Archive for the ‘Program profile’ Category

Program Profile – MFA at Virginia Tech

VT_Invent_The Future

Many thanks to Jeff Mann at Virginia Tech’s MFA program for answering a few questions. Virginia Tech’s first graduating class earned their MFAs in 2008 and the program and soared to one of very high ranking. Learn a little more about this special program.

Can you describe the general course of study at Virginia Tech? For example, how heavily does it focus on writing as opposed to teaching or working at one of the literary journals?

The major focus is on writing: we require 15 hours of writing workshops. MFA students also take Literary Editing (a course in which students choose creative work for The Minnesota Review), as well as courses in form and theory and literature. They’re required to take 11 hours in composition pedagogy. After completing that requirement, they teach freshman composition classes. In their final semester, they usually get to teach Introduction to Creative Writing. (more…)

Program Profile – University of Alaska Fairbanks


Many thanks to Professor Gerri Brightwell from University of Alaska at Fairbanks’ MA/MFA program for taking the time to answer a few questions about what makes their program so special.

How would you describe the curriculum and goals of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks?

Our curriculum is designed to give students a solid grounding in the study of their genre through craft courses, workshops, and working one-on-one with faculty. Our students also take classes in literary theory and literature. Not only do these classes expand their expertise, they make them stronger writers. We want our students to leave UAF with a surer sense of who they are as writers, and with publications already under their belt.

Can you explain the combined MA/MFA program available?

Because our MFA students take classes in critical theory and literature, we created the MFA/MA to offer them the opportunity to further explore their scholarly interests and earn a qualification in both creative writing and literature. Students in the combined program take two sets of comprehensive examinations (as opposed to one for MFA students) and produce both a creative thesis and either a scholarly thesis or scholarly essays.

In what way does the natural environment of Alaska factor into the program?

In Alaska, you can’t avoid the natural environment! If affects how you live — temperatures can drop to as low as -50 in the winter, and you might get into your car only to find a moose blocking your driveway. We’re hundreds of miles from the next biggest city — Anchorage. But our environment is not something to be endured. It’s a source of inspiration for many, and for those that chose, it offers a way to live differently. Some of our students live in apartments in town; others rent cabins in the woods. Here you can ski for six months of the year, you can trap, or hunt, you can fish, you can mountain climb. (more…)

MFA Program Profile: Brooklyn College

brooklyn-College-logoWe spoke to Eliza Hornig, Administrator of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Brooklyn College. Take a look at what they have to offer MFA students and pay particular attention to Ms. Hornig’s advice for incoming students. She offers some valuable insight for writers in any program. Thank you, Brooklyn College, for such a thoughtful interview.

I found the Fiction section of Brooklyn College’s MFA program very informative. You offer a very clear picture of how time pursuing an MFA through Brooklyn will be spent. Is your program unique in its structure? What makes Brooklyn’s MFA program unique in your eyes?

The fiction program at Brooklyn College is rigorous, intimate, and supportive. Our students receive extensive feedback from faculty members inside and outside of class; it is not unusual for a faculty member to critique a new draft of a student’s work months or even years after a workshop has ended. Our students have the unusual opportunity to take a novel workshop, if they wish. They are grounded in the essentials of craft with a first-semester craft course, which equips them to wrangle with difficult questions of voice, pacing, point of view, language, dialogue, uses of time, child narration, etc., over the course of the program. During their second year, students participate in one-on-one revisions and thesis tutorials, which offer them the chance to work closely with faculty members, practiced writers from around the city, and editors from major literary journals and publishing houses. Because we wish to prepare our students for the realities of the publishing world, we offer an editors’ panel each fall, and an agents’ panel each spring; after each event, students have the opportunity to meet with an editor/agent and submit a sample of their work for consideration. Our student reading series, held at Freddy’s Bar in the South Slope, gives students a chance to share their work in public, while our Intergenre Reading Series allows students to hear the work of established fiction writers, poets, and playwrights in an intimate setting. Just as important are the happy hours, parties, dinners at faculty members’ homes, summer trips to Brooklyn Cyclones games, and post-workshop drinks, all of which contribute to an extremely warm and congenial sense of community in our program. Our students tend to leave the program with lifelong friends and mentors—and, therefore, with lifelong support for their writing and publishing endeavors.

Your program makes mention of intergenre workshops. Can you describe those a little more? Many authors would like to learn about other areas of writing and I hear limited intergenre exploration as a criticism to other programs.

Each year, we offer an intergenre class, taught by a member of the MFA faculty and taken by students from the poetry, playwriting, and fiction programs. In these classes, students are asked to write in genres other than their own. (Topics for these classes have ranged from “Dictionaries” to “Modernism.”) The intergenre format allows students to learn about the practices, mindsets, and aesthetics of other genres; it sometimes results in cross-genre collaboration, and very often in cross-genre friendship.

Would you describe Brooklyn’s MFA in fiction as highly literary or broader in focus?

Although our students have gone on to write in a variety of genres—our alums have published literary novels and short story collections, young adult novels, children’s novels, mysteries, etc.—our program’s primary focus is on the creation of literary fiction. (more…)

MFA Program Profile: Arcadia University

We spoke to Joshua Isard, Program Director for Arcadia University’s MFA in Creative Writing. Arcadia is a low-residency program in Philadelphia that allows writers the opportunity to work on their craft not only at home and through Arcadia’s online workshops, but in an exclusive study abroad experience. It’s a pretty special program. Take a look at what Arcadia has to offer MFA students and pay particular attention to Mr. Isard’s comments on literary vs genre. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Thank you, Arcadia, for such a thoughtful interview.

Generally speaking, what do you think is unique or beneficial about a low-residency program?

Low-residency programs are designed for students who can’t pick up and move to another location for their studies, or who wish to maintain their careers while studying. One of the major benefits of a low-res program, then, is that one can do just those things, which are generally impossible while enrolled in a full-residency program.

As a result, I think low-residency programs tend to resemble real writing life, the one we all have to lead after graduation. Students have to make time to write around their other responsibilities, which, save for the years many of us spent in our full-res MFA programs, is the way writing really is. So students not only get training in their craft, but also in the lifestyle they’ll have to lead in order to be successful.

What makes Arcadia’s program special? What would you tell students is an advantage of pursuing a low-residency MFA through your school?

Our program is one of the few low-res programs that utilizes online workshops. Many low-res programs still do little more than facilitate a correspondence between the student and the professor through the semester, and only hold workshops during the residencies. At Arcadia, we use online forums to conduct workshops every week, allowing students to get the maximum amount of feedback on their work. Additionally, since these workshops are asynchronous discussions, students can participate through the week during the time they have free: evenings, early mornings, lunch breaks—whatever suits the individual.

Along with the workshops, students do have one-on-one meetings with their faculty adviser every three weeks or so, meaning that they get personal attention as well as a consistent workshop environment.

Please tell us more about studying abroad with Arcadia. How does going abroad contribute to the writer’s experience?

Writers have long found inspiration through travel—Keats, Johnson, Hemingway, Chatwin—and Arcadia’s MFA program was designed to have an integral experience in that tradition. While spending their residency abroad, students have a workshop with a writer who lives and works at that destination (most recently, Edinburgh), and plenty of time to explore the area. This provides a broader, global perspective on language, setting, and trends in contemporary literature.

This residency is held in the summer between students’ first year and second year in the MFA program, and lasts for a week. In order to have the maximum time abroad, many of our students combine this week with their personal travels, and go elsewhere before or after the residency. Additionally, Arcadia has other study-abroad programs over the summer, and our MFA students often go from the residency to another Arcadia destination. In the summer of 2013, for example, several MFA students are going directly from the residency in Edinburgh to our writers’ retreat in Umbria, Italy.

So our students have the opportunity to visit multiple destinations, work with writers from different countries with different literary traditions from our own, and gain the global perspective that’s so important as literature develops in the 21st century.

Would you describe your program as highly literary, or broader in focus?

I don’t like the way people now use the term “literary.” It’s too exclusive, the distinction between literary and genre. The term implies that science fiction, for example, cannot be literary, but isn’t The Martian Chronicles literary? It’s certainly science fiction, but I would say that it’s a strong part of the literary canon. Doesn’t dystopian fiction often have elements of science fiction? And yet when we call a work “dystopian” it has more legitimacy in many people’s eyes than when we call it sci-fi.

Essentially, I think our vocabulary is off on this subject.

But, to our program, I would consider us a highly literary MFA program, yes, though our definition of literary has to do with quality rather than subject matter. We’ve accepted excellent sci-fi, fantasy, and YA writers, and rejected many mediocre “literary” writers. Quality is what makes a piece of writing literary: a genuine portrayal of character and plot, and the appropriate, refined style for the story. Whether that story takes place in contemporary Brooklyn, a galaxy far far away, or Jordan College is of no consequence as long as the piece is good.

I know this can be difficult to define, but what does Arcadia look for in applicants?

We want writers who know what they want to do and get reasonably close to doing it.

So, with a fiction writer for example, our faculty looks to see that the applicant makes good choices in representing character and story. Usually not the perfect choices, of course, but choices that show the applicant has taken steps to refine their piece. With a poet, our professors look for similar conscious choices in elements like word choice, form, rhythm, etc.

The analogy I use is that if the writer is shooting at a target, that they hit it. Not the bull’s eye necessarily, but the target itself, as opposed to missing completely. Additionally, we want to applicant to be aiming for his or her own target, not trying to please us. We don’t have a house style at Arcadia, we’re looking to help talented writers accomplish their own goals in writing.

Can you describe the curriculum somewhat? For example, how much of your program focuses on writing and to what degree to students focus on other areas related to craft? (Applied criticism, reading other works, etc.)

Our curriculum is very writing heavy. As I said above, students engage in workshops every week, and then also meet with their faculty adviser every few weeks to discuss their writing one-on-one. I would say that writing and critiquing peers’ writing make up the vast majority of the program.

However, students are encouraged to read widely, as the best readers make the best writers. Along with their adviser, each student makes a reading list for him or herself at the start of each semester. The list consists of eight to ten books chosen to help the student progress, and contains at least one volume of writing theory. Students discuss this reading with their adviser through the course of the term, but complete it at their own pace.

And then in addition to the workshops and practicums, each MFA student must take one graduate level literature course sometime during their two years, and also a craft course in their genre. The literature course can be any that Arcadia offers. The craft course is an exploration of writing trends in contemporary fiction or poetry.

So, over the two years students take three residencies, four workshops, four practicums, one literature course, and one craft course. This ends up being 39 credits. You can see a sample schedule of the way this could play out over the two years of the program here.

If you could provide a piece of advice for upcoming students, what would it be?

Be genuine in your writing. Don’t write to trends you see in contemporary magazines or books, don’t try and write what you think others want to read. Write your style and then find the people who love it.

And then at the same time be willing to change. We all need critiques, even after we’re students. I got a story from a friend of mine while I was writing this—he wants advice. He has an MFA and a published collection of stories, and knows that the best way to make writing excellent is to take criticism from people you trust.

So, find that dichotomy. Be confident in your style, but willing to change and refine it to bring out the best writing possible.

Program Profile: The University of Oregon

The University of Oregon

For our newest program profile, we were lucky enough to interview The University of Oregon. Oregon’s full-residency MFA program is one of the best in the country, providing concentrations in fiction and poetry. A highly funded program, Oregon is also known for its teaching fellowships and small size (Poets and Writers ranks them #8 in both fellowship placement and selectivity). We’ve included a few highlights about their program below, but for more information on pursuing in MFA at Oregon, check out their webpage.

Oregon’s MFA Program is consistently ranked among the best in the country. What do you think makes Oregon’s program so special?

All of our faculty members are committed to teaching—in workshops, craft seminars, and individual tutorials.  We give our students a great deal of attention, much of it individual.  In addition, because every student accepted to our MFA Program receives a teaching fellowship and tuition waiver, there is a strong sense of community (rather than competition) among our students.  The students in the program also get together frequently for social and program events of their own making—for example, the yearly student-run Live Lit West Reading Series at Tsunami Books in town.  Finally, we are located in a city conducive to student life, including great public transportation, numerous movie theaters and venues for live music, affordable cafés and restaurants catering to students, and numerous bookstores, with the coast and mountains close at hand.  The economic and geographic stresses which might be obstacles to student life in larger cities are not present in Eugene, and this in turn allows our students to focus on the development of their art.

Many MFA programs now provide students the option of pursuing an MFA in genre writing. Would you describe Oregon’s program as highly literary or broader in focus?

Highly literary.

What aspect of Oregon’s program are you most proud of?

The high level of rigor, instruction, and expectation in all the graduate classes.

This can be difficult to articulate, but to the best of your ability, can you describe what Oregon looks for in applicants?

High intelligence and talent, a commitment to work hard, and an informed interest in working with our specific faculty.

Most MFA applicants know they’ll be focusing on their own writing. How much of their time focuses on other areas related to craft? For example: applied criticism, reading other work, examining literary tradition, or teaching?


Writing = 2/5

Reading and craft study = 2/5

Teaching = 1/5 


Writing = 3/5

Reading/Craft study = 1/5

Teaching = 1/5

Program Profile: Pacific University Low-Residency MFA

A special thanks goes out to Pacific University’s MFA program for being the first in a series of profiles we’re doing on MFA programs around the country. We spoke with Pacific University professor Marvin Bell, who shed some light on what makes Pacific’s program just so special.

Generally speaking, what do you think is unique or beneficial about a low-residency program?

The age range. These are writers who can keep their paying jobs, and their home lives, and can still be smack dab in the midst of a serious writing community. Some have been in the game for a long time. They know the score.

Pacific University’s low-residency MFA program is consistently ranked among the best in the country. What do you think makes Pacific’s program so special?

The faculty. Spirited writers known for strong, individual literary voices. Then, their energy and, not to be slighted, their sense of fun. Also, a beloved director who engages the faculty on every matter.  It is the opposite of micro-managed. To the contrary, we plan and ad-lib on behalf of the students. The faculty attracts unusual and talented students. The graduating students invariably break our hearts when, unbidden, they use up some of their reading time to thank their teachers, speaking specifically of how each made a difference to them. We neither ask for, nor expect, such public thanks, yet they continue to do it, often speaking with great feeling.

Would you describe Pacific’s MFA program as highly literary or broader in focus?

Literary in the best sense, whether the writing is sociopolitical, or surreal, or bravely personal, or of a style never before encountered, or just a good version of “mainstream.” How a piece is written is what brings back a reader for another go.

What aspect of Pacific’s program are you most proud of?

The spirit and variety of students and faculty, of course. But also, and you may smile at this, the dignity maintained by the program, which does not lean on applicants or bribe them or make unworthy promises. It’s high class and the opposite of laborious. The program maintains a focus on the excitement of writing and the possibilities.

Most MFA applicants know they’ll be focusing on their own writing. How much of Pacific’s program focuses on other areas related to craft? For example, applied criticism, reading other work, and literary tradition are listed as other areas of study for MFA students at Pacific.

There are craft talks and classes at the residencies, of course. There is a reading requirement, too, with the intention that the student learn to read, not like a scholar, but like a writer. Students write about their reading, and talk books with their teachers, from start to finish. The student even includes the bibliography of his or her reading in the thesis.

I understand you were Flannery O’ Connor Professor of Letters at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. How is it different teaching in a full-residency scenario as opposed to a low-residency one?

The age range and, thus, the life experiences of the students are different. Also, the combination of intense residencies and periodic interchanges is a very different dynamic. Students sometimes make a leap in confidence and verbal nerve between packets. I didn’t realize until I signed on how effective this sort of teaching can be, or how much I would enjoy this particular MFA. It’s a kick, it’s a hoot, it’s a workshop in the best sense of the term—that we are all in this together.

I know this can be difficult to define, but can you describe what Pacific looks for in applicants? What makes an ideal candidate?

It’s all about the writing sample.  Sometimes, the personal statement is of use, if only that it reveals a mind and one’s ability to write prose. But in the end, it’s all about being a writer, not a critic or a scholar or even a teacher.  The ideal applicant shows in his or her writing an interest in language and the influence of having read good writers. But then there are applicants who may not have written or read much but whose language knocks your socks off.  That’s big.

If you could provide a piece of advice for current or upcoming MFA students, what would it be?

Welcome the influence of good writers. Write more than required. Be a writer every day, whether or not you write that day. Understand that the good stuff and the bad stuff are all part of the stuff. No good stuff without bad stuff. Don’t let anyone turn the excitement of writing into mere labor. Write with abandon. Avoid those who encourage you to write like them. Jonathan Williams, the poet who founded Jargon Press, once said that “the trouble with American poets is that they each want everyone else to write like them, but not as well.” Read writers who write differently from you. The poet Jordan Smith once said to me, “I have learned that, when I read a book of poetry and hate it, a year later I will love that book.”

Introducing: MFA Program Profiles

We’re introducing a new blog series, which highlights different MFA programs across the country. Stay tuned for our first profile, which will post this week. If you’d like to suggest a school or program to be profiled, please send suggestions and questions to: