Where to Look | General Program Information | Course Information | Other Opportunities | Degree Requirements | Checklist of Steps Toward the MFA Degree | MFA Workshops
Where to Look
This handbook is designed to give you the information you’ll need as you progress through the creative writing program. You’ll find facts on requirements, expectations and procedures. At a university as large as VCU, however, there are other sources that will be valuable to you.
The current Graduate Bulletin contains information about what the School of Graduate Studies requires of all students, including general academic regulations. You are expected to be familiar with all university regulations and with all rules and regulations in the Graduate Bulletin. The Graduate Bulletin, as well as each semester’s Schedule of Classes, also outlines the academic calendar and gives the dates of registration, add/drop and graduation application deadlines.
The university’s annual Resource Guide is published by the Division of Student Affairs and is a directory of university services and policies. In the Resource Guide you’ll find a variety of information about topics ranging from grade review procedures to parking services. The Division of Student Affairs is located in Sitterding House, 901 Floyd Avenue, 828-1244.
General Program Information
During their first semester, students are assigned an academic advisor from among the resident creative writing MFA faculty. Your advisor can help you choose the courses that are most appropriate to your personal goals. Students, however, are expected to keep their own tally of credits and lists of classes that will fulfill the degree requirements.
If you need information about requirements, forms, deadlines or other administrative aspects of your degree, please see the English graduate programs coordinator.
Before enrolling for your third creative writing workshop, you should select a thesis advisor who will then become your primary academic advisor.
Transfer of Credit
While the Graduate Bulletin indicates that “a maximum of one third of the hours required for a master’s degree may be transferred,” the MFA Committee generally limits the amount of appropriate graduate credit that can be transferred from another VCU program or from an outside institution to twelve hours.
All transfer work must be at the “A” or “B” grade level from an accredited institution or university, and must be applicable toward a graduate degree at the offering institution. Only six VCU graduate credits may be transferred if the student has taken those credits as a “special student” before being admitted to a degree program. No credit from an earned degree may be transferred toward a VCU graduate degree.
Waiver of Requirements
In some cases, specific degree requirements can be waived for students whose academic or professional backgrounds are appropriate. For example, the department will waive the twelve-hour literature requirement for students who already hold an MA in English.
If you are planning to transfer credit or waive requirements, you should speak with your advisor early during your first semester so you can design an appropriate course of study.
Please see the English graduate programs coordinator for the forms and the procedure you need to follow in order to apply for transfer of credit or waiver of requirements. While it’s not guaranteed that all requests will be granted, the program strives to allow flexibility in transferring courses and waiving requirements.
A graduate student at VCU is considered full time if he or she is enrolled for a minimum of nine credit hours and a maximum of sixteen credits per semester. More than sixteen hours is an overload and requires special permission. No more than twelve semester credits may be earned in a summer semester.
Graduate Teaching Assistants must register for nine hours each semester. GTA’s must take three hours of English 500 (Practicum in Teaching College English), which may count toward that total. Please note, however, that English 500 hours do not count toward your required graduation credits.
During each academic year (fall and spring semesters), GTA’s must complete at least fifteen hours that do count toward graduation. This “reasonable progress” toward a degree is required to maintain financial aid.
Time Limit for Completion of Requirements
The time limit for completing a graduate degree cannot exceed seven years. At the master’s level this includes five years with two possible one-year extensions. Upon written petition through the MFA program director, extensions may be granted by the dean of the School of Graduate Studies. All work applied toward the degree, including work transferred from other institutions, cannot be more than seven years old when all degree requirements are fulfilled and you apply for graduation.
Credit for Courses
Graduate courses in creative writing are listed in this handbook, as well as in the Graduate Bulletin. Each semester the department provides on the Department of English web site an electronic list of English graduate classes and course descriptions. Instructions for accessing the web site are available from the English office and the English graduate programs coordinator. The meeting times and registration information for these classes can be found in the university’s Schedule of Classes published each semester. (For detailed course descriptions, see also Courses.)
All classes must be at the 500, 600 or 700 level. Undergraduate classes from other departments are not accepted toward an MFA degree.
At least half of the required courses for the degree must be numbered 600 or above. Students must achieve an overall grade-point average of 3.0 (“B”) and will receive no credit for courses graded lower than “C.” Students receiving two or more “C’s” or any grade of “D” or “F” will be reviewed for possible academic termination.
The graduate creative writing workshops in poetry, fiction, screenwriting and drama (English 666, 667, 668 and 671) are graded Pass/Fail. The graduate nonfiction writing course (672) is graded on a letter system.
Graduate-level classes offered in other departments are often approved for MFA students if they relate to your professional goals. You must get approval from the program director or your advisor prior to enrolling.
The Graduate Bulletin contains further information about the School of Graduate Studies’ regulations including attendance requirements, the grades of “W” (withdrawn) and “I” (incomplete), time limits for completing courses graded “I” and other academic policies.
Not all courses listed in the Graduate Bulletin will be offered every semester. For course availability on a semester-to-semester basis, you should consult the Schedule of Classes for that semester, as well as the department’s course descriptions.
Questions regarding courses offered in other departments should be directed to the directors of graduate studies in those departments.
It is recommended that you pre-register for classes each semester as soon as you can because some courses fill up early. The university’s telephone registration system makes registration easy. If you have any problems with registration, please see the English graduate programs coordinator. If you have questions about certain courses, please speak with the professor or your advisor.
MFA students take theses credits (English 798 and 799) as a way to carve out time to create and revise a substantial thesis of publishable quality. Most theses are in poetry or fiction. With special permission, it is possible to work on theses in drama or nonfiction.
Students must choose a thesis advisor before signing up for any 798 or 799 courses because you must have your thesis advisor’s permission to take thesis hours. (For this reason, first-year students may not take thesis hours.) Permission overrides are available from the English graduate programs coordinator. Your thesis advisor, who then becomes your academic advisor, is the MFA faculty member who will supervise your hours and work with you to develop and complete a creative thesis.
Students are required to take a minimum of six semester hours in thesis work. There is a maximum limit of twelve thesis hours that will count toward your degree. The grades for thesis hours are Satisfactory (S), Unsatisfactory (U) or Fail (F).
University regulations require that each student be enrolled for at least one credit during the semester in which he or she completes the thesis.
A student may take a maximum of six credits in graduate-level independent study courses. Prerequisite for all independent study course are six credits of appropriate graduate course work. You must get permission to register for independent study from the professor, the program director and the associate chair or chair. Forms are available from the English graduate programs coordinator. On that form you will be required to present a description of the project you wish to pursue, the anticipated product (such as a long paper) and a bibliography. Independent study is not available for a course that duplicates courses already being offered. Neither can it be used as thesis hours or for a creative writing project.
For academic credit (three hours per semester, up to six hours total) MFA students may participate in an internship (English 694) with Blackbird: an online journal of literature and the arts, edited by MFA faculty and Mary Flinn of New Virginia Review, Inc. One goal of this internship is to provide students with broad practical experience in literary editing. The internship involves a commitment of at least 10 hours each week. There is a required editorial meeting with literary editors, managing editors, and other interns once a week at the Blackbird office (Anderson 101A, 225-4729). The other hours are most often spent reading and replying to submissions and working on magazine production and design. Permission forms are available from the English graduate programs coordinator.
Graduate Teaching Assistantships
The Department of English offers a limited number of Graduate Teaching Assistantships each year. Assistantship duties usually involve working as a tutor in the writing center, working in the department’s computer center, or teaching sections of English 101/200, Composition and Rhetoric. Some students assist faculty members with teaching, research or administrative duties, and other assignments are made to meet departmental needs. Assignments are made by the Associate Chair in consultation with the faculty program directors. Assistantships are available to full-time students only, and the students take certain required courses (636, 500) as part of their responsibilities. GTA’s receive a stipend and have their full-time tuition paid for the academic year.
Assistantships are awarded each year from among all applicants on the basis of each applicant’s academic records (undergraduate and graduate), GRE scores, letters of recommendation and professional qualities.
Graduate students on twelve-month assistantships will be assigned to teach/assist/or carry out other teaching and service work for 20 hours per week during the Fall and Spring semesters. During summers, they will be expected to register for 6 graduate course credits (including directed study or internship) and to focus the rest of their available production time on research and dissertation/thesis preparation or writing. The absence of assigned work during the summer is intended to allow students to concentrate on their studies, on independent projects and conference presentations, or on preliminary dissertation research. Having unencumbered time is essential to their intellectual and scholarly development. It will allow them to advance the progress toward the completion of their degrees, and will enhance their professional accomplishments, thereby contributing to the reputation of our programs.
This policy accords with the Graduate School’s “Policies and procedures on graduate fellowships and assistantships,” in particular the final paragraph in the relevant section that states:
Graduate assistantships are awarded for not longer than one calendar year and are not renewed automatically from year to year unless specifically stated in writing. Graduate program directors generally determine eligibility for renewal of graduate assistantship awards in subsequent academic years. Specific work assignments, scheduling and arrangements relating to vacation and personal leave are determined by the department, program or administrative unit to which the graduate student is assigned.*
The Department of English, through the School of Graduate Studies, awards a fellowship each year to an outstanding new student in fiction or poetry. The fellowship covers the cost of tuition and fees and provides a stipend in return for the equivalent of ten hours of work per week in the writing center, computer center, or classroom.
In addition, second-year fiction students are eligible for the Cabell Fiction Fellowship. The Fellowship covers the cost of tuition and provides a stipend equal to that of a graduate teaching assistantship. Recipients assist in administration of the First Novelist Award and the Levis Reading Prize, and also co-teach, with graduate faculty, an undergraduate fiction workshop.
The School of Graduate Studies also offers one-year fellowships on a competitive basis for students who have completed all program requirements but have yet to complete the thesis (generally third-year students). These fellowship cover the cost of tuition and fees and provide a stipend. They require no work in return. The program nominates eligible students.
Other scholarship support may be available to qualified students from the School of Graduate Studies. See http://www.vcu.edu/graduate/pops/p_ext_funded.html
The Department of English maintains a computer center on the third floor (rooms 331 and 341) of the Hibbs Building. It is staffed by Graduate Teaching Assistants and is available for use by all English graduate students. It is highly recommended that you use a computer of some variety for preparing the manuscript of your MFA thesis.
E-mail is an essential component for communicating throughout the department and the program. All graduate students must have an e-mail account. You can get one in the basement of James Branch Cabell Library or online at http://www.at.vcu.edu/faq/accts/computing.html.
Graduate Writers Association
The Graduate Writers Association is a student organization, registered with the Office of Student Activities, that is open to any English graduate student. The organization promotes the literary arts at VCU—primarily through the Friday Readings Series, which provides an opportunity for students to read their work or present a staged reading in front of an audience. Many of the readings are held at the 1708 Gallery, a non-profit art gallery located just off campus.
The GWA also helps sponsor and plan the Visiting Writers Series.
Graduate Student Representatives to the Creative Writing Committee
Graduate creative writing students are given the opportunity to ask questions and make suggestions to the MFA Committee through an elected student representative. The graduate student representative to the committee is not a voting member, but attends committee meetings.
In addition, the program director periodically will announce open-agenda meetings for all creative writing graduate students. These meetings are an opportunity for you to express your views.
Required Course Work (30 hours)
Workshops. The program requires that all MFA students take twelve hours of workshops. After twelve hours, you can take workshops to satisfy your elective requirements. Each course (graded Pass/Fail) may be taken as many times as appropriate. The majority of the workshops you take should be in your stated genre. First-year students are required to take a workshop in their genre the first semester.
ENG 666 Creative Writing: Fiction
ENG 666 Creative Writing: Novel
ENG 667 Creative Writing: Poetry
ENG 668 Creative Writing: Drama
ENG 671 Creative Writing: Film and Television Scripts
(Please note that ENG 672, Nonfiction Writing, is not considered for workshop credits.)
Literature. The minimum requirement is twelve hours of any literature course at the graduate level.
Thesis. The minimum requirement is six hours. The maximum allowed is twelve hours. The course numbers are 798 and 799.
Elective Course Work (18 hours)
Students can take other graduate courses offered by the Department of English, including additional course work in literature or workshops. Each semester there are also English department courses available in areas such as nonfiction writing, linguistics, research techniques, teaching and independent study. All of these graduate classes count toward elective credits. Please remember that you must get prior approval from the program director or your advisor to take graduate courses in any other departments
Checklist of Steps Toward the MFA Degree
1. After Nine Hours: After completing not less than nine nor more than fifteen hours of course work, all students must file the “Application for Candidacy” form. Students who have been fully admitted are not automatically candidates for the degree. You must submit the form to the program director.
Candidates for the degree must be continuously enrolled each semester (fall and spring) until they complete the degree. Students may ask for a leave of absence by submitting a written request to the program director. Students who have not registered for courses for more than one calendar year may be required to re-apply to the program and the university.
Before registering for hours beyond nine, or immediately upon completing the requirements of their provisional admission, all provisionally admitted students must complete the “Request for Changing Status from Provisional Acceptance” form and submit it to the English graduate programs coordinator.
2. Selecting a Thesis Advisor and Committee: Before enrolling in your third creative writing workshop, you should select a thesis advisor. By October 15 of your final year, you should select your other committee members by submitting the “Graduate Advisory Committee Selection Request” to the program director. The requested thesis advisor must be a graduate creative writing faculty member, ordinarily one with whom you have taken workshops in the genre of your thesis. The second member of the committee should also be selected from the MFA creative writing faculty. When appropriate, and with the consent of the program director and thesis advisor, the second member may come from the graduate faculty of the Department of English. The third member must come from VCU faculty outside the Department of English. Students who do not know such faculty members will be given assistance in their selection. A further option is that an additional thesis committee member (from English or any other department) can be requested when appropriate.
The thesis committee supervises the preparation of the thesis and is chaired by the thesis advisor (thesis director), who naturally makes the most important contribution to this supervision. Ultimately, the committee judges the acceptability of the thesis at the time of the thesis defense.
3. Graduation Application: Some time during the first two weeks of your final semester, you must submit a formal application for graduation to your thesis advisor. Graduation application forms are available from University Enrollment Services/Records and Registration. You should schedule a conference with your advisor to review your application well ahead of the deadline date specified in the opening pages of the current Graduate Bulletin or Schedule of Classes. The application form requires the approval of the advisor, the program director and the department chair, as well as the dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences. You must be enrolled during the semester in which you plan to graduate.
4. Thesis Revision: No later than the Friday of the first week of classes of the final semester, you should submit “reading copies” of your thesis to your thesis advisor and your thesis committee to solicit their responses. (Reading copies are not the final, formatted version of the thesis printed on bond paper.) The reading copy should be as close to the final version of your thesis as possible. The committee will then comment on the content of the thesis, suggest final revisions and determine its acceptability. Should major revisions or additions to the thesis be required, the thesis advisor may recommend that you postpone the thesis defense until the following semester or summer session. After revisions are made, you should distribute copies to your committee for their final review no later than March 1, approximately three weeks before the thesis defense.
5. Thesis Preparation: Students preparing a thesis, especially the final, formal version, should carefully read and follow the guidelines in the VCU School of Graduate Studies Thesis and Dissertation Manual. A “Nutshell” version of this document designed specifically for creative writing students is available from the English graduate programs coordinator.
6. Scheduling and Designing the Thesis Defense: There are several options available as you design an appropriate thesis defense with your thesis advisor.
A. Students may elect to set up an individual thesis defense, attended by their thesis committee. Usually the thesis committee will discuss and review the work with you and may ask questions about the origins and design of the manuscript, your plans for the possibility of publishing it, and how it fits with your career goals.
All thesis defenses must be scheduled no later than one week before the end of the semester so that the student will graduate on time, but an earlier scheduling is recommended. When setting up an individual defense, the student is responsible for checking with the thesis advisor and the committee members to find a suitable time for scheduling the thesis defense. The proposed date and time must then be reported to the program director.
B. In the spring semester when a number of students are graduating at the same time and scheduling numerous individual thesis defenses can be impractical, a Thesis Approval Ceremony will be scheduled toward the end of the semester by the program director. Many students and their committees, having previously engaged in an extended process of commentary and subsequent revision of those thesis projects, will gather together for a ceremonial occasion where all completed and approved theses will be signed. All students who have previously scheduled individual thesis defenses are also invited to attend this celebratory occasion.
All students, especially those undertaking this option, are strongly encouraged, but not required, to offer a public reading from their theses earlier in that final year of their degree programs. These readings are usually part of the Friday Readings Series sponsored by the Graduate Writers Association.
7. Signing the Thesis: Upon approval, the thesis committee will sign the thesis approval sheets at the defense or Thesis Approval Ceremony. Generally the chair of the department attends the signing ceremony as well. You will still need the signatures of both the dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences and the dean of the School of Graduate Studies for final sign off. See the thesis guidelines for details on signatures and binding requirements.
ENG 666 Fiction. Semester course, three credits. Study of the craft of fiction writing, with the goal of producing professionally acceptable and publishable fiction. Workshop members shall produce a substantial volume of writing–short stories or a portion of a novel–and in addition be able to evaluate and articulate the strengths of their own work. May be repeated for credit. Grading is pass/fail.
ENG 666 Novel. Two-Semester course, six credits. Offered every third year, the novel workshop is an opportunity for MFA students to develop and draft a long work of fiction. This is a two-semester commitment and is restricted to nine members. Grading is pass/fail.
ENG 667 Poetry. Semester course, three credits. Study of the craft of poetry writing, with the goal of producing professionally acceptable and publishable poetry. Workshop members shall produce a substantial amount of poetry and in addition be able to evaluate and articulate the strengths of their own work. May be repeated for credit. Grading is pass/fail.
ENG 668 Creative Writing: Drama. Semester course, three credits. The work for this course will include reading and analyzing a number of one-act plays, as well as completing a one-act script. Every participant in the playwriting workshop will have his or her play staged at the Commons Theater at the end of the semester, using actors and directors drawn primarily from the theater and English departments. May be repeated for credit. Grading is pass/fail.
ENG 671 Film and Television Scripts. Semester course, three credits. The workshop is a practical study of the format and storytelling strategies of a presentation film script. Students are expected to develop a screen story, a full treatment, and the script for a one-hour (sixty-page) fiction film. Grading is pass/fail.