Zen and the Art of Writing

This Wednesday in Santa Fe, we were excited to welcome writer, speaker, and St. John’s College alumna Natalie Goldberg to campus. Goldberg is an incredibly accomplished author and speaker, having  published 14 works, and spoken widely on writing. Writing Down the Bones, her work on Zen and the art of writing, has sold over a million copies and been translated into 14 languages. And of course she’s a Johnnie, having received her Masters in Liberal Arts from the St. John’s Graduate Institute!

On this occasion, she arrived on campus to have lunch with and speak to a group made up of students at the Bread Loaf school of English, which hosts a session on our campus each summer. The audience, made up mostly of teachers, had the chance to hear Goldberg speak on her time at St. John’s and the art of writing, as well as a reading from her newest bookLet the Whole Thundering World Come Home.


Reflecting on her time at St. John’s, she spoke about the importance of reading great works with nothing between you and the author. “What [the program] did for me…is it gave me confidence in my own mind, because there was nothing else to rely on…what it does is it builds your spine, it builds a confidence in your own mind and your own experience, and that you just have to step forward and speak. You might not always be right, but if you don’t speak nothing will come out…St. John’s prepared me [for when] I became a writer.”

Elaborating on the value of St. John’s College has had in her career as an author, she noted that “[at St. John’s] you meet the mind of the author, which is really how you learn to write. The books you love, you study the mind of the authors, they’re your teachers. So me in Socrates and me and Aristotle, we’re good friends…[and] that idea that everyone has to do everything makes you also feel like you can trust yourself, or that you can begin to trust yourself. And that’s what you need in order to write.”

After her talk, she took several questions from the those in attendance, discussing the application of Zen practice to writing, her career, and the paradigm shift brought about by Writing Down the Bones. “The paradigm was: The great writer is hit by thunder at the top of the mountain, and only those people can write, and they’re talented and holy…I don’t believe in talent. Talent is like a water table underneath the earth; you keep practicing, and you’ll hit the water table and it comes up through you.” She then spent some time signing copies of her work and speaking with attendees individually. We really enjoyed welcoming her back to campus, and we are excited to welcome her back again in the near future!

You can find out more about St. John’s College undergraduate program here and our graduate program here.

Natalie and the students pictured were kind enough to give us permission  to post this video of her reading an excerpt from Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home, which you can find at your favorite bookseller or on her website. Give it a listen!


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