Creative Writing

MFA Course Descriptions

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Fall 2019

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.

For students interested in the basics, 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 chapbook of their own work, in a small edition. Students should gain from this course basic software skills, a heightened design aesthetic, an understanding of how books are produced, manuscript to bookshelf, and an overview of small press publishing. 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.

CRW 524-001 (1), -002 (2), and -003 (3) Ecotone LITERARY MAGAZINE, PHILLIPS BELL A L
[Permission of instructor required. Please write Anna Lena Phillips Bell for permission to register.]
CRW 524-003 (three credits) is a practical course in the publication of Ecotone, the award-winning national literary magazine of place. The coursework consists of reading submissions and working as part of an editorial team to help bring out an issue of the magazine. Each practicum member is responsible for reading and commenting on a number of manuscripts each week. Ecotone staff members will also fact-check work for upcoming issues, draft the run order for the spring issue, write front-matter copy, and proof the issue. Other work may include promotion planning and implementation as well as event planning. We will set aside time at least once during the semester to think about the process of sending out work to literary magazines. In addition, 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. Reviews may be published on the Ecotone–Lookout Books blog. Required texts: Subscriptions to two literary 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.
CRW 524-001 and -002 are reserved for Ecotone’s section editors. These editorships entail a separate, one-hour weekly meeting. Section editors manage digital and print submissions for a given genre—reading manuscripts, assigning work to readers, reviewing readers’ comments, recommending work for discussion by the team, leading discussions of work, and ensuring that submission responses are sent. Section editors also solicit work from new writers; work closely with the editor to learn the craft of drafting editorial correspondence and marking edits; contribute ideas for special features and issue themes; and help draft and implement promotion plans for the magazine. Required texts: Subscriptions to two literary magazines from approved list; Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition. MFA students may repeat for credit without limit. In spring 2020, applications will be accepted for the positions of fiction editor and managing editor. The latter position is a graduate assistantship open to students in their first year. Students interested in applying must have taken, or be currently enrolled in, the three-credit practicum course.

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 a developmental editing projects, assist and participate in design process, and act as team leaders, mentoring undergraduate students. In addition to the work required to build the next issue of Chautauqua, students will have the opportunity to work on marketing and sales projects. Students work in teams – with each group presenting regular updates on their projects and work.
Course may be repeated for credit. Variable credit (1 to 3 hours) possible for graduate students.

How is it that one book seems to be everywhere you look—reviewed in major newspapers, recommended by Oprah, nominated for awards, placed face-out on bookstore shelves, and styled beside a different frothy beverage every time you scroll Instagram—while another deserving book does not seem to have found its audience? Welcome to the ins and out of book marketing and promotion. In this publishing special-topic course, students will follow trade books in a variety of genres from their initial marketing plans through full publicity campaigns. We’ll discover where marketing and publicity fit into the life cycle of a book, how they differ and overlap, and how they influence a book’s overall success. Students will do market research and hone their writing skills toward developing artful book materials—from savvy marketing plans to compelling jacket copy, from tailored media kits to thoughtful reading guides. We’ll also consider how the marketing section of an author’s book proposal can help a prospective publisher better appreciate the book’s potential audience. Finally, we’ll learn approaches to securing and promoting author interviews, festival invitations, and bookstore events, as well as the art of the pitch. Many class assignments and activities will offer hands-on experience with titles published by award-winning in-house imprint, Lookout Books. Marketing and publicity guests from the big five and independent presses will join us by video.

This course is designed to introduce advanced writing students to the basic elements of screenwriting format, technique and narrative style. Students will structure a plot outline and write and revise the first act of a feature film script. All students will complete a series of exercises designed to develop various skills (character, structure, format, transitions, scenes, dialogue, etc.) and aid in the development of their script.

Songwriting can be a process of distilling themes, event, ideas, and emotions into coherent and memorable forms. It requires compression, focus, and resonance. Short phrases and key words must stand for whole pages of prose. Melody and rhythm infuse lyrics with a creative energy. 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. We’ll 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, including but not limited to the top-down method, the narrative method, the melodic method, and the shadow or scaffold method.


  • 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 intensive course was designed to complement Writers’ Week. Most of the work will be practical and focused on preparation for the week, which will consist of workshop sessions, panels, readings, and an individual manuscript conference with one of the seven visiting writers who will be in residence. BFA students will conference with MFA program students or alumni.  Students will meet to familiarize themselves with the work of our visiting writers and to learn the ins and outs of organizing the week.  As a group, we are responsible for keeping the week itself running smoothly. Class members will participate in the many facets of the week, from introducing the writers at readings to driving them around town. Students are expected to attend a total of 10 event-hours over the course of the symposium.

It’s been happening since Homer. We often produce our most inspired and most personal poetry when responding to great art, and getting outside of ourselves. Although ekphrastic writing is most often associated with painting, it can also involve photography, sculpture, architecture, film, almost any art work that invites poetic response. We’ll read and discuss examples, visit area museums and galleries, and write both in-class and on-site. Your final project will be a sequence focusing on the work of a single artist. Grade will be based 75% on a final portfolio of at least six new ekphrastic poems, and 25% on participation.

In this generative workshop, we’ll support each other in refining our intentions for our poetic practices, writing new poems, and revising with skill and energy. We’ll make and revise poems, including work in series, using in- and out-of-class prompts, constraints, and exercises. Class writing expeditions, which may include a ferry ride and a visit to the New Hanover County Landfill, will allow us to write in new environments, to find overlooked materials and new subjects, and to think about the terms under which we want to create—techniques, lines of inquiry and research. We will explore ways of listening to each other’s poems in workshop and of offering and incorporating productive feedback. We will read, discuss, and write about a selection of poems that embody the techniques and constraints we try; from these and other sources, each student will gather (or add to) a collection of favorite/exemplary poems. In short, we will delight in the stuff of which poetry is made—sounds, letters, words, phrases, sentences; paper, pen/pencil, pixel, voice, place, time—and in the process of making, and making better. Everyone will complete the course with a portfolio of at least eight revised poems, a catalog of additional drafts/beginnings, and a set of intentions for future work. 

A study of generating and revising poems that will offer students a variety of tools. Format:  seminar, extensive critical reading and discussion. Numerous presentations. Writing in class. Laptop required. 

A workshop focused on the reading and discussion of participants’ work. Equal emphasis will be placed on matters of craft and process.  MFA students may repeat for credit without limit.

This is a reading and discussion course (elective, not workshop), open to MFA students in all genres, in which we will explore narrative methods, decisions, effects, etc. in recently published creative nonfiction and some documentary films, thinking and talking about how we as writers might borrow various story-telling and narrative-constructing techniques in our own work, regardless of genre or sub-genre. Book list will include the following: Ayiti (Roxane Gay), Hunger (Roxane Gay), Inscriptions for Headstones (Matthew Vollmer), Truth & Beauty: A Friendship (Ann Patchett), Autobiography of a Face (Lucy Grealy), The Corpse Walker (Liao Yiwu), Edie: An American Girl (Jean Stein and George Plimpton), Being Mortal (Atul Gawande), Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Roz Chast), and 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write (Sarah Ruhl). Films will include Unzipped and short selections by director Errol Morris. Students will write occasional short creative exercises using the course texts as models, and one longer response essay at semester’s end.

First semester of two semester course and goal is to have draft of fiction or nonfiction book by end of second semester. Timelines and due pages will be designed on an individual basis, but expect something in the line of 20 – 30 pages a month. Among potential class and individual activities--in addition to workshopping chapters and scenes: 1) discussing your book’s plot, scenes, characters, and theme, 2) discussing literary theory, 3) discussing technique in fiction and nonfiction, 4) discussing readings (from among other books, Paris Review Interviews, Mystery and Manners, The Scope of Fiction), 5) dramatic reading of scenes, 6) story plan workshops.

Texts include: Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, The Old Forest, by Peter Taylor, plus short stories and essays to be distributed in class, as well as two screenplays we will read in class. There will be plenty of poetry. We'll be looking at various ways writers re-write the eternal narrative of the love story, either fulfilling or subverting expectations. 



[Prerequisite: CRW 523 and permission of instructor.] A select group of graduate students supports the work of the department’s award-winning literary imprint Lookout Books ( This practical course functions primarily as a robust, hands-on internship at an independent press and provides real-world experience in everything from evaluating manuscripts to copyediting and fact checking, from designing interiors and pitching cover concepts to developing creative marketing and publicity plans in support of the imprint’s forthcoming titles. The Lookout experience will prove valuable and rewarding for students interested in furthering their understanding of literary publishing, whether they want to enter the industry and learn about it toward their own aspirations as authors. Former students have gone on to careers in publishing at Ecco, Graywolf, Hub City Press, W. W. Norton, Orion magazine, and Southern Humanities Review, among others. [MFA students may repeat for credit without limit.]

While micro/flash prose has been around forever—think parables, jokes and fables—there is an urgency to it that’s well-suited to our current, impatient times. These pieces run short, typically up to 700 words, so, it’s crucial they have precise language, powerful imagery, compelling plot twists, and a fine balance of scene and reflection. The form allows real opportunities for experimentation with structure, style, and voice, while also allowing entry into subjects that might be hard to navigate via conventional storytelling methods. Flash prose must also fulfill the promises of a conventional essay—well-defined characters, clear point of view, narrative arc, resolution, etc. Despite their short length, or perhaps because of it, they are challenging but incredibly satisfying to write. In this course, students will read several books of flash nonfiction that will be matched by regular in-class writing exercises.



MFA Course Descriptions Archive