The Notre Dame MFA in Creative Writing program combines generous, attentive focus on student work with active, engaged pedagogy, in the belief that the two years spent earning an MFA is more than either the achievement of a credential or two years paid writing time, but rather an active, cooperative process of growth, learning, professionalization, and exploration that relies as much on mentoring as it does on individual initiative or peer-to-peer relationships. Our vision of the MFA is a holistic one, in which community, craft, experimentation, dialogue, study, reflection, and teaching all contribute to dynamic self-directed learning.
Thus beyond the close attention we bring to student writing, our MFA program offers an intense, stimulating immersion in the many ways an author might shape, support and inform a 21st-century writing life. Our faculty has distinguished itself in an array of genres and media, and we teach from our expertise in traditional and innovative genres and forms. As a program, our areas of special strength are global contemporary writing, translation practice and theory, environmental humanities, creative nonfiction, the novel, literatures of exile and migration, innovative writing, and international poetry.
In addition to workshop and the preparation of a book length thesis, our candidates choose from Notre Dame’s wide selection of graduate courses, including gender studies, art and art history, book arts, languages and literatures, film, television and theatre. To complement their classes and writing projects, MFA candidates work on literary journals and presses, teach, facilitate outreach programs with our community partners, interact with visiting authors and artists, and conduct a reading series of their own.
Our Course of Study
The Creative Writing program at Notre Dame is a 2-year, 36-credit program. Most semesters, a student takes a 3-credit workshop in their genre (poetry or fiction), a 3-credit literature course, and 3 credit hours of thesis advising, for a total of 9 credits each semester. Electives or additional courses may be taken if discussed with the program director; 15 credits per semester is the maximum load allowed by the Graduate School.
Over the course of 2 years, each student must take 3 workshops (9 credit hours total), 4 literature classes (12 credit hours), 4 semesters of thesis direction (12 credit hours), and at least 1 elective (3 credit hours), which adds up to 36 credits and a lot of time to write. Students may take a workshop in a different genre than the one they were admitted in after their first year of residence. Students may also take electives in other fields, although only one undergraduate course is permitted. In addition to the standard courses, we also offer practicum classes on such topics as literary publishing and teaching creative writing (with the emphasis on teaching at the university level); translation is also a special focus of our coursework and an area of faculty expertise.
In their second year, students select a thesis director from the creative writing faculty and embark on the writing of a full-length manuscript—typically a novel, book of poetry, selection of short stories or essays, etc. All plans of study must be approved by the Director.
Students generally get quite involved in activities outside of classes. Some students have been highly involved with planning reading series or setting up literary functions. Some have developed writing programs at the local homeless shelter or juvenile detention facility, and others have presented panels at conferences. Still others have put all their emphasis and energy into writing. Dani Rado (2005 alumna) writes, “What I like most about this program is that you can be as involved as you want. Some of us have set up reading series, brought in writers, organized events, gone to conferences—all with the support (including financial support) of the program—and some people have just stayed in their apartments and busted out novels.”
For all other information regarding your course of study at Notre Dame, including information about courses, grades, transfer credits, incompletes and withdrawals, please consult the Graduate Student Handbook, (MFA Section).
At Notre Dame, our faculty represents a diverse array of aesthetics and approaches to writing, media, language, and genre, as well as a diversity of ethnic and national backgrounds and immigration stories. Each year we strive to admit a class diverse in gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, immigration status, economic background, abilities and disabilities. We strive to reflect this diversity in our reading series, our course work, and our events on campus and in the South Bend community.
In order to have as wide and various a conversation about writing and the arts as possible, we often sponsor events in collaboration with campus partners such as the Institute for Latino Studies’ Letras Latinas program, Gender Studies, the Department of Africana Studies, American Studies, the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, the Department of German and Russian, The Higgins Labor Program in the Center for Social Concerns, and Multicultural Students Programs and Services. We are proud to be part of this vivid, diverse, multilingual conversation around arts and writing here at Notre Dame.
Recent collaborative events have included a visit by the Black Took Collective, the hosting of An Ofrenda of Voices: Celebrating the Dead, a reading by MFA students and faculty sponsored in collaboration with the Institute for Latino Studies, readings by 2016 MacArther Genius Grant Recipient Claudia Rankine, Iranian-American poet Solmaz Sharif, US Poet Laureate Phil Levine, Latino poet Dan Vera, Cuban poet Victor Fowler, and Mexican poet Valerie Meier, readings by internationally renowned fiction writers Teju Cole, Tom McCarthy, George Saunders, Jeff Van der Meer, and Margaret Atwood.
Readings and Events
Our current year’s schedule of readings and events may be found here. In past years, we’ve had events and appearances from a diverse array of writers and artists, including Stephen Graham Jones, Lily Hoang, Danielle Dutton, Juan Felipe Herrera, Solmaz Sharif, Claudia Rankine, Amitav Ghosh, Rigoberta González, Lidia Yuknavitch, Elizabeth Acevedo, Jeff VanderMeer, Teju Cole, Natash Trethewey, Anaïs Duplan, Thirii Myint, John Banville, Eileen Myles, Farid Matuk, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Michael Mejia, and Manuel Muñoz. MFA students also conduct their own reading series, take courses in the department of Film, Television, and Theatre, and are asked to think critically and creatively about the role of performance in literary activity.
Fellowships and Awards
As of fall 2015, we are proud to be able to offer every admitted student full funding in the form of a tuition scholarship and a fellowship which comes with a stipend and responsibilities in the following areas: Publications (Notre Dame Review or the international press Action Books); Outreach (includes facilitating projects at the Juvenile Justice Center, Robinson Community Center and area schools, as well as on- and off-campus events); and Teaching (all teaching is in creative writing, not composition).
The Sparks Summer Fellows Program offers internships at New York publishing houses and literary agencies. All enrolled students are eligible to apply.
We offer one post-degree fellowship, the Sparks Prize, a residency intended to support the writing of a prose manuscript. Any student in poetry or prose may compete for this residency in the spring of their final year. The winner receives a stipend and remains in residency at Notre Dame for a third year while they complete their book. An outside judge selects the winner.