Founded in 2002, the Graduate Program in Creative Writing offers a two-year Master of Fine Arts Degree in the areas of fiction and poetry. Though small—we typically admit six new students each year—the MFA is just one part of a vibrant writing community including six post-graduate fellows, former fellows and alums, PhD candidates in contemporary literature, and a host of other artists and writers living and working in Madison. Our MFA is unique in that we have an “alternating genre” admissions policy: we accept fiction applications in the fall/early winter of odd-numbered years, and poetry applications in the fall/early winter of even-numbered years. This allows us to provide an almost unrivaled 2-to-1 student/teacher ratio that gives each class of students the full attention of the faculty in their genre for two solid years.
All of our MFA candidates receive generous financial aid, the opportunity to teach courses both in Creative Writing and English Composition, and a semester of teacher-training and support. Our MFAs also have the opportunity to take workshops in other genres, including fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, playwriting, and comics. While cross-genre writing certainly isn’t mandatory, many of our students report that taking workshops outside their primary area not only improves their writing in multiple genres, but also leads to even greater camaraderie among all the writers in the program.
Our MFAs have access to a truly multi-generational community of writers at every stage of their careers. MFAs interact frequently with our Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing fellows, who are some of the best recent MFA recipients in the country, and both the fellows and faculty are always on-hand to provide advice about publishing, teaching, and pursuing a career in writing.
To get some sense of the scope of the Madison writing community, and the diversity of nationally acclaimed poets and fiction writers who cycle regularly through town, we encourage you to take a look at our events and friends pages. Our MFAs have sat down for meals and conversation with visiting writers such as Michael Cunningham, Ayana Mathis, Eileen Myles, Mark Doty, Jonathan Franzen, Terrance Hayes, Adam Haslett, Alice Notley, Tommy Orange, Solmaz Sharif, Tiana Clark, and Claire Vaye Watkins, as well as regular visiting editors and agents on the lookout for the next generation of American literature. In Spring 2022 and Fall 2022, our program will host in-person manuscript consultations and readings by Lauren Groff and Jericho Brown.
MFA Alumni Spotlight: Lydia Conklin
Lydia Conklin graduated from the UW-Madison MFA Program in 2012, and is now the Helen Zell Visiting Professor in Fiction at the University of Michigan. They’ve received a Stegner Fellowship, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award, three Pushcart Prizes, a Creative Writing Fulbright in Poland, a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation, a Creative Writing Fellowship from Emory University, work-study and tuition scholarships from Bread Loaf, and fellowships from MacDowell, Yaddo, Hedgebrook, Djerassi, the James Merrill House, and elsewhere. Their fiction has appeared in Tin House, American Short Fiction, The Southern Review, and The Paris Review and is forthcoming in One Story and VQR. They have drawn cartoons for The New Yorker and Narrative Magazine, and graphic fiction for The Believer, Lenny Letter, and the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago. Their story collection, Rainbow Rainbow, will be published in May 2022 by Catapult in North America and Scribner in the UK.
MFA Course of Study
The two-year MFA course of study is designed to provide as much time as possible for independent writing and reading. The degree requires 42 credits as follows:
- 9 credits of writing workshops in the student’s primary genre (fiction or poetry). These workshops are held in the first, second, and third semesters.
- 3 credits of pedagogy, during the first semester.
- 15 thesis credits. Students take 3 credits in each of the first, second and third semesters, then 6 thesis credits in the fourth semester. These are not courses—rather, they’re the means by which the University gives MFAs credit for their independent writing.
- 15 credits of electives drawn from appropriate courses across the curriculum. While students are expected to focus on and produce book-length theses by the end of their two years here, they are also encouraged to pursue other intellectual interests via these electives. In the past, MFA students have fulfilled their elective requirements by enrolling in literature courses, studying foreign languages, pursuing other artistic interests such as dance, book-making, and classical guitar, augmenting research for historical novels by taking appropriate history classes. MFA students may also hone their writing skills in other genres by taking intermediate and advanced undergraduate workshops and graduate level workshops in genres outside the one for which they were admitted, as electives with the permission of the instructor. Students may also take up to 6 elective credits in the form of additional thesis hours in the second and third semesters.