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M.F.A. Alumni Accomplishments

Your Success Story Is Waiting. The Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Vanderbilt is a graduate degree program, combining the workshop/studio study of creative writing with the study of literature, with a particular emphasis on contemporary examples. Students specialize in either prose fiction or poetry. The M.F.A. curriculum is devoted to the development of creative writing skills and expertise, and to immersing the writing student in the lively culture of contemporary literature and letters. A portion of the curriculum is also devoted to the study of canonical literature and creative writers of earlier eras. The Association of Writers and Writing Programs has established professional standards for M.F.A. programs and supports the M.F.A. as the appropriate graduate degree for teaching creative writing at the university level.

M.F.A. Alumni Stories


Edgar Kunz is the author of two poetry collections: Fixer, published by Ecco in 2023 and named a New York Times Editors’ Choice book, and Tap Out, published by Ecco in 2019. He has been a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, a MacDowell Fellow, and a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. Recent poems appear in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry, APR, and Oxford American. He lives in Baltimore and teaches at Goucher College.


anders carlson-wee ’15 (POETRY)

Anders Carlson-Wee is the author of Disease of Kings, out now from W.W. Norton. He is also the author of The Low Passions (W.W. Norton, 2019), a New York Public Library Book Group Selection, and Dynamite (Bull City Press, 2015), winner of the Frost Place Chapbook Prize. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, The Washington Post, Harvard Review, BuzzFeed, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Sun, The Southern Review, and many other publications. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Poets & Writers, the Camargo Foundation, Bread Loaf, Sewanee, and the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, he is the winner of the Poetry International Prize.

Destiny O. Birdsong ’09 (Poetry)

Destiny BirdsongIn October 2020, Destiny O. Birdsong will release her first book of poetry, Negotiations (Tin House, 2020), a collection described as “a series of love letters to black women who are often singled out for abuse and assault, silencing and tokenism, fetishization and cultural appropriation in ways that throw the rock, then hide the hand.” An award-winning poet, fiction writer, and essayist, Destiny has just sold her first novel “Dream Girls” at auction to Grand Central Publishing.


Cara Dees ’14 (Poetry)

Cara DeesCara Dees’s debut poetry collection, Exorcism Lessons in the Heartland (Barrow Street, 2019), was selected for the 2018 Barrow Street Book Prize by Ada Limón, who describes the book in this way: “Navigating a landscape of loss with language that is both lyrically charged and freshly brutal, Cara Dees has given us a first book that is unexpected and burning with life.”  Cara is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Cincinnati.


Tiana Clark ’17 (Poetry)

Tiana ClarkRecent winner of the 2020 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, Tiana Clark is the author of two collections of poetry: I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018), winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize, and Equilibrium (Bull City Press, 2016).  Tiana, who has published poems in The New Yorker, The Kenyon Review, American Poetry Review and elsewhere, continues creating poetry while teaching creative writing.


rita bullwinkel (Fiction)

Rita Bullwinkel is the author of Headshot (2024), which was reviewed by The New York Times and on National Public Radio. It was also featured as NPR’s Book of the Day with Scott Simon. Her debut novel Belly Up (2016) garnered a 2022 Whiting Award. Bullwinkel’s writing has been published in Tin House, the White ReviewZYZZYVAConjunctionsBOMBViceNOON, and Guernica. She is a recipient of grants and fellowships from MacDowell, Brown University, Vanderbilt University, Hawthornden Castle and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation. Currently, Bullwinkel is an Editor at Large for McSweeney’s, the Deputy Editor of The Believer, a Contributing Editor for NOON, and the creator of Oral Florist. She is also an Assistant Professor of English at University of San Francisco.

  • New York Times Review (February 26, 2024):
    • Rita Bullwinkel’s Headshot Reviewed in The New York Times and on National Public Radio:
    • “The impact of this novel…lasts a long time, like a sharp fist to your shoulder. It is so enveloping to read that you feel, at times, that you are writing it in your own mind. It contains no bogus psychologizing.”

Simon Han ’15 (Fiction)

Simon HanIn November 2020, Simon Han released Nights When Nothing Happened, (Riverhead, 2020) the first novel that navigates cultural collisions in the shadows of public violence and consists of “gripping storytelling immersed in the crosscurrents that have reshaped the American landscape, from a prodigious new literary talent.” Recipient of awards from the MacDowell Colony, the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers’ Conferences and the Tulsa Artist Fellowship, Simon currently resides in Carrollton, Texas.



claire jiménez ’14 (Fiction)

Claire Jiménez is a Puerto Rican writer who grew up in Brooklyn and Staten Island, New York. She is the author of the short story collection Staten Island Stories (Johns Hopkins Press, 2019) and What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez (Grand Central, 2023). She received her PhD in English with specializations in Ethnic Studies and Digital Humanities from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. In 2019, she co-founded the Puerto Rican Literature Project, a digital archive documenting the lives and work of hundreds of Puerto Rican writers from over the last century. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of South Carolina.

  • In April 2024, Jiménez’s novel What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez (Grand Central) was selected as the winner of the 2024 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
    • This year’s finalists included Jamel Brinkley’s Witness, Henry Hoke’s Open Throat, Alice McDermott’s Absolution, and Colin Winnette’s Users
    • The judges—Xochitl Gonzalez, Alan Michael Parker, and Lynn Steger Strong—considered 445 eligible novels and short story collections by American authors published in the US during the 2023 calendar year. Submissions came from 183 publishing houses, including independent and academic presses.
      • Source: Publisher’s Weekly

Lee Conell ’15 (Fiction)

Lee ConnellLee Conell is the author of The Party Upstairs (Penguin Press, 2020), a critically acclaimed novel that “creates a vivacious microcosm of life inside a tony Manhattan co-op building,” and the short story collection Subcortical, which was awarded The Story Prize Spotlight Award. Recipient of a 2020 Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and the N.E.A. Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission, Lee is currently living in New York City, where she is at work on a new novel.

Matthew Baker ’12 (Fiction)

Matthew BakerMatthew Baker recently released his third book of fiction, Why Visit America (Henry Holt & Co., 2020), a collection of thirteen “brilliantly illuminating, incisive, and heartbreaking” narratives featuring a community that secedes from the U.S. Founding editor of the Nashville Review, Matt has sold several stories to media companies including Amazon Studios, Netflix, and FX and now lives and writes in New York City.