Creative Writing

MFA Course Descriptions

  • Note: for updated day & time information, and for delivery mode, please go to SeaNet and "Search for Courses" (select <Creative Writing> and for Course Level, <Graduate>).
  • SeaNet provides the instructors' names and email addresses for searched courses.
  • You may also visit for graduate-catalogue course descriptions (choose current catalogue year from drop-down, then see link in left column for course descriptions).

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


Spring 2023

This advanced course will provide an in-depth, practical exploration of the many stages of the editorial process. We will focus on editing for literary writing as we gain an understanding of the process from submission to publication. Lecture topics will include the acquisitions process,  editorial philosophy and aesthetics, and best practices for productive editorial communication. Students will gain practical knowledge of the art and craft of developmental editing for narrative, argument, character, voice, and plot; editing for style and substantive editing at the line level; copyediting; fact checking; and proofreading. Students will also learn proper application of style guide rules (the course text is The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed.) and how to create and use their own style sheets. 

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.

CRW 524-001 (1cr), -002 (2cr), and -003 (3cr): LITERARY MAGAZINE Chautauqua, GERARD J
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 leaders to set the agenda for work modules 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.  MFA students may repeat for credit without limit.  

Every work of fiction, one could argue, is a unique expression of its writer's singular imagination. But even the most complex literary works tend to have at least one basic thing in common—pages of text formatted into the familiar chapters and paragraphs we've come to expect in a book. Every now and then though, a book comes along that’s unlike any other. A novel so unique in form or approach, that it defies norms and conventions and stretches the boundaries of genre. In this advanced special topics course, we will examine several alternative literary texts (see: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski) and explore the question "What is experimental literature?" Are alternatively formatted books extraordinary works of literature? Works of art? Both? Are they gimmicks intended to entice literary consumers? Does an experimental structure obscure a book's plot or enhance it? Students will analyze works of fiction that use packaging, text formatting, or narrative convention in unusual ways and consider their paths to publication and critical reception. As a final project, students will create their own experimental text (no art experience required).

CRW 525-002 (1): SPECIAL TOPICS IN PUBLISHING: EDITING FICTION, FOR WRITERS AND EDITORS, with Visiting Publishing Professional Megha Majumdar
Fridays 1:00pm to 3:45pm. 3/17/23 and 3/24/23 in person and 3/31/23 and 4/14/23 virtually.
In this 4-session class, we will learn how to revise fiction—both your own and that written by others. How do we go from first draft to a publication-ready manuscript? With attention to an editor's toolkit, we will workshop students' fiction (within the limits set by the duration of this class) and discuss aspects including plot, character development, emotional movement, pacing, clarity, stakes, and the heart of a story. In addition to craft, we will also learn about acquisitions and the responsibilities of an editorial position in book publishing, which are far more encompassing than only engagement with text. At the end of this class, participants will have a set of tools with which to approach revisions and move a work of fiction closer to fulfilling its own ambitions, as well as a fuller understanding of editorial work in the real world. 

CRW 526-001 (2cr) & -002 (3cr): ADVANCED LITERARY MAGAZINE Ecotone, PHILLIPS BELL A
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 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. 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. MFA students may repeat for credit without limit.
In spring 2023, applications will be accepted for two to three section-editor positions, coursework for which will begin in fall 2023. Students interested in applying must have taken the three-credit practicum course (currently CRW524-002) in a prior fall semester. 

How does a writer take a set of dry, often complicated facts, and incorporate them into a creative work without weighing down the lyric or storyline in a way that feels like an information dump or simply showing off esoteric knowledge? Addressing this question will be our primary focus: we’ll consider methods, examine published models, and critique original student work in any genre with a special eye toward how the writer manages to create story, drama, suspense, and lyrical precision using the facts of the world. We will not be expecting polished masterpieces of new writing but rather new work that dares to rely on targeted research to achieve its aims.

It’s been happening since Homer. We often produce our most inspired, exciting, and most personal writing 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, music, almost any art form that invites creative response. We’ll read and discuss notable examples, take advantage of area museums and galleries for class visits, and will write both in-class and on-site. We'll tend to spend time looking at slides of work from artists like Hilma af Klint or Rodin or Kahlo. Your final project will be a sequence, in any genre, focusing on the work of a single artist. Grade will be based 75% on a final portfolio of new writing in response to art, and 25% on participation. 

The Poetic Line. A survey of the poetic line, focusing on free verse prosody against a background of traditional metrical prosody and aesthetics.  We will read a variety of poets, new and old. Designed to help writers sharpen their sense of historical development and critical terminology, the course will aid students in preparing for the MFA examination.  Format:  seminar, formal experimentation, critical reading and discussion, presentations.

Among planned activities: discussions and workshops (traditional and non-traditional) of our stories, scenes, novel chapters; discussions of literary theory and of cultural and ethical considerations in writing fiction; discussions of technique in fiction; discussions and readings of favorite passages and authors; performance of short scripts adapted from our fiction; possibly, a class trip to examine literary manuscripts, drafts, and editorial work in the archives at UNC-CH. At the outset of this course (and perhaps all along the way) we will propose alternatives to the traditional workshop.

The purpose of this class is to demystify the reality of writing and being a writer, while also functioning as a traditional workshop environment. Class time will be split between traditional workshop format and, more importantly, lecture and open discussion surrounding various writing topics such as writing philosophy, the three act structure, the revision process, query letters and agents, the writing life after the MFA, and more. Bring questions, a willingness to respectfully discuss things with classmates, and snacks. Lots of snacks.

Hishing in the Riffle: A Seminar on Language
Language: it’s our medium, the essential building block of everything we do as writers, but how often do we stop to actually consider it, not in terms of pretty metaphors and vivid descriptions, but in terms of these black marks we make on the page, which we all have agreed stand in for sounds that in turn stand in for objects and concepts. We, as English speakers, all know that the marks that form the letters “w i n d” stand for a sound that we all recognize as the word ‘wind.’ But how does that represent the real current of air, the way it feels, the way it moves? Language is strange and sometimes arbitrary and in this seminar we will ponder the early formation of the written word, the way that literacy affects the human brain, possibilities for decolonizing our writing and breaking all the rules. We will look at and emulate examples of the flexibility of language; the way that writers like Ann Pancake invent words (“The river is still up, hishing in the riffle.”), or other writers invent constraints to force their brains to see things in a new way (what happens if, like the French experimentalist group Oulipo, you decide to write without the letter ‘e’ or rewrite the same scene 99 times in 99 different ways?).

In this course we will study the art of memoir. How do writers turn their memories into art? How do they write about the self without self-absorption? We will alternate between reading full memoirs and shorter memoiristic essays. And we will try our hand at writing in the genre we are reading through a series of exercises.  

This course builds on the foundation laid by Long Form Narrative I. We will be brainstorming, outlining, writing, and revising 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-- the blank page, the generation of ideas, the outline and the arc, the beginnings of scene and event, and then the full busy growth of those scenes into a book that has a life beyond the writer’s initial hopes for it. 

In her extraordinary TED Talk, What Fear Can Teach Us, Karen Walker, the author of The Age of Miracles, says that when you are a child, the link between fear and imagination is easy to see (and experience). As you grow older, you leave most of your fears behind. And yet some of the most creative minds in literature (and art in general) have lived with “strange” fears and channeled that to create incredible work. Walker encourages us to think of our fears as stories, because fears have characters, plots, suspense, and strong imagery, and because they make us grapple with the question, what happens next. This will be our primary goal this semester: to channel our fears into stories, to see them as “gifts” and not burdens. In this rigorous course, students will read books/ excerpts from a variety of subgenres that fall under the broad category of “horror”, discuss their elements of Craft, and write essays of their own. 

[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, 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. It also fulfills the capstone requirement to complete the MFA Certificate in Publishing. MFA students may repeat for credit without limit.]

Bring in your best work! We’ll work on giving your stories, essays, poems, query letters, and proposals a final polish. Students will work independently, in groups, and as a class to research and submit to literary magazines. We’ll also research agents for students who want to query for longform projects.

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.
We will also take part in virtual translation collaborations with students at the University of Rennes 2 in Rennes, France along with a few classes that will be virtually co-taught with University of Rennes 2 Professor, Claudia Desblaches. Finally, there will be an optional Spring Break, Study Abroad trip to Rennes, France to pursue in person translation collaborations.
For this class, knowledge of a second language is welcome but not necessary.



MFA Course Descriptions Archive