7 ways to follow in Harper Lee’s footsteps at Oxford University

The author of To Kill a Mockingbird embarked on her writing career after attending an Oxford University summer school. Is an Oxford summer experience the inspiration you need to start your writing career?


In the summer of 1948, a young law student named Nelle Harper Lee was at a crossroads. Her father and sister were both lawyers – but Nelle was interested in literature, not law.

Her father agreed to send her to an Oxford University summer programme for a few weeks. From his point of view, the experience would let Nelle indulge her love for literature, while demonstrating that a well-paying career like law offered opportunities for travel. During her weeks in Oxford, Nelle attended lectures in literature, history, politics, economics and philosophy. She explored the city, absorbing its rich heritage.

Harper Lee’s summer experience in Oxford was a catalyst for the beginning of her writing career: immediately after returning home she dropped out of law school, moved to New York City, and began to write.

Harper Lee’s writing career found a springboard during her summer in Oxford. What could you learn at Oxford University this summer?

Write Now! Creative Writing Summer School

Perhaps you’ve not yet begun your novel, short story, memoir or poem; or perhaps it’s well underway, but you’re not yet confident about editing and polishing. Now imagine yourself in Oxford: spending a week with Oxford tutors in small-group workshops and seminars, receiving tutor feedback on your work, attending plenary lectures, and experiencing it all in the beautiful historic environment of thirteenth-century New College, Oxford. With four genres to choose from – fiction, young adult and children’s fiction, poetry and life-writing – you can let your imagination take wing this summer.

The Write Now! Creative Writing Summer School takes place over one week in August.

Critical Reading Summer School

Take your passion for literature to the next level. Acquiring skills in critical reading pulls you deeper into written works, leading you to a greater understanding of what the author intended in their choice of words, metaphor, tone, viewpoint. With an enhanced appreciation, you’ll fall in love with literature all over again. You’ll spend the week studying, dining and living in New College, one of the most architecturally striking colleges in Oxford, combining spectacular buildings and gardens set against the twelfth-century city wall.

The Critical Reading Summer School takes place over one week in August.

‘Battle-Scarred’: The Human Costs of the British Civil Wars

Join us at Oxford’s historic Merton College, once home of the royal court of Queen Henrietta Maria, for an immersive week-long residential summer school on the British Civil Wars (1638–1652). Sometimes called the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, these wars were the foundational moment in forging relationships between the English, Scots, Irish (Welsh and Cornish) peoples. They have cast a long shadow over British and Irish history since, shaping the development of national, regional and local identities in these islands – and they are now taking centre stage as a critical event in the welfare history of Europe.

‘Battle-Scarred’: The Human Costs of the British Civil Wars takes place over one week in July.

Creative Writing Summer School – Intermediate and Advanced

This three-week summer programme lets you immerse yourself in your craft. Under the guidance of experienced tutors, you will write, develop your technique, sharpen your critical faculties and discuss your work in small, focused seminars. Each weekday you will attend a talk given by an author, publisher, agent, or editor. The summer school is held in beautiful Exeter College, which was founded in 1314, and nurtured J R R Tolkien, Philip Pullman, William Morris, alongside many others. At the end of your three weeks, you will have acquired new skills, made new friends, and developed a fresh portfolio of creative writing.

The Creative Writing Summer School meets for three weeks during July and August.

English Literature Summer School

Join us for three-weeks to focus in-depth on English Literature. You’ll work in small interactive seminar groups with specialist tutors, and attend a daily programme of lectures given by leading scholars and distinguished speakers. There are options for both undergraduate and graduate-level study, making this the ideal summer school for students at any level of study, for teachers, and for anyone looking for an in-depth experience of English Literature. Alongside your studies, you’ll have a range of social events to choose from, including walking tours and excursions. You’ll live and work at Exeter College in the very centre of Oxford.

The English Literature Summer School takes place over three weeks in July.

The Oxford University Summer School for Adults

This is Oxford University’s longest-standing summer school, founded in 1888, and is held at Rewley House on Wellington Square, at the heart of the University. With more than 60 accredited courses spanning a huge range of subjects, you may discover a new passion during your stay in Oxford! You’ll enjoy the rigour of being taught in small seminar groups of up to 12 students, and take part in two one-on-one tutorials with your tutor. You’ll benefit from a diverse student body of many nationalities, and will have access to IT facilities and to the in-house branch of the Bodleian’s library. As always there are guest lectures and social events to enjoy.

The Oxford University Summer School for Adults runs week-long courses during July and August.

The Oxford Experience

Held at Christ Church, the 16th century Oxford college built by Cardinal Wolsey, the Oxford Experience is a residential summer programme aimed at non-specialists, providing more than 80 week-long courses in a range of subjects in the humanities and social sciences including archaeology, history, literature, philosophy, history of art and creative writing. Seminars meet each weekday morning, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study, or exploring the many places of interest in and around the city. Live and dine in college, explore the city and the River Thames and enjoy all that Oxford has to offer.

The Oxford Experience Summer School offers week-long courses during July and August.

Whether you are looking to learn for personal enrichment, academic progression or professional development, Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education has a summer school for you. Find out more here: www.conted.ox.ac.uk/summer-schools