Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Nonfiction Programs and Information

Here's a comment pulled from the general mailbag. Anastasia asked:

So, are there any other creative nonfiction writers out there? There seems to be a serious lacking of us in this community... I don't know if anyone saw my last post, but I would still love some feedback (it's up here!)..and I'd also be very interested in hearing some experiences of fellow nonfiction writers.

The feedback she's asking for is on nonfiction programs - specifically non-New York ones. Ideas, people? Feedback for Anastasia?
Here are some of my nonfiction recommendations, in no particular order:

Notre Dame
Penn State
UNC Wilmington
U Arizona

The above all have pretty decent reputations and also, crucially, some (if not complete) funding.

Hunter should be on the list for those nonfiction writers who actually want to be in New York and who are entering the program with a memoir project ready to be developed. Columbia has a strong nonfiction program and their funding is getting better. New School, also New York based, is great.

UC Boulder and Rutgers are two new programs with a lot of potential.

Goucher and Bennington have wonderful low res programs.

Other thoughts? Any current nonfiction students out there with recommendations or information to share?


Darren aka "Mikey" said...

I’m a Nonfiction writer currently working on a MS in lit and writing at Utah State. I’ll be applying to MFA programs in the coming months. I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time developing the list of schools I’ll be applying to and I feel pretty confident about them. Hope the list helps. Also, if anyone that has experience with or opinions on any of the schools on my list could comment on them that would be great. (The list is ordered from last to first choice)

San Jose State University, San Jose CA

University of Arizona, Tucson AZ

Mills College, Oakland CA

Eastern Washington University, Spokane WA

Georgia College and State University, Milledgeville, GA

Chatham University, Pittsburgh PA

Old Dominion University, Hampton Roads VA

Hollins University, Roanoke VA

University of North Carolina Wilmington, Wilmington NC

Luke said...

I'm heading into my second year at Hollins and really love it. If you're coming from Utah, the mountains are much smaller here, but the Blue Ridge has its own Appalachian charm: amazing rivers, the AT, and one of the oldest farmer's markets on the east coast.

Some things not often mentioned about Hollins: no teaching in the first year, just writing (with stipends); teaching in the second year is limited to creative writing classes, no composition; there are 12 graduate students accepted each year, there are 9 full-time creative writing faculty on campus each year, along with one writer-in-residence in the spring--you do the math--the ratio is pretty amazing, especially considering how small the undergraduate population is...anyway, I ramble.

Long story short: I love it here, chose it somewhat nervously over what many would consider more reputable programs. Would have made the same decision again in a second. I'm happy to answer any questions anyone may have about the program. Good luck!

Nancy Rawlinson said...

"Mikey" - Your list is interesting, thank you for sharing. I'm wondering what criteria you used for developing it, and how you researched it. People just starting to get their lists together might benefit from your approach, if you care to share.

Colleen said...

Spalding's low-res program has a nonfiction track as well, and it's a pretty tight community of writers with great faculty support. I'm in the poetry track, myself, but have gotten the chance to do some cross-genre workshops and hear both the CNF faculty and students present their work, and they're impressive.

Emily A. Benton said...

I think Montana has a good nonfiction reputation. I've seen their students' work in several magazines, such as the earlier post that linked to that P&W piece.

UNCW and University of Minnesota-Minneapolis are also a good choices. Faculty there have had essays accepted for the New York Times and NPR's "This I Believe."

Emily A. Benton said...

oh, and if anyone's interested in lo-res for nonfiction, Queens University of Charlotte has a stellar faculty for that.

Mike said...

Surprised (and as a recent alum, kind of hurt) not to see George Mason on that list. It usually gets some love here...

Darren aka "Mikey" said...

First, my criteria for selecting schools went like this:

1. Location (I only looked in places I would actually want to live)
2. Focus (How much emphasis is put on actually writing creative nonfiction)
3. Faculty (Are there people there I want to work with, people who are accomplished in the field)
4. Funding (I don’t want to be working at McDonalds to pay my way through an MFA, what kind of funding opportunities do they have)

Second, Mike (from George Mason) I had GM on my list but noticed they have a language requirement. Is there a way around the language requirement? As alumni, what would you say about the program?

Mike said...


Yes, the language requirement *is* there at Mason, but its...easily conquerable. (Let's just leave it at that.) As a recent alum I have to say that I really enjoyed my time there in every way.

As far as your selection criteria goes, Fairfax is not the most opportune environment for MFA-ing. Mason is a slowly-transitioning commuter camupus, and for the most part resembles a mini-mall, surrounded by acres of parking lots in one of the most moneyed suburbs in the country. It doesn't bode well for "community", but you're 30 minutes from DC, and if you limit your time in Fairfax, its not that big a deal.

As far as the nonfiction program goes, at Mason its a "concentration", which means that the only difference between poetry and fiction is that there are less NF students there. (In my year I was one of 4.) The two professors who are explicitly devoted to NF, Kyoko Mori and Bev Lowry--both award-winning writers who do completely different work--are by far the best I've worked with. Many of the fiction faculty like Steve Goodwin, Alan Cheuse, and Courtney Brkic occasionally teach NF courses as well. Plus, Mason is closely connected to AWP (the offices are on campus), and hosts the annual Fall for the Book Festival (, in which an insane amount of well-known authors converge on that mini-mall-like campus for over a week with little to do but hang out with the graduate students. It's often the best week of the year.

As far as funding, I was a TA, and I'll admit its not the most lucrative package out there, especially in an expensive are like DC and Northern Virginia, but I've heard from incoming students that its getting better, stipend-wise. And the TA workload is a tough one. It's one year in the writing center, then two years teaching 101, 201, and creative writing sections that you design on your own, but its a good primer for how things will be once you get out of the program. You get kind of a rewarding "bunker mentality" with your fellow TAs, though, where everyone helps one another out with teaching/life/writing. There are fellowship opportunities for third year students to concentrate on their work, though.

So that's Mason in a nutshell: bad location, excellent assets.

K said...

Many thanks for these lists! I'm a non-fictioner just in the "considering to consider" an MFA stage, and it's helpful to see a list of those programs that get thumbs ups and have good reputations.

Anastasia Dyakovskaya said...

does anyone have any thought on the program at University of San Francisco? I know it's low-res, but i haven't really heard anything about it worth a look?

k said...

I graduated from the University of New Mexico with an emphasis in nonfiction, and would highly recommend their MFA program to anyone. Greg Martin works with the nonfiction students there--in the past four years, students from his workshops have published in magazines such as The Fourth Genre, The Georgia Review, North Dakota Quarterly, River Teeth. One person made it onto This American Life. Another won a Pushcart Prize. Another won a Missouri Review Nonfiction Prize. Yet another was nominated for a National Magazine Award. (You can see the whole list, and links to most of the essays, here: This program is on its way up, to say the least. The environment there is incredibly supportive, funding is ample, and Albuquerque is a fantastic place to live.

Amanda said...

What are your thoughts on low-residency programs? I love where I live and I want to write about the community here. But can any of the low-res programs hold a candle to the more established university programs? I know most don't have funding. Any suggestions on grants, scholarships? Also, I'm looking for a program that puts at least a little emphasis or offers resources and guidance for publication and building a career as an independent writer. I know its all about the craft. But do you know of any programs, especially low-res, that have a track record for students getting published?

rz said...

amanda, check out Goucher's MFA. I just started there this fall and absolutely loved having all the students and faculty focused on the unique challenges of NF. Part of why I chose that program (over several traditional programs) was that the faculty have all had careers as writers that I would like to emulate (I'm not interested in academia). Also, the program hosts a trip to visit publishers in New York for second-year students.

It's true there's no funding available, but the cost of the program is also much less than any of the residential programs.

I'm obviously biased because I'm currently investing so much of my life in this program, but so far I'd highly recommend it.

sad andy said...

I'm in my first year at Penn State, and I'm enjoying it immensely. There are some aspects (very small size, middle of PA location) that some might dislike, but I'll just throw this out there: everyone is funded. The package supports an entirely livable situation, too. The students, at least the people I interact with, seem happy about it. check it out:

Xtina in China said...

This thread is a bit old, but I just wanted to put out to the universe some information about the program at the University of Wyoming. I'm finishing my degree here in creative nonfiction. Everyone gets full funded upon acceptance, the faculty are well accomplished and very open to sharing their time. Also, Wyoming is just beautiful.

julia said...

I'm wondering if anyone has any recommendations for online programs. Due to family obligations I can't move for graduate school, but would like to pursue an M.A. or M.F.A. online. I have a degree in English Literature from UCLA.

deciding said...

I know this is an old thread, but I have to comment. Ohio State's nonfiction M.F.A. is a) fully and generously funded (all students are guaranteed funding--fellowships at 20K a year with no teaching responsibilities the first year, and G.T.A positions are 18K a year for one class a quarter) b)stocked with some incredibly supportive faculty (we have nonfiction workshops taught by Lee Martin, Michelle Herman, and Lee K. Abbott) and c) having some great publishing success (just last week a current student published pieces in Granta and Ploughshares). Plus Columbus is cheap, friendly, and it's entirely possible to live on the stipend $$. You can do all kinds of cool interdisciplinary specializations, if that's your thing--interdisciplinary arts, folklore, sexuality studies, etc. Last but not at all least in my book--it's a three year program.

Joshua said...

Thanks for the list of schools. I've been hunting around for a good Nonfiction program to apply for in the fall and this is one of the best lists I've seen.

A few questions: what is your feeling on Chatnam university? If this is somewhere else on the site I'll poke around.

Also, I noticed that these didn't include NY schools. Would that extend the list out a bit? I noticed the only other lists you have are quite old. Could you do a new list of recommended schools? I'm willing to go anywhere but would like funding, a good nonfiction emphasis (but I don't mind other stuff like language requirement or crossing genres) and a good emphasis on getting you into the publishing world (I also don't want to go into academia).

Thanks for your time and help.

Courtney said...

I'm applying to the MA in Writing program at Johns Hopkins University. It's based at their DC campus. Does anyone have any thoughts on the strength of the program or have you heard anything about it?

Courtney said...

I forgot to mention that they have several different concentrations, one of which is nonfiction.

Tanya said...

this is a great list to start off with. thanks for all the comments too!

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Roy said...

This is an old old thread but could anyone help me out on how a person from a non-arts background in graduation (Namely me... being a graduate Mechanical Engineer by virtue of my educational qualification and profession) can apply for an MFA degree? The three letters of recommendation required for admissions are the first major hurdle as I have never formally studied literature/writing. Even apart from this, any relevant advice on how to go about this business would be really appreciated.

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iChatham said...

a well-developed list of low-res programs can be found here:

Eagleeye said...

Pitt acts like a MFA program that's about to shut down, just like Pennstate. They try to hide that Becca Skloot went there, and Terrance Hayes. They wont list alumni publications on their website. And they have no teachers, esp. poets, who keep quitting. Avoid.

DanielDickey said...

Let start this on the main page again. There's not enough CNF info out there.

Unknown said...

Agreed--can we throw this back up on the front page again? A lot can change in four years. This thread pretty much just convinced me NOT to apply to Pitt [and left me mourning Penn State].

I'll be applying to several places in the fall. Anyone else out there?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lauren said...

Hey there. I too am eager to see a new NF MFA thread for 2012, am working on narrowing down my school choices now and would love to bounce ideas off a like minded community.

Other takers?

Plattypus said...

I'm wondering if there are creative non-fiction programs that, along with more traditional forms of self-writing, also emphasize education in reportage and especially arts and cultural criticism. Does anyone know of programs that address these interests?

Matthew Johnson said...

Colorado State University - Fort Collins was recommended by my Department Chair as a good program. the main faculty is an Iowa Writers Workshop grad.

It seems like you can add a reporting class or two pretty easily in most NF - MFA programs.