MFA in Writing
Our 35+ years of experience in low-residency education makes our MFA in Writing what The Atlantic, Poets & Writers rankings, and—most importantly—our graduates have consistently called “the best of the best.”
About the Program
- Summer: June 21 – July 1, 2020
- Winter: December 28, 2020 – January 7, 2021
Director of Admissions:
Who is it for?
This program is ideal for self-motivated students who prefer a highly individualized course of study. More than nearly any other writing program—low-residency or traditional—VCFA’s MFA in Writing offers study options for students who write in more than one genre and/or in translation.
How will your practice develop?
Our students tell us that the MFA in Writing program at VCFA has transformed them—that in two years they’ve evolved, redefined themselves, and found the tools they need to face the human experience head on and transform it into art.
The 10-day residency on our Vermont campus is a vibrant time of workshops, lectures, discussions, and readings by faculty, graduating students, and distinguished visiting writers.
Residencies allow students to spend time immersed in beautiful Montpelier, Vermont, summer in Slovenia, or winter in Cozumel, Mexico. Whether on the Vermont campus or abroad, the MFA in Writing program offers exceptionally diverse perspectives, attitudes, and voices. This tight-knit, nonhierarchical community of writers challenges, inspires, and affirms.
Our 5:1 student-faculty ratio maximizes individual attention and fosters close relationships. Students and faculty stay on campus and have ample opportunities for informal exchange over meals or at events, creating powerful relationships and artistic support systems that last long past graduation.
At each residency, students choose their faculty advisor and develop an individualized semester study plan based on their goals and passions and intensive dialogue with faculty mentors. Following residency, students return home and devote at least 25 hours per week to their studies.
The semester’s main focus is creative work, supplemented by a substantial reading list and critical analysis. Students engage remotely with their faculty advisors through monthly exchanges of creative and critical work and ongoing dialogue about their process and development. Faculty advisors tailor feedback and critique to meet students’ individual needs, while maintaining an academic rigor that has marked our program’s success.
Individualized Semester Study
A VCFA student’s home workspace can take many forms. Students tailor their offices and writing spaces to their own creative needs and availability, and the results are fascinating.
Ruth Underhill | 2019 MFA in Writing
“I write wherever I am, and during my time at VCFA that has been many places. I have moved across the country five times as a travel nurse since being accepted into the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing Program. Here I am at Lake Tahoe this past May—a favorite getaway location.”
Sarah Leamy | 2019 MFA in Writing
“My studio is in New Mexico. This photo shows my work space in the van I travel across country to conferences in.”
Linda Murphy Marshall | 2018 MFA in Writing
“This picture shows my work space: my loft study. It’s where I write — I just finished my memoir — and translate. There are books and dictionaries in 100+ languages, as well as memoirs and other books I read while I was working on my MFA, and continue reading, and artifacts from my numerous language-related trips to Africa. It’s heaven on earth to be in this room.”
Students focus on fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction, and some choose to add a special concentration in translation. There also are opportunities for dual-genre and cross-discipline study.
Our faculty and visiting translators offer translation workshops, panels, and lectures that are open to all students. The study and practice of translation is valuable for all students regardless of their level of knowledge of another language. Students may further their study of translation at one of VCFA’s summer residencies in Slovenia or winter residencies in Cozumel, Mexico.
Concentration in Translation
Students studying poetry, fiction, or CNF can add a fifth semester of translation study and practice. This semester culminates in a translation essay and project, a certificate of completion, and a special listing on the student’s transcript.
Students are typically accepted to study poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction. Exceptional writers may be accepted in two genres. Dual-genre candidates must complete a five-semester course of study and creative theses in both genres. Dual-genre studies may also include work in the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program.
Students may also apply for a Cross-Discipline Semester that allows them to explore another genre without completing an additional thesis. Cross-Discipline studies can include work in the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program.
Student & Faculty Work
By the Numbers
What is your teaching philosophy?
There is no “one way” to write in our program. The MFA in Writing recognizes that writing approaches and styles are as diverse as our students themselves, and we value and encourage differences while emphasizing a common pursuit of excellence.
The two years students spend in this program invigorate a lifelong commitment to writing and reading. We seek to provide a foundation from which students can continue to refine their craft and expand their knowledge of literature. In addition, our program helps students develop lasting writing practices and processes while becoming part of a close community of writers that acts as a support system for years to come.
Creative nonfiction is a distinct and valued genre at VCFA. We believe that all voices, styles, and subject matter are equally valid in the search for emotional and artistic truth. The work of our faculty and visiting writers embodies the broad range of approaches open to our CNF students.
We teach personal, meditative, and lyric essays; the memoir; immersion writing; hybrid and experimental forms; as well as the traditional, more formal essay. Students explore the self within the context of family dynamics and childhood, the natural world, travel, place, and spiritual, social and cultural issues. We work with students individually to discover their most profound work in a safe and nurturing environment.
Henry James once wrote that the house of fiction has many windows. These words could serve as a statement of purpose for the fiction faculty at VCFA.
We teach all forms and style—novels, novellas, short stories, story collections, and flash fiction. Our fiction faculty has, as a whole, published work in every genre, and our aesthetic tastes are eclectic. We aim to help students find a unique voice and vision. We encourage exploration and inventiveness, while emphasizing craft, structure, and the necessity of reading widely and critically.
At VCFA, we understand that we are catalysts to a process that will continue well beyond a writer’s time in our program; we seek to help foster a productive and enduring life of writing and reading poetry.
We encourage exploration and innovation. We also facilitate exposure to elements of craft, literary history, and contemporary poetry. In addition, we encourage our poets to familiarize themselves with the kinds of poems they want to write in a given semester: narrative poems, lyric or meditative poems, poems written in traditional forms as well as in experimental modes, longer works such as suites and sequential poems, and hybrid forms such as “off the page” poetry which combine writing with art and photography.
We also encourage poets to familiarize themselves with translation whether or not they choose to participate in our more structured translation option. Our residencies in Slovenia and Cozumel often present, among many other benefits, opportunities to collaborate directly with poets writing in another language.
What can I expect from workshop?
All students participate in workshop, which is a core component of the residency experience. During your first residency, the workshop will typically include 10-12 students in your genre from all semesters, led by two faculty members. In this format, each student’s work is discussed for an hour during one of the workshop sessions. On occasion we offer smaller workshops led by one faculty member who may build in more general discussion time, reading assignments, and/or exercises. For second-semester students and above, we frequently offer “special” workshops, which might consist of focus areas such as the novel, cross-genre, translation, generative workshops, or other themes.
What is the difference between the Critical Thesis and the Creative Thesis?
The Critical Thesis, completed by the end of your third semester, focuses on close, critical reading on a topic of your choosing. You will have plenty of time to learn the craft of writing a critical essay as you move through the program. Your Creative Thesis, completed by the end of your fourth semester, is a book-length collection of original work (short stories, a novel, poems, essays, or memoir) completed or substantially revised while in the program.
How are faculty advisor assignments determined?
Prior to residency, students receive faculty bios and teaching statements in order to become familiar with the faculty. During the residency, students have the opportunity to get to know faculty members in a variety of contexts: over a meal, at readings, during workshops and lectures, at receptions, and at faculty interview sessions. Mid-residency, students submit a Faculty Preference Form, on which they list their choice of advisors. Once faculty assignments are made, students confer with their advisors to plan their semester work, set up a schedule for the term, select a preliminary bibliography, and discuss semester goals.