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The Department of English offers the master of fine arts degree in creative writing for students committed to pursuing the writing life. This three-year degree provides advanced graduate-level coursework in writing, language, and literature, as well as study in a related field. The third year of the program focuses on the final development of a book-length manuscript suitable for publication, the MFA essay, and the MFA thesis defense. The deadline for admission to the program for Fall 2019 is December 1, 2018 (11:59 p.m.). 

Workshops in poetry, fiction, and literary nonfiction are at the heart of the creative writing program, while courses in the Reading as Writers and Topics in Advanced Writing series enable writers to explore a variety of issues relating to contemporary themes in American and world literature. The program encourages experimentation across genres, fostering the discovery of new and varied forms for a developing voice.

Please view our graduate handbook for more information.

Requirements for the MFA Degree


The MFA thesis, completed in the spring of your third year in the program, is a book-length manuscript suitable for publication. The minimum length for prose is 120 pages and the minimum length for poetry is 50 pages. (Some students, in consultation with their advisors, have completed multi-genre theses.) Feel free to consult the bound MFA theses on the bookshelf in the Director's office in 222 Lind.

Class of 2019: your thesis is due to your committee on Monday, April 15, 2019. Please work out specific arrangements (e.g. time, format) with your committee.


The MFA booklist will consist of 20 books of your choice, books that have been particularly influential or useful to you in the composition of your work. The list must include at least one book from each genre. The booklist should be assembled during your first and second years in the program. Strive for a balanced list, keeping classic as well as contemporary works in mind. Please keep your thesis advisor updated on your progress assembling the booklist.


During the fall of your third year, in the context of the thesis seminar, you'll devise a topic for your MFA essay (see below). During early spring of your third year, you'll consult with your thesis advisors about the MFA essay; and in April of your third year, one week after the due date for the MFA thesis, you must give the completed essay, along with the booklist, to your thesis director and second reader, in preparation for your defense. Note: no changes to the thesis or other materials may be made between the date when you hand them in and the defense. Commentary and feedback on the MFA essay will take place within the context of the defense.

What should the MFA essay look like? This is a literary essay, personally voiced and intellectually rigorous. It is 2,5003,500 words long (1015 pages, double-spaced). It should focus on a specific topic (e.g. structure in experimental fiction; trauma and memoir; urban settings in contemporary poetry) as evidenced in your booklist and in your own work. You do not need to admire all of the works on your list; nor are you expected to discuss all twenty selections from your booklist in your essay. The essay is not a "hoop" through which you must jump; it can serve as both a preface to your thesis and as a way of reflecting on your own writing process and on the place of your own work within a larger tradition.

Class of 2019: your booklist and essay are due to your committee on Monday, April 22, 2019.

Thesis defense

The MFA defense will take place in May. Students who are deemed not ready to defend will be discouraged from doing so. At the defense, you will read briefly from and discuss your creative work (for about 30 minutes) and then field questions from audience members (30 minutes) about your thesis. The first portion of your defense is open unless otherwise requested. The second portion of your defense (60 minutes) will consist of you and your committee members only; this portion is closed to the public. Your committee will ask questions about the thesis, booklist and essay. After a brief private discussion with each other, your committee members may either sign off on the thesis as is, or ask for revisions to the thesisor the essay.

MFA Thesis Defenses will take place May 6-10, 2019.

The thesis is due April 15, 2019. The MFA essay and booklist are due April 22, 2019.

Thesis advising

At least two faculty members of your choice will work with you as advisors on your final manuscript.

1. The thesis director will take primary responsibility for advising your thesis. Normally you will choose your thesis director, as your thesis director the faculty member with whom you signed up for thesis credits. The thesis director must be a member of the creative writing faculty.

2. The second reader can have a limited role, reading the manuscript, participating in the defense and signing off on the work, but you may also choose to work with the second reader on thesis credits. In that case the second reader will play a role that is closer to that of a co-advisor, although the primary responsibility will remain with the thesis director. The second reader/co-advisor can be a faculty member of any department within the University of Minnesota who is willing and able to give you the time and attention to fulfill this role and participate in the defense. It is your responsibility to seek out faculty who you think will be the most supportive of you as a writer, regardless of department. In some circumstances you may petition by letter to the Director of the creative writing program to have an affiliate faculty member serve as your second reader. Approval will rest on your previous coursework experience with the instructor and whether funds are available to pay him/her for the additional work.

Note: Mentorship is a mutual endeavor. Make use of faculty office hours to introduce yourself to potential advisors.