Most quarters, MFA students takes a 4-credit literature or craft course, along with their 4-credit workshop in their genre (poetry, fiction, or nonfiction), and 4 credit hours of thesis advising, for a total of 12 credits each quarter.
Below are course descriptions for a few of the 4-credit literature or craft courses offered last year and in the year to come.
Advanced Poetry Writing: Practical Experimentation: This course takes an experimental stance, thinking of poetry as more than printed words arranged on a plane (or in a single plane of time), but as a thing that can have physical dimensions. In additions to writing “regular” poems, students will have to conduct four experiments from a range of choices, and will contribute an experiment to the class’s available options. Some of the experiments will require the student to think about the page and the material on which poetry can be reproduced in untraditional ways, through the selection of material and binding or presentation methods. They might be asked to adopt an experimental writing technique, as A.R. Ammons took up writing his long poems on spools of adding machine tape.
Magazine Article Writing: This course is designed to reproduce as closely as possible the actual process by which a working freelance writer transforms a raw idea into a finished, publishable piece of writing. The class will focus on three major components of the enterprise. First, we’ll look at the magazine market—analyzing audiences, interpreting editorial approaches, and tailoring ideas to fit a readership. Second, we’ll take on the “business” of freelancing—designing articles, writing effective query letters, and selling ideas by giving them a publishable slant. Third, through reading and workshops we’ll work on the craft of writing. Students will submit several weekly assignments, and three mid-length feature articles.
Non-Fiction: The Personal Essay: This course in creative nonfiction focuses specifically on the personal essay. Though it’s a workshop course, we will spend at least as much time reading as writing, analyzing a wide range of essay types in order to determine exactly what is “creative” about literary nonfiction and what is really “personal” about the personal essay. Class discussion and written assignments about the readings are designed to familiarize students with stylistic techniques, voices and tones, and larger essay architectures that are available for their own writing. There will be short, weekly assignments, two short essays, and five longer ones.
Studies in American Literature: The Fiction and Nonfiction of Joan Didion & Tobias Wolff: In this craft class we’ll read and discuss two American writers, both equally strong in fiction and nonfiction. We’ll focus our attention on the aesthetic choices the writers make in each genre, the techniques and subjects that appear to be particular to a genre, and those that cross over. We’ll talk about what sort of material is more suited to one genre or the other. Students will write a personal essay and a short story, both arising from the same material. Grad students will offer an oral presentation. There will be a quick reading check each class.
Studies in the Novel: Uncanny Novella: In this course, we will study the appearance of “the uncanny” in literature, studying its definitions in Freud, Royle, and Vidler, and observing its behavior in six novellas ranging from the 16th century Germany to contemporary Great Britain, North and South America. Along the way, we will consider the origins and properties of the novella (sometimes a long, sometimes a short novel), and study the craft of a few literary masters as they step into the realm of the psychologically disturbed and possibly supernatural.
Requirements: two 10-12-page papers, several short written analyses, a creative exercise, and a research presentation.
Studies in Poetry: Imagining Art in Poetry: When we encounter the description of a painting in a literary text, we experience ekphrasis, the verbal representation of the visual. Ekphrasis challenges us to consider the relationship between the “sister arts” and to ask ourselves, Is a picture really worth a thousand words? What does it mean when a poet represents representation itself? This course will revisit early modern arguments regarding the paragonal, or competitive, nature of ekphrasis, from Horace to Lessing, and will consider more recent theoretical accounts of the relationship between word and image from Allen Grossman, Murray Krieger, and W.J.T. Mitchell, among others. Our primary readings will focus on examples of early modern ekphrasis and their classical models (Virgil, Ovid, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Spenser), but will also trace the development of the trope in post-Renaissance poetry (Keats, Bishop, and Ashbery).