College of LAS « Illinois


LAS Launches MFA Program in Creative Writing

Program welcomes its first class.

a person giving a speech

After decades of hosting one the nation's strongest undergraduate programs in rhetoric and in professional writing, LAS has expanded upon its success by inaugurating an MFA (masters degree in fine arts) program in creative writing.

The college welcomed the first class of 14 students last fall to begin the demanding two-year curriculum that prepares them for professional careers in fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction. The students also are trained to become teachers of creative and professional writing. Faculty describe the program as tough but nurturing. All students receive financial aid so that they may devote themselves to writing.

"The primary goal of the MFA in creative writing is to give these literary artists time and space to work on and perfect their writing, and to study the craft and technique of writing," says Michael Van Walleghen, a professor of English and the director of the program, which is run by the Department of English.

The teaching staff for this MFA program are members of the English department's distinguished creative writing faculty. "Very few places in the country can compete with our talent," says Van Walleghen. Largely because of its noted and productive teaching staff, the English department, he says, consistently is ranked in the nation's top 20 graduate programs in English. Among the 10 creative writers serving as teacher-mentors are fiction writers Richard Powers and Jean Thompson, both nominated for National Book Awards and both UI alumni. The other MFA professors are Paul Friedman, also a UI graduate, and Philip Graham, Brigit Kelly, Laurence Lieberman, Michael Madonick, Audrey Petty, Van Walleghen, and David Wright. A writers-in-residence series also is bringing outstanding writers to campus.

Illinois has long played an important role in creative writing in the United States, Van Walleghen says. For example, for 20 years the English department published the prestigious literary magazine Accent, which featured such writers as e.e. cummings, Flannery O'Connor, Katherine Anne Porter, Wallace Stevens, and Eudora Welty. The department also runs the Carr Visiting Writers series, which brings distinguished writers to campus. Among the Carr writers are Raymond Carver, Stanley Elkin, and William Gass. Ten years ago it established the Center for Writing Studies.
The future for creative writing also looks promising, says Van Walleghen. "The demand is there," he says. In contrast to graduate school applications, which nationally are down, "Established writing programs are receiving well over 100 applications a year."

Spring 2003