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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 the first year. Two sections are offered annually by MFA faculty members, one in poetry and one in fiction. Students may take 7460 an additional time and in the other genre. Students must take ENGL 7997: Teaching Creative Writing during the spring semester of the first year.  The remainder of the coursework each semester will be composed of electives.
  • During their third 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.
  • Students also fulfill part-time responsibilities within the department, such as teaching, tutoring, or other creative writing-related activities.

M.F.A. Courses

2021-2022 Course Offerings

ENGL 7430.01: Graduate Fiction Workshop

Lydia Conklin

T 3:35 - 6:35 PM

This course takes up the study of fiction writing at the graduate level. Each student will workshop three stories, the third being an optional exercise or a third complete story. Students will engage in workshop in an open, safe environment, critiquing elements of craft, theme, and content at a high level. We will engage in in-depth readings of published works that reflect the interests of the cohort. [4]

 

ENGL 7440.01: Graduate Poetry Workshop

Didi Jackson

T 3:35 - 6:35 PM

The aim of this workshop is to encourage a regular writing routine by crafting and workshopping a new poem each week for class. Writing prompts will be given and emphasis will be placed on each student’s independent approach to these prompts. Students will keep in mind themes and methods that already infuse their poems yet will be granted as much freedom as possible to explore ways in which to improve their writing. Strengths and weaknesses of each poem will be identified. There will be an emphasis and attention paid to voice, diction, figuration, sound, imagery, and structure. Readings used for discussion in class will come from various literary periods of both early and contemporary poets. This will encourage ways of expanding various influences on student work and will enforce an understanding of the means and techniques of previous generations of poets. By the end of the course, students will have a collection of at least ten new and revised poems, a poetic statement, and a small anthology of poets/poems of influence. [4]

 

ENGL 7460.01: Literature and the Craft of Writing: Groundbreaking Modern & Contemporary American Books of Poetry-(Mostly) First Books

Rick Hilles

M 12:20 - 3:30 PM

This graduate seminar is designed for all MFA students putting together a first book; to this end, we will focus on seminal groundbreaking Modern and Contemporary American books of poetry (many of them first books), including: the 1855 Edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass; William Carlos Williams’ Spring & All; Frost’s North of Boston; Langston Hughes’ The Weary Blues; Robert Lowell’s Life Studies; Elizabeth Bishop’s North & South; Gwendolyn Brooks’ Annie Allen; Robert Hayden’s A Ballad of Remembrance; Anne Carson’s Glass, Irony, and God; Nathalie Diaz’s Post-Colonial Love Poem; Destiny O. Birdsong’s Negotiations. Grading will be based on class participation and writing seven 2-3 page reader responses; a seminar presentation; and a final writing project. Subject to change. [4]

 

ENGL 7460.02: Literature and the Craft of Writing: Space for Conversation? Questions in Novel Form, Quetions in the Narrative Mix

Nancy Reisman

W 12:20 - 3:30 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 is questioning integral to the form itself?  (At the other end of the spectrum:  where might authority slide toward authoritarianism? Where/how does cultural assumption become propaganda?)  What kind of relationships (or contradictions) might we find between the ways writers tell stories and democracy?  And what about the limits, trade-offs, or unexpected effects of particular innovations? 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 20th century and early 21st century works that employ assemblage, documentary, and other strategies, and that highlight power dynamics, raise internal questions, and/or focus the intersection of politics and art. Our reading list will include work by Toni Morrison, Manuel Puig, Chris Bachelder, Susan Choi, Rachel Cusk, and others. Writing for the course will include weekly discussion forum posts, occasional brief response papers, and a final writing project (analytical or creative with an analytical component). [4]

ENGL 5290 Special Topics in Creative Writing

Major Jackson

R 12:20 - 3:20 PM

In this course, we will survey the rich and varied poetic movements and schools of the 20th century as an inheritance of Modernism, whose emergence led to the diversity of styles currently practiced today. We will examine the manifestoes, personages, and pioneering poems with the intent of contextualizing the sociopolitical and aesthetic ferment that gave rise to such rich flourishing. From Black Mountain School to Undocupoets, from New York School to Dark Noise Collective, we will situate American poetics within a history of experimentation by assessing the innovations and debates that surround its growth as a vibrant artistic practice and instigative cultural phenomenon. Our primary texts will include correspondences, documentaries, podcasts, and live readings. The course is reading intensive and will require students to exercise critical and close-reading skills as a means of mapping the nation’s literary inheritances. Our journey will inevitably teach us something about creative expression and the role of the imagination in the development of a national identity and individual consciousness. [3] (HCA)

 

ENGL 7430 Graduate Fiction Workshop

Lorrie Moore

T 12:20 - 3:20 PM

Writing narrative fiction. A workshop for the graduate students in the MFA program. [May be repeated for credit.] [4]

 

ENGL 7440 Graduate Poetry Workshop

Rick Hilles

T 12:20 - 3:20 PM 

The primary focus of this intensive graduate workshop in poetry writing will be your poems in progress; we will also read and discuss various volumes of poetry, contemporary and otherwise. All workshop members will be expected to: be fully prepared for each class; contribute significantly to class discussions; prepare in advance substantial and substantive written comments on your peers’ work in progress; attend regular conferences with the workshop leader; and, by the end of the semester, produce of a significant body of new work. Additional texts include recent poetry collections by Shane McCrae, Kate Daniels, Lisa Russ Spaar, Mark Jarman, Cara Dees, and Vievee Francis who will be presenting their work this semester as part of VU’s Visiting Writers Series. Subject to change. [May be repeated for credit with the program director's approval] [4]

 

ENGL 7450 Graduate Nonfiction Workshop

Margaret Renkl

M 3:35 - 6:35 PM

[May be repeated for credit with the program director's approval] [4]

 

ENGL 7997 Teaching Creative Writing 

Nancy Reisman

W 12:20 - 3:20 PM

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]

ENGL 7430.01 Graduate Fiction Workshop

Nancy Reisman

Monday 3:10 - 6:00 PM

I see the MFA workshop as a vital space for you to further develop your art, investigate new directions and material, take new risks, and refine your aesthetics.  We’ll consider the slippery and changing shapes of fiction, questions of architecture, narration and points of perception, time and space, distance/ proximity/intimacy, overall progressions and/or narrative patterns, the role of place, representations of consciousness, the music of prose, etc.  How do you -- or might you -- conceptualize “story”? What falls within the purview of what you call fiction? Which conventions are you most interested in exploring, reinventing, or abandoning in search of alternatives? We’ll consider published short prose fiction and novel structures, and how those respective writers approach their forms. To that end, among our readings I’ll include two or three novels. The core of the workshop is, of course, your original fiction and the thoughtful, engaged discussion of your work.  My aim is for the MFA workshop to be a collaborative community, a place of serious artistic engagement, serious artistic play, and mutual support as each writer works toward their own personal best.  At the beginning of the semester, we’ll discuss/tailor approaches for the group.

In advance of the workshop, I will be in touch with workshop writers about their current and emerging interests, and base some of the course readings on these responses. Because of the size of the workshop, we have the time and flexibility for each writer to submit work three times; that said, writers work at different paces, and I want to support risk-taking.  For two of the submissions, I ask writers to submit full-length stories, novel sections, or in some cases flash series. The one assigned piece for the workshop the short an individually designed “playground piece” for which I ask writers to take on a technique, craft element, approach, or subject they have not yet or not fully explored.  For the third workshop submission, writers may either submit their playground piece or a regular full-length submission.

 

ENGL 7440.01 Graduate Poetry Workshop

Major Jackson

Tuesday 3:10 - 6:00 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 7460.01: Literature and the Craft of Writing (Poetry)

Kate Daniels

Monday 12:10 - 3:00 PM

In this MFA seminar, we will read – closely – the complete poetry of Emily Dickinson.  We will also read one of the many biographies devoted to her life, along with various critical articles/literary essays, chosen to enhance our intense, poet-to-poet focus on this radical, groundbreaking body of work, so crucial to the birth of a distinctive American poetry.  Our goal will be to understand something about the startling emergence of one of the first original voices in American poetry (the other was her contemporary, Walt Whitman), and the experience of writing against the grain and in opposition to cultural contexts and literary expectations.  We will also examine selected technical aspects of her verse, and explore her influence on the poetry and poets who followed her, benefitting from a number of zoom visits from poets who will share with us a favorite ED poem, with comments about their choice. First and foremost, we will be reading Dickinson as poets, ourselves. 

Over the summer, you’ll be expected to read The Complete Poems of E., the R.W. Franklin edition, plus one of the biographies chosen from a list that will be distributed in May.  You may also enjoy having time to read in a leisurely manner Susan Howe’s extraordinary My Emily Dickinson, and Emily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings, Marta Werner and Jen Bervin, editors.  Along with the list of biographies, I’ll be distributing a lengthy list of optional readings that may be of interest.    

 

ENGL 7460.02: Literature and the Craft of Writing: Writing the Body

Lydia Peelle

Wednesday 12:10 - 3:00 PM

How can we authentically write the experience of occupying a human body? How do we create work that deconstructs imposed “norms” of physicality and sexuality? This class will be a broadly interdisciplinary investigation of these questions. Our readings will center Queer experiences by focusing on texts from the LGBTQIA+ community. We’ll look at fiction, poetry and memoir by such writers as Randa Jarrar, Jericho Brown, Tommy Pico, Carmen Maria Machado, Raven Leilani and Myriam Gurba, as well as the work of artists such as Catherine Opie, choreographers Deborah Hay and STREB, and performance artist Annie Sprinkle. First, we will use these body-centered texts and works to discuss craft and launch fresh, fun and joyful modes of generative writing. Second, we will seek to embody new practices, and play with innovative physical approaches to the very act of writing. In what unforeseen ways will our work deepen and expand when we step away from the screen and out of the chair? [May be repeated for credit with the program director's approval] [4]

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]

 

 

 

Lorrie Moore teaching a 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.