to draw a bead on what was good writing and what wasn’t. All I knew was that I was honest, and from time to time people liked to hear what I had to say.
Now I feel more comfortable with my entire writing process. I’ve found what works for me. In short, this class has given me confidence, and I plan to use this new-found sense of myself to be the best writer I can be—and who knows, maybe I’ll make a career of it.
I experienced an incredible transformation this Creative Process class in terms of how I approach my creativity. I used to approach creativity with a very self-destructive mentality. I used to think that I would have to stimulate my body or find something damaging about my surroundings in order to paint, write, draw, dance, play music, etc.
I’m now finding that I can effectively engage my creative side by engaging it in a free way, not expecting too much out of myself and not allowing my critical voice to discourage my new ideas or creative stamina. I found my Aha moments in the form of spontaneous found objects and realized that I can now turn what others might see as junk into something visually stunning. I find a lot of freedom and upliftment in that notion.
I most enjoyed letting go and letting my projects form themselves instead of the projects forming me. I most hated when my critical voice tried to interrupt my most creative moments. What was most magical was seeing my project well on its way to being finished and the creative support I felt throughout this class.
I would take this Creative Process course once a year for the rest of my life!!! It’s been nothing but perfect for my creative expression. I have created a life-long habit of being creative by taking this course.
I have never quite had a teacher or a class like this. Nynke, you led me to myself and I can’t be more excited about the future of my artistry. You have the gifts to inspire and propel people to let go and create. As a facilitator you made class so fun and interesting, and you always had something new and fun planned for us. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
The range of creative projects to play with was the most valuable thing about this Creative Process course. To hear speakers and have exercises in so many different creative areas was a challenge but also really fun and playful. It encouraged us all to reach outside of our comfort zone and consider new things we might not have otherwise tried.
I used to fear creativity. Even the word itself used to intimidate me, for it carried with it a sense of failure and self-doubt. But this class transformed my opinion of creativity and who is privy to it.
I see now that everyone has equal access to the creative energy of the universe, and the only difference between an artist and a non-artist is taking action.
I had an amazing time during this Creative Process class. This class was a blessing. The whole class was a journey that I am not ready to stop being on, nor will I stop. I have taken so much from the class that I am just scratching the surface.
Thank you so much, Nynke, for being the Teacher you are. I had been ignoring my creativity for the past couple of years and had almost surrendered to the fact that I had lost something, something no longer available without struggle or exhausting efforts.
I will continue my growth in confidence now that I have this knowledge. This will be a class I never forget, a class I will forever say transformed my life.
I had Nynke for the Creative Process class at MUM. I was grateful to have the freedom to do any creative activity of my choosing. Throughout the class, I had worked on a blog about my favorite anime, different flower crafts, a picture video of my process through the class and hula-hoop dancing.
Since then I have my own blog “Unfolding the Heart” on WordPress that has been running for a year, I have gotten into video editing, and continue to do my hula-hoop dancing. The confidence in myself has grown and my writing gets better everyday.
Nynke still provides support and guidance in my writing and other forms of art. Nynke’s class kept me on track with my dreams and taught me to have discipline in my work. She is a wonderful teacher, one of the best that I have had.
I wouldn’t change a darn thing about this Creative Process course. I felt so stuck at the beginning of this course! It couldn’t have come at a better time. I find it really hard to believe how much change and amazing transformation has taken place within me and around me in just one month. Thank you Nynke, I love your classes to Saturn and back.
Nynke, you are an amazing professor and a precious gem here at MUM. You have the great gift of seeing into people’s souls, then pulling the best of them forward and encouraging them to express that through creative arts. You encourage us to be our best, authentic selves; and in the process of so doing, we discover connection to ourselves and each other. This has been the most transformative class I have taken yet at MUM. You are an inspiration and a mentor. Thank you.
–Maggie Robinson, editor, graphic designer, and publisher