MFA Degree Requirements
The following is a summary of the MFA program requirements. It is the responsibility of all graduate students, both on- and off-campus, to be familiar with the Graduate Bulletin as well as the academic regulations in individual school and department publications and on program websites; however, in all cases, the official policies and procedures of the University Graduate Council, as published on this Graduate Bulletin website and on the Graduate School website, take precedence over individual program policies and guidelines.
(30 hours plus 18 hours of electives, for a total of 48 credit hours)
Workshop Requirement (12 hours or more)
The Program requires that all MFA students take twelve hours of workshops in their primary genres (e.g., fiction or poetry). You may take additional workshops to satisfy your elective requirements, and we encourage you to experiment with other genres; such courses will be counted toward your electives, not your primary workshop requirement. Each workshop may be taken as many times as appropriate.
Note: Dual genre concentration student will take a total of 6 workshops (3 in each genre).
First-year fiction and poetry students are required to register for a workshop in their primary genre during both semesters of the first year.
All workshops require students to produce a substantial portfolio of their own work as well as to evaluate and articulate the strengths and areas for development of their colleagues’ work. Self-evaluation is another important part of the process. Most workshops also require at least a portion of major revision to new work.
List of Workshops
ENGL 666 Creative Writing: Fiction.
Semester course, three credits. Study of craft and revision, with the goal of producing sophisticated fiction. Workshop members produce a volume of writing–short stories or a portion of a novel—totaling approximately 50 or more pages. May be repeated for credit. Grading is pass/fail.
ENGL 666 Creative Writing: Novel.
Two-Semester course, three credits per semester. Typically offered every second year, the novel workshop is an opportunity for MFA students to develop and draft a long work of fiction, usually at least 100 pages per semester. This is a two-semester commitment and is restricted to nine members, all of whom should have passed their first year of coursework. Grading is pass/fail.
ENGL 667 Creative Writing: Poetry.
Semester course, three credits. The craft of writing and revising poetry, with the goal of producing professional-level 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.
ENGL 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. May be repeated for credit. Grading is pass/fail.
ENGL 671 Film and Television Scripts.
Semester course, three credits. The workshop is a practical study of the format and storytelling strategies of a presentation-ready film script. Students are expected to develop a screen story, a full treatment, and the script for a one-hour (sixty-page) fictional film. Grading is pass/fail.
ENGL 672 Writing Nonfiction.
Semester course, three credits. Study of craft and revision, with the goal of producing sophisticated nonfiction. Workshop members produce a volume of writing totaling approximately 50 or more pages. May be repeated for credit, especially as varieties of nonfiction addressed may vary (memoir, belles lettres, oral history, etc.).
Other Coursework Requirements and Recommendations
Form and Theory Courses (recommended)
At present, Form and Theory courses count toward your literature-seminar requirement.
ENGL 629 Form and Theory of Poetry.
Semester course, three credits. This course will address a number of key issues concerning the structure of verse and the function of poetic discourse and will provide readers and writers of poetry an opportunity to study and practice a broad range of poetic forms and techniques, as well as to explore various genre conventions and their thematic and rhetorical significance. Students may study poems from various periods, with some focus on the contemporary, and apply to them the insights offered by major theorists of poetry and poetics. They also may write imitations, parodies and responses examining and demonstrating poetic approaches.
ENGL 630 Form and Theory of Fiction.
Semester course, three credits. Addresses a number of key issues concerning the structure, conventions, and function of narrative discourse by studying a broad range of narrative forms. Students will read stories and novels from various historical periods, with some focus on the contemporary, and apply to them the insights offered by major theorists of narrative. They also may write imitations, parodies and responses examining and demonstrating the aesthetics of fiction.
ENGL 631 Form and Theory of Creative Nonfiction.
Semester course, three credits. May be repeated once for credit. Will address a number of key issues concerning the structure, conventions and function of varied types of creative nonfiction and will seek to give readers and writers an opportunity to study a broad range of forms in the genre, which may include magazine articles, research-based reportage, New Journalism, memoir, biography, autobiography, the meditative essay, the personal essay, the lyric essay and others, as well as to explore genre conventions and their thematic and rhetorical significance. Students will read across this range of forms, with some focus on contemporary writing, and apply to them insights offered by major theorists of the genre. They also may write imitations, parodies and responses examining and demonstrating the aesthetics of creative nonfiction writing.
For Graduate Student Teachers
ENGL 500 Teaching Practicum.
Pass/fail, credit counts toward semester enrollment/hours but NOT towards degree. ENGL500 is required of all entering MFA students as well as students assigned to teach 200 or to assist in large lectures. In general it is recommended that all GTA register for the appropriate practicum in every semester in which they are enrolled. Please consult with the Graduate Programs Advisor for more details and guidance on this issue.
Note: Separate sections of ENGL500 may be offered and required for those GTAs assigned to teach either UNIV200 or HONRS250.
ENGL 673 Teaching Creative Writing.
Semester course (for grade and degree credit), three credits. At the present time, 673 is offered for credit in two ways (the latter being far more often the case): (1) an apprenticeship for an unfunded or part-time MFA student with an MFA faculty member who is teaching an undergraduate workshop, or (2) a semester-long course taken conjunction with a student’s teaching ENGL 295 (Reading and Writing Literature).
a. Apprenticeship requires faculty and director approval and is typical reserved as an opportunity for unfunded or part-time students to gain teaching experience.
b. GTAs are required to enroll in ENGL673 in advance of teaching 295 to be eligible to teach 295. Additionally, the program may require continuing/advanced GTAs, including those who have taught 295 before to enroll. In semesters when/where ENGL673 is not available to be offered by the Department, the program reserve the right to require GTAs to register for a specific ENGL500 practicum as means to provide training and support to those GTAs teaching 295.
During the semester, ENGL673 gathers current teachers once a week for support, questions, and further training, with sample syllabi, exercises, and lesson plans. Students also develop Statements of Teaching Philosophy to help professionalize themselves for the job market.
Literature Seminars (12 hours or more)
The development of literary-analytical sophistication is an important component of the Program. You must complete a minimum of twelve (12) credit hours in literature seminars. You may take additional courses as electives.
See the Schedule of Classes for each semester’s offerings. Remember that Independent Studies will be limited (but may be used for literature credit requirement).
Elective Coursework (18 hours)
As electives, students can take other graduate courses offered by the Department of English, including additional coursework in literature or workshops. Each semester the English Department offers courses in areas such as literature, nonfiction writing, linguistics, research techniques, teaching, form and theory. All of these graduate-level (500 or higher) classes may count toward elective credits.
In some cases, with reasonable justification, it is possible to take a graduate level course in another department. Please remember that you must get prior approval from the Program Director or your Graduate Programs Advisor to take courses in any other departments. Please consult with the Graduate Programs Advisor for more details and guidance on exploring this possibility.
Thesis (6 hours)
Your thesis is a collection of your best work; it may be a complete novel, a related series of poems, or a compendium of representative work—including, for example, short stories, a novel excerpt, and a series of poems.
MFA students take thesis credits (English 798) as a way to carve out time to create and revise a substantial and sophisticated thesis. You must take at least 6 thesis hours. No more than 9 thesis credit may be applied towards the 48 credit hour requirement; students wishing to enroll in more than 9 thesis hours (to satisfy full time credit hour requirements) may do so only with permission for the Program Director.
A student may take a maximum of six credits in graduate-level independent study courses. Independent Study Proposal Forms, as well as further instruction on the process are available via the Graduate Programs Advisor.
Independent study is not available for a course that duplicates courses already being offered, even if you apply for an independent study in a semester in which the course is not available (such as summer). Neither can IS be used as thesis hours or for a creative writing project. It should be noted that professors are offered no remuneration/compensation for conducting independent studies with students. Nevertheless, the independent study rubric may be an excellent way for second or third year MFA students to pursue an intense academic study in an area of a professor’s specialty where no course offering is available.
Note that, in accordance with Departmental guidelines about coursework and offerings, a very limited number of independent studies will be approved per semester (typically no more than 2 within the entire MFA program any given semester). Additionally, independent studies are often reserved for advance/continuing students and are rarely approved in one’s first year during the program. Most students do the majority (if not all) of their credits within the traditional course offerings.
A student may take a maximum of six credits in graduate-level independent study courses. The prerequisite for all independent studies is six credits of appropriate graduate coursework. You must get permission to register for an independent study from the professor, the Program Director, and the Department Associate Chair or Chair. Again, forms are available from the English Graduate Programs Advisor. 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. All independent study proposals must be approved by the MFA Program Director prior to the beginning of the semester in which they are conducted. No overrides will be granted until the paperwork is submitted and approved.
Independent study is not available for a course that duplicates courses already being offered, even if you apply for an independent study in a semester in which the course is not available (such as summer). Neither can IS be used as thesis hours or for a creative writing project.
Internships (Blackbird and others)
For academic credit (three hours per semester, up to six hours total) MFA students may participate in an internship (English 694). Internship Proposal Forms, as well as further instruction on the process are available via the Graduate Programs Advisor.
Internship credit is a non-didactic mechanism to reward credit for professionally related work experience. A student may take a maximum of six credits in graduate-level internships.
Many students elect an internship with an organization such as Blackbird: an online journal of literature and the arts. One goal of this internship is to provide 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 up to three times a week at the Blackbird office or production facilities. The other hours are most often spent reading and replying to submissions and working on magazine production and design. Internship forms and overrides are available from the Graduate Programs Advisor.
Interns may subsequently apply to serve as Blackbird’s Lead Associate Editor (a GTA work positon during one’s second year in the program). To qualify, the student must already have been awarded a graduate fellowship and have substantial experience working for the journal (typically interning in both semester of their first year in the MFA program). The Editor staffs the Blackbird office and is at the center of all the journal’s activities, handling responsibilities that include coordinating the supervision of interns, serving as the liaison between literary and production editors, handling correspondence with contributors, and assisting in the management and selection of submissions.
It should be noted that ENGL694 is not solely designed for internships with Blackbird. Other internships with local organizations (such as the VMFA, James River Writers, Visual Arts Center, Richmond.com, and with Richmond-based magazines, publishers and agents, etc.) can also be arranged by the MFA student in consultation with the program. Again, please see the Graduate Programs Advisor for further details and/or instructions, including forms required to submit an internship proposal for Department/Program approval.
David Wojahn, Director of Creative Writing
Thom Didato, Graduate Programs Advisor