UNC Wilmington Creative Writing Program Designated One of Top 25 MFA Programs in Nation by Poets & Writers Magazine

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington is designated one of the top 25 MFA programs in creative writing in the nation in the Nov./Dec. 2009 issue of Poets & Writers magazine. One of the top publications in the creative writing profession, Poets & Writers ranks UNC Wilmington's program fifth in creative nonfiction and places it at number 22 in poetry and number 25 in fiction.

"These rankings support and validate the remarkable work that UNCW faculty and staff have done in developing and nurturing the MFA in Creative Writing," said Chancellor Rosemary DePaolo. "It is astounding that a program created in 1996 has risen to challenge some of the most highly regarded creative writing programs in the country."

Overall, the UNCW MFA program was ranked number 24, ahead of well-established and highly funded programs at Arizona State University, Sarah Lawrence College, University of Houston, University of Arizona, Boston University, George Mason, Ohio State, Florida State, Penn State, the University of Virginia, Purdue and the University of Maryland, among others. The UNCW MFA program has steadily gained national recognition in recent years. It was named one of the "Five Top Innovative/Unique Programs in Creative Writing" in The Atlantic magazine's 2007 Fiction Issue.

"These rankings say something about our program," said Philip Gerard, chair of the Department of Creative Writing. "Clearly, we're going in the right direction. When we created this program 15 years ago, we were very intentional and very conscious of what we were doing and why we were doing it. As faculty members, we created the kind of program we wished we had been part of when we were students."

Alumni agree that UNCW's program is student-centered, and that faculty provide needed support and encouragement to help students become successful writers.

"What made this program stand out for me were the professors," said Kirsten Holmstedt, 2006 MFA graduate and author of Band of Sisters and The Girls Come Marching Home. "I felt their commitment when I entered the program in fall 2002 until my book was finished in spring 2006. They challenged me, and along the way the belief that I could be published replaced self-doubt. In the end, it's the combination of selfless professors and the high quality of students that has made the program such a success."

In addition to the program rankings, the magazine notes funding levels for each of the MFA programs included in its top 50 list. UNC Wilmington ranked 41st in overall funding and 42nd in annual funding. Sixteen of the programs ranked about UNCW are able to give full funding to their creative writing graduate students. Currently, UNCW is able to offer funding support to about 40 percent of its students.

"The comparison between our academic ranking and our funding ranking was pretty telling," said Gerard. "There's a big disparity there. As a program, we're performing about twice as well as our funding level says we should be."

Gerard's goal, which he noted is shared by administrators at UNCW, who are very supportive of the MFA program, is to increase that funding in the future, primarily through gifts and grants from private sources. In the meantime, Gerard said the faculty intends to continue doing the things they are doing right that have brought the program to its current prominence.

In addition to the intentional, student-oriented design of the program, Gerard points to other successful aspects such as the program's sense of community, the consistency and longevity of program faculty and the support of university administration. There are also two unique pieces that only UNCW can offer: The Publishing Laboratory and Ecotone, the nationally acclaimed literary journal that focuses on place, both in the literal sense of honoring the environment and the metaphorical sense of reckoning with aesthetic boundaries.

Eli Hastings, 2004 MFA graduate and author of the award-winning memoir Falling Room, added that the program is rigorous and faculty have high expectations for students and their work.

"The MFA program at UNCW is, first of all, serious," he said. "The three years to complete it speaks to that, as does the focus on producing a publishable thesis by the time one completes the degree. It pushes students to become professional published writers and makes sure the people coming into the program have that as their aim. I wanted my butt kicked, frankly, in terms of deadlines, critiques and work. I wasn't disappointed."

Gerard notes that social networking has rapidly spread word of the many unique aspects of UNCW's program to prospective MFA students around the country. Prospective students seek out current students through Facebook and Twitter to ask them about their experience at UNCW, and the responses they receive influence their decision to apply.

"The best promotion for our program is the word of mouth of our current students and alumni," he said.

UNCW MFA program students and alumni have published more than 30 books and dozens of shorter works; core faculty have published more than 50 books as well as hundreds of shorter pieces.

Media contact:
Dana Fischetti, media relations manager, 910.962.7259 or fischettid@uncw.edu