Skip to main content
Students in classroom

M.F.A. Degree Requirements

Requirements for the M.F.A. in Creative Writing

The M.F.A. at Vanderbilt is a three-year program requiring four semesters of graduate work in writing workshops and seminars, the completion of a creative thesis in the student’s primary genre, and a successful oral defense of the thesis. 

  • Each student must complete 48 hours of graduate coursework, including one workshop and two seminars during each of the first four semesters. Students must take ENGL 7460 for their genre during both the first and second years. Two sections are offered annually by M.F.A. faculty members, one in poetry and one in fiction. The remainder of each semester’s coursework will be composed of electives.
  • During the spring semester of their second year, students work intensively on a creative thesis. The thesis is a substantial piece of creative writing: a novel, a collection of short stories, or a collection of poems.
  • During their third year, students work to refine their theses and deepen their writing along a more independent course of study.
  • Students also fulfill part-time responsibilities within the department, such as teaching, tutoring, or other creative writing-related activities.

M.F.A. Courses

2020-2021 Course Offerings

ENGL 5290.01 Special Topics in Creative Writing: Autobiography and Personal Memoir

Kate Daniels - Online Synchronous

R 3:10 - 6:00 PM

In this advanced workshop, we will explore the literary genre of autobiography.  Our particular focus will be on contemporary examples.  Readings include personal memoir, graphic narrative, hybrid nonfiction, and poetry.   Over the course of the semester, students will write their own extended autobiographical essay, working in stages and doing numerous process exercises.  Requirements: attendance, discussion, written responses to assigned books and writing exercises, two oral presentations, one short essay focused on one of the assigned books, and a final personal autobiography of 15 pages in length.  Reading list:  Fun Home, Alison Bechdel;  A Glass of Water Beneath My Bed, Daisy Hernandez;  Jane: A Memoir, Maggie Nelson; Tap Out, Edgar Kunzand The Beautiful Struggle, Ta-Nehisi Coates.  NOTE:  Potential students must be approved for admission. Register for the class, and wait to be contacted by the professor. [3] (HCA)


ENGL 5290.02 Special Topics in Creative Writing: The Craft of Ekphrasis

Didi Jackson - In Person

T 3:10 - 6:00 PM

The Romantic poet William Blake said that poetry and art are ways to converse with paradise. So, it is no wonder that these two forms intersect and feed off of one another in his work and in the poetry of so many others. Poetry and the visual arts have been wedded since the ancient Greeks, and luckily the tradition of poems engaging in some sort of dialogue with visual works of art (be it paintings, sculpture, media installations, etc.) is still alive and well today in the works of such poets at Natasha Trethewey, Diane Seuss, Yusef Komunyakaa, Kevin Young, David Wojahn, Jorie Graham, Sylvia Plath, Robin Coste Lewis, and many others. In this course we will study a thematic array of ekphrastic poems based on several diverse ways to approach and engage with the visual arts. Once students immerse themselves in this poetic style, they then will apply these techniques to their own poetry. [3] (HCA)


ENGL 5290.03 Special Topics in Creative Writing: MFA Pedagogy

Lorraine Lopez - Online Synchronous/Asynchronous

M 12:10 - 3:00 PM

This pedagogy seminar (required for first-year MFA students) explores approaches to teaching creative writing and considers how the acquisition of knowledge and skills transpires, investigating best practices to create conditions for learning to occur.  As such, the seminar covers practical matters that include planning courses, designing syllabi, fostering creative production, developing community in the classroom, generating productive discussions, and confronting challenging and complex circumstances, as well as balancing the demands of teaching without neglecting commitments to art and life.  Additionally, the course provides an overview and cache of learning resources through evaluation of texts on craft, generative writing exercises, and productive classroom activities.  Finally, as a conversational working group, the seminar will host various seasoned educators in the creative arts to share their experiences and techniques. [3] (HCA)


ENGL 7430: Graduate Fiction Workshop

Tony Earley - Online Synchronous

W 12:10 - 3:00 PM

Start with this supposition: the answer to every question in fiction is a craft answer. How do we assemble worlds out of component parts? How do stories function on a cellular level? How do we make people out of atoms? We’ll take stories apart and put them back together. We’ll see if our work answers the questions it asks. We’ll read and write. May be repeated for credit. [4]


ENGL 7440 Graduate Poetry Workshop

Major Jackson - Online Synchronous

T 12:10 - 3:00 PM

Much of our task in this demanding yet rewarding poetry workshop is the discovery of a set of values, themes, and approaches to writing poems that is distinctive and unique to each student in the course. Rather than a search for absolutes, we will read widely across literary periods and schools, experiment with forms, and incorporate research methods as a means of expanding the imaginative possibilities of language to construct a lyric self and serve as a force of humanistic inquiry. In classroom discussions, we are likely to touch upon the political, personal, and social valences of poetry as much as the usual realms of poetic technique: prosody, imagery, diction, figurative language, rhythmic patterning, and other acts of invention that help establish voice and style. While writing prompts and directed readings will drive much of our work, ultimately this course aims to help students hear their obsessions and delve further into the spirit of a curious and passionate mind. [May be repeated for credit with the program director's approval] [4]


ENGL 7430: Graduate Fiction Workshop

Lorraine Lopez

M 3:10 - 6:00 PM

In this workshop, we will focus on composing effective works of fiction by encouraging writers to explore possibilities, in addition to reading published narratives and essays on craft. Participants will produce creative and critical writing and present original fiction for workshop critique. This workshop undertakes complex and advanced analysis of elements of craft such as imagery, subtext, metaphor, and style, presuming all are already familiar with rudimentary techniques related to the development of characters, the balance of scene to summary, and narrative structure. Over the course of the semester, students will draft three short stories to present for workshop critique.  In addition to this, workshop members will present recently published short-stories that inform, influence, or speak to their own aesthetic choices.


ENGL 7440: Graduate Poetry Workshop

Kate Daniels

T 12:10 - 3:00 PM


ENGL 7460.01: Literature and the Craft of Writing (Fiction): Space for Conversation?  Literary Documentary, Collage, and Questions in the Narrative Mix

Nancy Reisman

W 12:10 - 3:00 PM

I think of this course as its own conversation, about narrative form, authority and power, art and politics, the legacies of Modernism in both visual and literary work, the degree to which fiction – novels in particular – may be transparent (or not) about their own subjectivity.  In what ways might different texts create or occlude space for different readers?  To what degree might questioning be integral to the form itself?  (At the other end of the spectrum:  when does authoritative lean into authoritarian, or propaganda begin and end?)  The late German writer W.G. Sebald told the writer and critic James Woods, “I think that fiction writing which does not acknowledge the uncertainty of the narrator himself is a form of imposture and which I find very, very difficult to take.”

In this semester-long conversation, we’ll read some of Sebald, and several other works that employ assemblage, documentary, and other strategies that highlight power dynamics, raise internal questions, and/or focus the intersection of politics and art. We’ll also consider visual art (assemblage/collage and Cubism) and look at the varying effects of visual and literary modes. Among our course readings: Work by John Dos Passos, Chris Bachelder’s U.S.!, Susan Choi Trust Exercise, Marguerite Duras The Lover, Tim O’Brien Lake of the Woods, Jenny Offill, Weather, Toni Morrison Jazz,  Manuel Puig Kiss of the Spiderwoman, W.G. Sebald The Emigrants, Charles Simic Dimestore Alchemy.*

*I am still considering some other works and may tweak/alter the list between now and August


ENGL 7460.02: Literature and the Craft of Writing (Poetry)

Kate Daniels

W 3:10 - 6:00 PM





Lorrie Moore teaching a workshop
Award-winning fiction author Lorrie Moore, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of English, teaches an M.F.A. writing workshop.


General Course Information

See below for general information about M.F.A. courses, including timing for specific courses and common topics for seminars.

Advanced instruction in creative writing in emerging modes and hybrid genres. 

Previous Topics:

  • Teaching Creative Writing 
  • Creative Writing in Community
  • S2021: Autobiography and Personal Memoir (Kate Daniels)
  • S2021: The Craft of Ekphrasis (Didi Jackson)
  • S2021: MFA Pedagogy (Lorraine Lopez)

May be repeated for credit with the program director's approval.

May be repeated for credit with the program director's approval.

Only offered in Spring semester. May be repeated for credit with the program director's approval.

Two sections are offered annually by MFA faculty members, one in poetry and one in fiction. Students must take ENGL 7460 (for their genre) during both the first and second years.

Previous Topics:

  • F2020:Space for Conversation? Literary Documentary, Collage, and Questions in the Narrative Mix (Nancy Reisman)

Advanced instruction in creative writing, including new and emerging genres, special topic/author studies, professional aspects of creative writing, and interdisciplinary approaches to creative writing. May be repeated. [4]

Graduate level instruction in the pedagogy of creative writing. Not open to students who have earned credit for 5290 section 01 offered spring 2019 or spring 2020. [4]

Instruction with faculty adviser for MFA students teaching undergraduate courses.