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21 Years of the MFA in Creative Writing

Celebrating the program's coming of age
March 15, 2018

It seems like it was only yesterday that the Creative Writing Program proudly announced its Masters of Fine Arts degree, and now here it is, 21 years old: one of the top-ranked MFA programs in the country, with a big bookcase of publications by graduated poets and prose writers.

Lists! Lists! Lists!
* 21 MFA alum works of fiction
* 21 MFA alum poetry collections
* 21 MFA alum memoirs & essays
* 21 MFA alum creative miscellany

"When we had the MA degree," Professor Emeritus Michael Dennis Browne remembers, "and I went to AWP [the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference], people would say, 'Fantastic community, wrong degree.'" It was a three-year process to obtain the "right" degree for a Twin Cities community rife with authors, small presses, literary magazines and organizations, and active libraries. "Through many discussions," Regents Professor Madelon Sprengnether recalls, "we formulated the design of the MFA, a three-year program offering concentrations in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, oriented toward the development of a book-length manuscript suitable for publication."

The first MFAs graduated in 1997 from a Creative Writing program supported before and since by the Edelstein-Keller Endowment (which also brings in visiting writers for public readings and student consultations). "We fully fund everybody who comes in," notes Thurber Prize winner and current director Julie Schumacher. "There's an egalitarianism that pervades the program and allows everybody to flourish in their own way."

Alumnae/i rate their peer relationships in the program as significant and lasting. Graduates start presses and publish other graduates. They review each others' works. They create event organizations and feature other alums. In many cases, they stay and enrich the Twin Cities as writers, teachers, and activists, even as the thriving arts scene here continues to nourish them.

"Between San Francisco and New York," Professor Schumacher observes, "there is nothing else to compare with what we can offer students in terms of not just our program, but local literary arts, theater, music, visual arts." Since 2016, the program annually publishes Great River Review, the oldest literary journal in the state of Minnesota, now run by students in our MFA program under the leadership of Professor Peter Campion, a poet.

There were nearly 400 applications to the program this year, for 12 spots. Students and graduates (MA and MFA) have won an ever-increasing array of writing awards: the National Book Award's "5 Under 35" Prize, Loft-McKnight Fellowships, Minnesota Book Awards and Minnesota State Arts Board Grants, Pushcart Prizes, NEA Fellowships, Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Awards, the Bush Foundation Artist Fellowship, the Linquist & Vennum Prize, the Whiting Writers' Award, even the Minnesota State Poet Laureate. Their books are published by prestigious small presses such as Coffee House and by top commercial houses such as Random House, Doubleday, and Houghton Mifflin.

Our award-winning faculty publish with similar regularity and range: We're especially pleased to be adding two new professors in fall 2018: poets and essayists Douglas Kearney and Kathryn Nuernberger will join fiction writers Charles Baxter, M. J. Fitzgerald, V. V. Ganeshananthan, and Schumacher; poets Campion and Ray Gonzalez; and creative nonfiction writers Patricia Hampl, Dan Philippon, and Kim Todd.

Twenty-one years . . . and counting!