M.F.A. Creative Writing
Thank you for your interest in the Creative Writing MFA Program at the University of Idaho: the premier fully funded, three-year MFA program in the Northwest. Situated in the panhandle of Northern Idaho in the foothills of Moscow Mountain, we offer the time and support to train in the traditions, techniques, and practice of nonfiction, poetry, and fiction. Each student graduates as the author of a manuscript of publishable quality after undertaking a rigorous process of thesis preparation and a public defense. Spring in Moscow has come to mean cherry blossoms, snowmelt in Paradise Creek, and the head-turning accomplishments of our thesis-year students. Ours is a faculty of active, working writers who relish teaching and mentorship. We invite you in the following pages to learn about us, our curriculum, our community, and the town of Moscow. If the prospect of giving yourself three years with us to develop as a writer, teacher, and editor is appealing, we look forward to reading your application.
The region surrounding the University of Idaho is the ancestral land of both the Coeur d’Alene and Nez Perce peoples, and its campus in Moscow sits on unceded lands guaranteed to the Nez Perce people in the 1855 Treaty with the Nez Perce. As a land grant university, the University of Idaho also benefits from endowment lands that are the ancestral homes to many of the West’s Native peoples. The Department of English and Creative Writing Program acknowledge this history and share in the communal effort to ensure that the complexities and atrocities of the past remain in our discourse and are never lost to time. We invite you to think of the traditional “land acknowledgment” statement through our MFA alum CMarie Fuhrman’s words.
Three Years to Write
Regardless of where you are in your artistic career, there is nothing more precious than time. A three-year program gives you time to generate, refine, and edit a body of original work. Typically, students have a light third year, which allows for dedicated time to complete and revise the Creative Thesis. (48 manuscript pages for those working in poetry, 100 pages for those working in prose.)
Our degree requirements are designed to reflect the real-world interests of a writer. Students are encouraged to focus their studies in ways that best reflect their artistic obsessions as well as their lines of intellectual and critical inquiry. In effect, students may be as genre-focused or as multi-genre as they please. Students must remain in-residence during their degrees. Typically, one class earns you 3 credits. The MFA requires a total of 54 earned credits in the following categories.
12 Credits: Graduate-level Workshop courses in Fiction, Poetry, and/or Nonfiction.
9 Credits: Techniques and Traditions courses in Fiction, Poetry, and/or Nonfiction
3 Credits: Internships: Fugue, Confluence Lab, and/or Pedagogy
9 Credits: Literature courses
12 Credits: Elective courses
10 Credits: Thesis
Flexible Degree Path
Students are admitted to our program in one of three genres, Poetry, Fiction, or Nonfiction. By design, our degree path offers ample opportunity to take Workshop, Techniques, Traditions, and Literature courses in any genre. Our faculty work and publish in multiple genres and value the slipperiness of categorization. We encourage students to write in as broad or focused a manner as they see fit. We are not at all interested in making writers “stay in their lanes,” and we encourage students to shape their degree paths in accordance with their passions.
What You Study
During your degree, you will take Workshop, Techniques, Traditions, and Literature courses.
Our workshop classes are small by design (typically twelve students or fewer) and taught by core and visiting MFA faculty. No two workshop experiences look alike, but what they share are faculty members committed to the artistic and intellectual passions of their workshop participants.
Techniques studios are developed and taught by core and visiting MFA faculty. These popular courses are dedicated to the granular aspects of writing, from deep study of the poetic image to the cultivation of independent inquiry in nonfiction to the raptures of research in fiction. Such courses are heavy on generative writing and experimentation, offering students a dedicated space to hone their craft in a way that is complementary to their primary work.
Traditions seminars are developed and taught by core and visiting MFA faculty. These generative writing courses bring student writing into conversation with a specific trajectory or “tradition” of literature, from life writing to outlaw literature to the history of the short story, from prosody to postwar surrealism to genre-fluidity and beyond. These seminars offer students a dynamic space to position their work within the vast and varied trajectories of literature.
Literature courses are taught by core Literature and MFA faculty. Our department boasts field-leading scholars, interdisciplinary writers and thinkers, and theory-driven practitioners who value the intersection of scholarly study, research, humanism, and creative writing.
We teach our classes first and foremost as practitioners of the art. Full stop. Though our styles and interests lie at divergent points on the literary landscape, our common pursuit is to foster the artistic and intellectual growth of our students, regardless of how or why they write. We value individual talent and challenge all students to write deep into their unique passions, identities, histories, aesthetics, and intellects. We view writing not as a marketplace endeavor but as an act of human subjectivity. We’ve authored or edited several books across the genres.
Learn more about Our People.
The MFA experience culminates with each student writing and defending a creative thesis. For prose writers, theses are 100 pages of creative work; for poets, 48 pages. Though theses often take the form of an excerpt from a book-in-progress, students have flexibility when it comes to determining the shape, form, and content of their creative projects. In their final year, each student works on envisioning and revising their thesis with three committee members, a Major Professor (core MFA faculty) and two additional Readers (core UI faculty). All students offer a public thesis defense. These events are attended by MFA students, faculty, community members, and other invitees. During a thesis defense, a candidate reads from their work for thirty minutes, answers artistic and critical questions from their Major Professor and two Readers for forty-five minutes, and then answer audience questions for thirty minutes. Though formally structured and rigorous, the thesis defense is ultimately a celebration of each student’s individual talent.
The Symposium Reading Series is a longstanding student-run initiative that offers every second-year MFA candidate an opportunity to read their works-in-progress in front of peers, colleagues, and community members. This reading and Q & A event prepares students for the third-year public thesis defense. These off-campus events are fun and casual, exemplifying our community centered culture and what matters most: the work we’re all here to do.
All students admitted to the MFA program are fully funded through Teaching Assistantships. All Assistantships come with a full tuition waiver and a stipend, which for the current academic year is roughly $15,000. Over the course of three years, MFA students teach a mix of composition courses, sections of Introduction to Creative Writing (ENGL 290), and additional writing courses, as departmental needs arise. Students may also apply to work in the Writing Center as positions become available. When you join the MFA program at Idaho, you receive teacher training prior to the beginning of your first semester. We value the role MFA students serve within the department and consider each graduate student as a working artist and colleague. Current teaching loads for Teaching Assistants are two courses per semester. Some members of the Fugue editorial staff receive course reductions to offset the demands of editorial work. We also award a variety of competitive and need-based scholarships to help offset general living costs. In addition, we offer three outstanding graduate student fellowships: The Hemingway Fellowship, Centrum Fellowship, and Writing in the Wild Fellowship. Finally, our Graduate and Professional Student Association offers extra-departmental funding in the form of research and travel grants to qualifying students throughout the academic year.
Each year, we bring a Distinguished Visiting Writer to campus. DVWs interface with our writing community through public readings, on-stage craft conversations hosted by core MFA faculty, and small seminars geared toward MFA candidates. Recent DVWs include Maggie Nelson, Roger Reeves, Luis Alberto Urrea, Brian Evenson, Kate Zambreno, Dorianne Laux, Teju Cole, Tyehimba Jess, Claire Vaye Watkins, Naomi Shihab Nye, David Shields, Rebecca Solnit, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Susan Orlean, Natasha Tretheway, Jo Ann Beard, William Logan, Aisha Sabatini Sloan, Gabino Iglesias, and Marcus Jackson, among several others.
Established in 1990 at the University of Idaho, Fugue publishes poetry, fiction, essays, hybrid work, and visual art from established and emerging writers and artists. Fugue is managed and edited entirely by University of Idaho graduate students, with help from graduate and undergraduate readers. We take pride in the work we print, the writers we publish, and the presentation of both print and digital content. We hold an annual contest in both prose and poetry, judged by two nationally recognized writers. Past judges include Pam Houston, Dorianne Laux, Rodney Jones, Mark Doty, Rick Moody, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Jo Ann Beard, Rebecca McClanahan, Patricia Hampl, Traci Brimhall, Edan Lepucki, Tony Hoagland, Chen Chen, Aisha Sabatini Sloan, sam sax, and Leni Zumas. The journal boasts a remarkable list of past contributors, including Steve Almond, Charles Baxter, Stephen Dobyns, Denise Duhamel, Stephen Dunn, B.H. Fairchild, Nick Flynn, Terrance Hayes, Campbell McGrath, W.S. Merwin, Sharon Olds, Jim Shepard, RT Smith, Virgil Suarez, Melanie Rae Thon, Natasha Trethewey, Philip Levine, Anthony Varallo, Robert Wrigley, and Dean Young, among many others.
The Creative Writing Program is proud to partner with the Academy of American Poets to offer an annual Academy of American Poets University Prize to a student at the University of Idaho. The prize results in a small honorarium through the Academy as well as publication of the winning poem on the Academy website. The Prize was established in 2009 with a generous grant from Karen Trujillo and Don Burnett. Many of our nation’s most esteemed and celebrated poets won their first recognition through an Academy of American Poets Prize, including Diane Ackerman, Toi Derricotte, Mark Doty, Tess Gallagher, Louise Glück, Jorie Graham, Kimiko Hahn, Joy Harjo, Robert Hass, Li-Young Lee, Gregory Orr, Sylvia Plath, Mark Strand, and Charles Wright.
Those selected as Centrum Fellows attend the summer Port Townsend Writers’ Conference free of charge. Housed in Fort Worden (which is also home to Copper Canyon Press), Centrum is a nonprofit dedicated to fostering several artistic programs throughout the year. With a focus on rigorous attention to craft, the Writers’ Conference offers five full days of morning intensives, afternoon workshops, and craft lectures to eighty participants from across the nation. The cost of the conference, which includes tuition, lodging, and meals, is covered by the scholarship. These annual scholarship are open to all MFA candidates in all genres.
This fellowship offers an MFA Fiction student full course releases in their final year. The selection of the Hemingway Fellow is based solely on the quality of an applicant’s writing. Each year, applicants have their work judged blind by a noted author who remains anonymous until the selection process has been completed. Through the process of blind selection, the Hemingway Fellowship Fund fulfills its mission of giving the Fellow the time they need to complete a substantial draft of a manuscript.
Writing in the Wild
This annual fellowship gives two MFA students the opportunity to work in Idaho’s iconic wilderness areas. The fellowship fully supports one week at either the McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS), which borders Payette Lake and Ponderosa State Park, or the Taylor Wilderness Research Station, which lies in the heart of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area. Both campuses offer year-round housing. These writing retreats allow students to concentrate solely on their writing. Because both locations often house researchers, writers will also have the opportunity to interface with foresters, geologists, biologists, and interdisciplinary scholars.
Idaho admitted its first class of seven MFA students in 1994 with a faculty of four: Mary Clearman Blew, Tina Foriyes, Ron McFarland (founder of Fugue), and Lance Olsen. From the beginning, the program was conceived as a three-year sequence of workshops and techniques classes. Along with offering concentrations in writing fiction and poetry, Idaho was one of the first in the nation to offer a full concentration in creative nonfiction. Also from its inception, Idaho not only allowed but encouraged its students to enroll in workshops outside their primary genres. Idaho has become one of the nation’s most respected three-year MFA programs, attracting both field-leading faculty and students. In addition to the founders of this program, notable distinguished faculty have included Kim Barnes, Robert Wrigley, Daniel Orozco, Joy Passanante, Tobias Wray, Brian Blanchfield, and Scott Slovic, whose collective vision, rigor, grit, and care have paved the way for future generations committed to the art of writing.
Situated in the foothills of Moscow Mountain amid the rolling terrain of the Palouse (the ancient silt beds unique to the region), our location in the vibrant community of Moscow, Idaho, boasts a lively and artistic local culture. Complete with independent bookstores, coffee shops, art galleries, restaurants and breweries, (not to mention a historic art house cinema, organic foods co-op, and renowned seasonal farmer’s market), Moscow is a friendly and affordable place to live. Outside of town, we’re lucky to have many opportunities for hiking, skiing, rafting, biking, camping, and general exploring—from nearby Idler’s Rest and Kamiak Butte to renowned destinations like Glacier National Park, the Snake River, the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area, and Nelson, BC. As for more urban getaways, Spokane, Washington, is only a ninety-minute drive, and our regional airline, Alaska, makes daily flights to and from Seattle that run just under an hour.