Skip to header Skip to Content Skip to Footer

MFA Course Descriptions

Spring 2024 MFA Course Descriptions

This course is intended to illuminate the path to book publication, making it more accessible and comprehensible for emerging authors. We will start by establishing foundational knowledge of the publishing industry (a broad overview of contemporary publishing, its history, and "Big 5 vs. Indie Presses"), and then we'll zoom in, examining how debut authors navigate the industry to usher their books into the marketplace. Students will hear from industry professionals who will help guide them through each step along a book's journey from writer to reader, from signing with an agent, to acquisitions, to the editorial process and beyond. They'll get hands-on experience, from writing their own query letters and developing personalized lists of potential agents to critically evaluating sample book proposals. Students should expect to come away from this course with an enhanced author platform; a plan for submitting their writing to journals and literary magazines as well as for applying to residencies, fellowships, and contests; and an outline and a draft of a book proposal.
This course offers intensive hands-on training in book design and production using desktop publishing software in a Macintosh lab. Students develop skills through a progressively more complex series of design projects, culminating in a finished limited-edition chapbook of their own work. Students should gain from this course basic software skills, a heightened design aesthetic, the historical development of the book, the use of typography as it relates to book design, and an understanding of how books are produced from manuscript to bookshelf. The course meets for three hours a week, but students should allow ample additional time to complete assignments in the Publishing Lab outside of class hours.
This course is designed to give students a practical magazine publishing experience. Our magazine is unique in that it bridges the UNCW Department of Creative Writing and Chautauqua Institution, an arts-based community in Chautauqua, NY. This partnership brings a variety of opportunities. Members of the Chautauqua team read and respond to submissions, work on editing projects, search for possible cover art, assist with design work, and work on marketing via social media. Students interested in developmental editing will be able to identify a potential project and work directly with a writer. Most of our work is done in teams. Graduate students work as team leaders and mentor undergraduate students with projects addressing editing, sales/marketing, and art/design. MFA students may repeat for credit without limit.
Ecotone's section-editor positions function as apprenticeships in literary editing. Editors in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction assign work to Ecotone's readers each week, review reader comments, and ensure that submission responses are sent. They recommend work for discussion by the team, lead discussions of writing for consideration, acquire work, and perform top edits and lead edits. Section editors in spring 2024 will work closely with the magazine's associate editor on drafting editorial correspondence and marking edits and queries. They also contribute ideas for special features and issue themes; select work from the magazine to nominate for awards and anthologies; and help draft and implement promotion plans. Ecotone section editors have gone on to positions at Sierra magazine, W. W. Norton, Autumn House Press, the Rumpus, the University of Wisconsin Press, Southern Humanities Review, and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, among others. Required texts: Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition. MFA students may repeat for credit without limit. Permission of instructor required. In April 2024, applications will be accepted for two section-editor positions, coursework for which will begin in fall 2024, and for Ecotone managing editor, a graduate assistantship. Students interested in applying for section-editor positions must have taken the three-credit practicum course (CRW524, Ecotone practicum) in a prior fall semester, and those interested in applying for managing editor may not hold a current teaching assistantship or twenty-hour graduate assistantship in the Department of Creative Writing.
Though it is essentially a craft-oriented workshop wherein poets will critique and encourage each other's work, there will also be time for discussions of practical criticism. Each week a student will choose, disseminate and introduce an essay on craft. There may be complementary common reading. Student products will include a portfolio of seven finished poems, plus revision drafts. The journal will consist of: a) weekly reflections and responses to readings; b) process exercises; and c) extensive exploration into a personally relevant craft concept of your choosing.
What does form do? If we think of poetic form as encompassing all those elements of craft that show control—the poet's command over the visual and sonic unfolding of the poem—we might speculate that form conveys authority, that perhaps its primary purpose is to convince readers that the poem is carefully made and therefore has something wise or beautiful or otherwise useful to say. In this class, we'll explore the notion that form—the careful, deliberate, artful crafting of a poem—is the primary means by which poets convince readers to pay the kind of fine attention necessary for poetry to do its full magic. (Of course, we might also argue that form is the magic!) We'll read a diverse range of modern and contemporary poets, those writing in free-verse and received forms, as we investigate the relationship between what a poet says and how they say it, between voice and structure—and we'll try out some fancy tricks of our own.
This is a traditional workshop course, interested in the development of rich, full-blooded scenes, and the sense of consequence that generates good storytelling. Writers will turn in two pieces for workshop and investigate questions of craft via the work of other writers in the course.
In this class students will learn to read, write, critique and revise their own work and the work of classmates. The workshop format is designed to mirror the editorial process with engaging with editors, so we will write new works, read the works of colleagues, and offer constructive feedback. There will be a strong focus on the various elements of fiction such as Structure, Voice, Language, Character, etc. Students will be expected to turn in work for workshop at least twice along with occasional writing assignments.
In this course, we will read, discuss, and critique a wide variety of creative nonfiction (CNF), and we will do as writers. The course will focus on the readings, and how they can inspire and instruct us as writers. The hope is to learn from and be inspired by the readings without being so unduly limited and influenced by them that students abandon their own unique creative signatures. By the end of the semester, students should have a better grasp of CNF in general, as well as at least one piece of CNF that is either ready or nearly ready for submission or publication.
Second semester of a two-semester course. The goal is to have a draft of a fiction or nonfiction book by April 30, 2024. Timelines and due pages will be decided on an individual basis. If you are starting from scratch, expect something in the line of 20 – 30 pages a month. If you have a draft or partial draft, expect a commensurate amount of composition. We will establish contracts, if desired by the writer, to monitor and encourage forward progress. Among potential class and individual activities--in addition to workshopping chapters and scenes in small and large groups--are: 1) discussing your book's plot, scenes, characters, and theme, as well as the nature of speculative, experimental, and traditional narratives; 2) discussing literary theory; 3) discussing technique in fiction and nonfiction; 4) discussing authors and craft books; 5) presenting dramatic readings of scenes; 6) directing your own "story plan” workshops, 7) participating in prompts and exercises, especially for those who feel these are helpful. Various types of workshops will be available to meet individual needs. The instructor's definition of teaching (for this class) is: The act of inducing a writer to behave in ways assumed to lead to the production of a meaningful long narrative.
Environmental writing, and writing about place and nature, has never been more important than in this time of climate disruption and mass extinction. In this class we are going to explore ways to link writing about our lives with writing about the greater world. The first half of the class will focus on reading some of today's best environmental writing, working on our reporting skills (including getting out in the field and reaching out to experts), and prompts to help you start pushing beyond memoir. The second half will be a more traditional workshop. Though the class is listed as a nonfiction workshop, fiction that has a strong research component will also be allowed.
[Please write the instructor for permission to enroll.] A select group of graduate students supports the work of the department's award-winning imprint, Lookout Books ( This practical course functions primarily as a hands-on apprenticeship with an independent press and provides experience in everything from evaluating manuscripts to offering editorial feedback, from designing book interiors and pitching cover concepts to developing marketing plans in support of the imprint's forthcoming titles. The Lookout experience will prove valuable for students interested in furthering their understanding of literary publishing, whether they want to enter the industry or learn about it toward their aspirations as authors. Former students have gone on to careers at HarperCollins, W. W. Norton, Hub City Press, Orion, and the Rumpus, among many others. Practicum students work approximately 9 hours weekly in the Publishing Lab, including a 2.45-hour staff meeting. [Taking the course over two semesters is recommended to experience the complete lifecycle of a book; six hours are required to complete the MFA Certificate in Publishing. MFA students may repeat for credit without limit.]
The rise in popularity of graphic works has shown the infinite potential, both literary and creative, of the comic form. The aim of this class is to conceptualize and write creative nonfiction in unexpected ways. In what ways might you make meaning of your life by combining pictures with words? Perhaps you are already doing it, post by post, on Instagram. How might you sustain that over a book? What stories of your life will you tell? What would be your thematic concerns? What might be the challenges and freedoms of such a form? We will write (or perhaps "assemble” is a better word) in every class, inspired by the book we have read for the week. You are not required to be an artist; however, you are asked to be openminded as we engage with forms you may have previously encountered only as a reader and not a writer.
What can we learn from other writers about the art and craft of writing? In this class, we'll read a range of creative work, reviews, interviews, and craft essays in order to expand our thinking about writing—and the writing life—in both practical and philosophical ways. How can we think more deeply about techniques of craft? How can we think more deeply about creating art that matters? Throughout the semester, we'll be talking to and interviewing visiting writers who will share with us their own perspectives and experiences.

Octavio Paz said: "Translation is an art of analogy, the art of finding correspondences. An art of shadows and echoes…" Charles Baudelaire said that poetry is essentially analogy. The idea of universal correspondence comes from the idea that language is a micro cosmos, a double of the universe. Between the language of the universe and the universe of language, there is a bridge, a link: poetry. The poet, says Baudelaire, is the translator."

In this class we will study multiple translations of single poems, examine the choices and strategies of translation. In addition, each student in the class will also provide weekly contributions of their own translation of given poems. These translations will serve as focal points for the larger subject of translation, that of the poet and writer as translator.

This class is co-taught by Professor, Claudia Desblaches at the University of Rennes 2 in Rennes, France. We will virtually collaborate with her class during shared weekly meetings. For this class, knowledge of a second language is welcome but not at all necessary.