Creative Writing

MFA Course Descriptions

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*530 (Screenwriting) & 540 (Writers Week) courses are always workshop;
 580 courses are always elective.


Fall 2022

This seminar provides training in the method and practice of teaching creative writing in a university or college setting, and it functions as the weekly staff meeting for those serving as new teaching assistants (GTA and DIS) in CRW 201.
Together we’ll read and discuss pedagogical texts, evaluate creative writing textbooks and methodologies, and consider a wide range of “problems in teaching.” (Can creative writing be taught? Should it be graded? By what method? How best can we handle conflict in the classroom or respond to sensitive material in student writing?) We’ll engage together in a thoroughgoing examination of the conventional workshop model and locate or imagine alternative strategies for serving diverse learning/writing communities. Each student-teacher will keep a journal and write a number of short, informal responses throughout the semester, which will culminate in a polished Teaching Philosophy suitable for inclusion in a professional dossier.

[Please write Anna Lena Phillips Bell for permission to enroll. New practicum members register for CRW524-002; returning practicum members may register for CRW524-001 or -002.]
Students in this course become part of the editorial team that makes Ecotone, the award-winning national literary magazine of place. The coursework consists of reading manuscripts and working to help bring out an issue of the magazine. This fall we’ll be working on the upcoming Ocean Issue as well as our un-themed spring/summer 2023 issue. Each practicum member is responsible for reading and commenting on a number of submissions per week. Ecotone staff members also fact-check work for upcoming issues, draft run order, write front-matter copy, and proofread. Additional work may include planning promotions for the magazine. This practicum provides context and resources both for making a literary magazine and for sending out one’s own work. We’ll engage with ongoing questions of equity as they apply to Ecotone’s work and to literary publishing overall. We will set aside time at least once during the semester to think about the process of sending out our own work to literary magazines. And we will read widely, both to cultivate an understanding of Ecotone’s aesthetic and where it sits in the literary landscape, and to find new voices the magazine might publish. Practicum members will read and review one past issue of Ecotone and will subscribe to two print literary magazines and follow one online, choosing one to review. Required texts: subscriptions to two magazines from approved list; Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition. Recommended text: The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition. MFA students may repeat for credit without limit, space permitting.
This course is the prerequisite for the Ecotone editors’ practicum. In spring 2023, applications will be accepted for two to three section editors, genres to be announced; students interested in applying must have taken the three-credit practicum course. In 2022–2023, CRW524-002 will be offered in fall but not in spring. If you are an incoming student and are interested in an editorial position with Ecotone, you may take the fall practicum in order to be eligible to apply.

Ecotone’s section-editor positions function as apprenticeships in literary editing. Editors read and acquire manuscripts, recommend work for discussion by the team, lead discussions of work, and perform top edits and lead edits. They work closely with the magazine’s 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. Editors also assign work to Ecotone’s readers each week, review reader comments, and ensure that submission responses are sent. Ecotone section editors have gone on to positions at Sierra magazine, W. W. Norton, Autumn House Press, the University of Wisconsin Press, Southern Humanities Review, and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, among others. Required texts: Subscription to one literary magazine from approved list; Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition; The Copyeditor’s Handbook, fourth edition, and The Copyeditor’s Workbook. MFA students may repeat for credit without limit. In spring 2023, applications will be accepted for two to three section-editor positions. Students interested in applying must have taken the three-credit practicum course (currently CRW524-002) in a prior semester. 

CRW 524-004 (1), -005 (2), and -006 (3): CHAUTAUQUA LITERARY MAGAZINE, GERARD J
This course is designed to give students a practical magazine publishing experience. Students will read and respond to submissions, work on editing projects, search for possible cover art, and assist with design work. Students interested in developmental editing will be able to identify a potential project and work directly with the writers. Most of our work is done in teams—with each group presenting regular updates on their projects and work. Graduate students work as a leader(s) and mentor undergraduate students with projects addressing editing, sales/marketing, and art/design. For the academic year 2022-2023, Chautauqua will be publishing two online issues. This brings new opportunity for our team. MFA students may repeat for credit without limit.  

Not sure how to contextualize and translate your book manuscript or creative project into a concise and compelling statement of purpose? Do you dream of securing funding to support your research, an arts or nonprofit organization, or a community initiative? In this hands-on special topics course, students will learn the fundamentals of grant writing—both for individual and organizational grants—as well as for applications to fellowships and residencies. We’ll study grant language and techniques, research databases to locate opportunities, strategically evaluate RFPs (requests for proposal), prepare narratives and budgets, learn to work with partners and team members to meet deadlines, and establish a system for tracking progress and submissions. Throughout the course, we’ll assess a variety of successful applications before eventually drafting our own narratives and offering one another feedback. Guest speakers will include writers who have been awarded a range of regional and national grants and fellowships—from South Arts to the National Endowment for the Arts—as well as grant panelists and nonprofit leaders, to better understand systemic approaches, organizational missions, and evaluation methodologies. Each student will prepare and refine the major components of an application for future submission.

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.

Students will study songs from a variety of genres and then write—alone or in collaboration—original songs. The aim is to use the discipline of songwriting to enhance creative work in the student’s chosen genre. This is not meant to be a comprehensive survey of American songs but an attempt to discover the variety of narrative structures and lyrical connections that make a song effective and memorable. We’ll also examine basic song structures and chord progression, define terms such as “verse,” chorus,” and “bridge” and how they can apply to traditional literary forms as both metaphors and guides to structure.
The songs students write will in some way distill, refine, comment upon, enlarge, or be inspired by their work as poets, nonfiction writers, and fiction writers, and they will write short reflections to make the connections explicitly. The aim is not to write “hit” songs but to invigorate and expand their creative process of writing in all genres. We are interested in the process, not just the product.
We will explore any of several methods of composition.


  • The ability to listen closely.
  • The desire to create in a new form.
  • The willingness to sing and or play in front of others.
  • An openness to collaboration.

Not Required: Basic ability to sing or play an instrument will be helpful but not necessary. Each student can create lyrics in a given musical genre and work with a collaborator to make a rudimentary lead sheet of key, melody, and tempo.

This one-credit (one writing hour) intensive course is designed to complement Writers Week 2022 (theme TBA!).  We'll spend the weeks leading up to Writers Week meeting and planning events. A lot of the work will be practical but hopefully also visionary and strategic.  We will also be reading the work of the writers who will be coming. You will have a manuscript conference with a visiting writer, as well. You are encouraged to concurrently take CRW 580-800 (one elective hour credit), but you may take CRW 540 on its own.

Jorge Luis Borges once said: "poetry is expressed in words, but words are not the substance of poetry…The substance of poetry-if I may use a metaphor-is emotion." In this poetry workshop we will focus on the ever-evolving process of our writing and address the emotional nature of our poems. How do we write a poem that deeply engages the reader? We will also discuss different ways of analyzing a poem and how to listen with an open mind and heart to a critique of your own work. In addition, we will focus on the process of revision and discuss the many approaches and ways to revise a poem. Is it possible for instance, to approach a revision the way one would a translation? How do you transform a poem without destroying its urgency and original spirit? How do you arrive at a poem in its ultimate and inevitable form? Everyone is required to submit a raw and freshly written poem every, or every other week. The aim of this class is also for us to learn to become comfortable bringing in poems that are still rough without making excuses for them.

Though it is essentially a craft-oriented workshop wherein poets will critique and encourage each other's work, there will also be time to 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.

Writing Historical Fiction. Students will write and turn in for workshop two short stories rooted in historical fiction. We will read and discuss works by Anthony Doerr, Laura Esquivel, John Boyne, Michael Ondaatje, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Nina de Gramont. In addition to considering fundamental craft elements such as plot, narrative arc, and character, guest speakers and in-class conversations will cover topics such as the ethics of historical accuracy, (if) and how to write period-appropriate dialogue, and the challenges of writing about a time period different from one’s own. Besides writing and workshopping short stories, students will also create and present a 3-5 page plan outlining their goals and process for researching their chosen historical period.

In this class, students will work on craft through close reading of each other’s fiction in a workshop format.  Students will write two new and original pieces for workshop and revise one of these pieces substantially.  Reading assignments will be based on issues that arise during workshops.  

In this course we will be brainstorming, outlining, writing, revising, dreaming and beginning production on a long-form project, which could be a novel, a book of connected short stories, a memoir, a narrative set of poems, or a screenplay.
Writers will all be at different locations along the timeline from conception to completion so the class will contemplate how to best live in all these stages, how to power through a book but also how to settle in it and enjoy it and let it become its own, original self. 
Texts include: “Get Out”—the screenplay by Jordan Peele, Sophie’s Choice—the novel by William Styron, and Refuse to Be Done—a book on craft by Matt Bell. 

Novels about Writers
. In this course we will read novels that do what everyone tells us we shouldn’t: use a writer as a central, perspective character. Among other issues of craft and construction we’ll discuss how each author manages to overcome this oft heard warning. Authors will include Jason Mott, Meg Worlitzer, Peter Cameron, and Mona Awad.  In addition to reading, students will perform writing exercises and discuss the development of potential long form projects. 

This workshop will focus on fact-based writing, including personal narrative, reportorial essay, and writing that combines both approaches. The primary text will be student manuscripts, which may be stand-alone short pieces or chapters from a long work. We will explore structure, tone, narrative stance, sequencing, and the art of both doing research and incorporating it artfully into the writing. We will look at exemplars of the genre, as well as craft essays. Students will write original works and critique those works in the context of discussion of the craft of creative nonfiction writing. Each student will write thoughtful critiques of each other's work. Creative Nonfiction is an inclusive genre. Students may submit reportage, memoir, biography, personal essay, or a variety of other forms; the significant criterion is artistic excellence. In reading and critiquing, we will explore the particular requirements of certain forms, including but not limited to the personal point of view, the more effaced or “objective” point of view, structure, character development, subtext, and ethics. The aim of the workshop is not to edit any particular manuscript into a polished form but rather to understand significant truths about the principles of writing in the genre, which can then be applied to every future piece of writing. We’ll be looking for strong, vivid, compelling, fluent narratives that matter to the reader.

The Braided Essay. In this class we will focus on creating braided and lyric essays. These will be essays with multiple threads, or braids, that play off each other, cutting back and forth. We will also study examples of essays in this form by writers like Eula Biss and Annie Dillard, attempting to emulate them.
We will begin with the simplest form of this essay with two threads: one about yourself and one about the world. For the latter thread you will be expected to read, research, and/or conduct interviews to expand the essay beyond the self.  By the end of the class we will attempt to create an essay that adds a third element, weaving three independent themes/narratives into a whole.

[Please write the instructor for permission to enroll.] A select group of graduate students supports the work of the department’s award-winning publishing imprint, Lookout Books ( This practical course functions primarily as a hands-on internship at an independent press and provides experience in everything from evaluating manuscripts to fact checking, from designing book interiors and pitching cover concepts to developing marketing plans in support of the imprint’s forthcoming titles. In fall 2022, we will launch Bigger Than Bravery: Black Resilience and Reclamation in a Time of Pandemic, edited by Valerie Boyd. 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, Graywolf, W. W. Norton, Hub City Press, Orion, and Southern Humanities Review, 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. MFA students may repeat for credit without limit.] 

This course aims to arm students with the creativity, persistence, and resilience that any serious career in the arts demands. Through readings, writing exercises, action plans, lectures, and discussions, students will learn to prioritize their own mental health as vital to their writing lives. Throughout the course, students will learn to better express themselves verbally and in writing, all with a focus on fostering creative capacities, as well as skills, abilities, and perspectives vital for creative writers while building and maintaining healthy and productive creative practices. Students will also gain a broader understanding and appreciation for writing and literature while learning to critically evaluate diverse ideas, arguments, and perspectives, particularly those in relation to disability, neurodiversity, and intersectionality.

This is an exploration of major contemporary works in hybrid genres. Our reading list will likely feature Claudia Rankine, Maggie Nelson, Carmen Machado, Melissa Febos, and Leslie Jamison, and/or other major practitioners. Each book we read and discuss will gather elements from several traditional literary genres to create something exciting and new. Course requirements will include weekly journal work; a presentation with a written “introduction” to one of the assigned books; writing exercises; and a new piece of hybrid work inspired by the readings, which will be workshopped in the final weeks of class.  

This one-credit (one elective hour) intensive course is designed to complement Writers Week 2022 (theme TBA!). We'll spend the weeks leading up to Writers Week meeting and planning events. A lot of the work will be practical but hopefully also visionary and strategic. We will also be reading the work of the writers who will be coming. You are encouraged to concurrently take CRW 540-001 (one writing hour credit), but you may take CRW 580-800 on its own. Please note that this course is not truly an online experience; it is listed as online to avoid registration conflicts.



MFA Course Descriptions Archive