The Warren Wilson College Master of Fine Arts degree requires successful completion of four semesters of study and represents mastery in creative writing, contemporary letters, applied criticism, and the tradition of literature. In the final month of each semester, evaluations of the semester project by both the student and the supervisor, along with samples of creative and analytical writing, are submitted to the Academic Board for review. This process affords an opportunity for regular, direct counseling as the student progresses toward the degree through a series of individually tailored projects. In order to receive the degree, each student will complete an analytical paper on some topic of literature, contemporary letters or craft; read 50-80 books; teach a class to fellow students; give a public reading of his or her work; and prepare a thesis manuscript of fiction or poetry. Within these guidelines, however, each student devises a course of study that directly addresses the strengths and weaknesses, the aesthetic issues, and overall intention of his or her own creative work.
Grades: No grades are assigned. Narrative assessment of all semesters and projects are provided on transcripts.
Requirements: A total of 60 credits must be earned. (15 credits are granted for each semester successfully completed, no hours for incomplete work.)
The residency is an intensive ten-day period of both instruction and lively exchange with other writers. In workshops the students' creative work is critiqued and discussed under the direction of two faculty members. Classes in literature and craft provide a broad curriculum and a strong background for the semester study projects, and each evening there is a poetry and fiction reading presented by faculty, guest faculty, or graduating students. During these ten days in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the low student-faculty ratio of 3:1 enables students to have easy access to the faculty for individual instruction, counseling, and guidance for the upcoming semester project. Thus, students who had previously found themselves isolated in their commitment to writing are given regular opportunities for stimulation, exposure to new ideas and different aesthetics, contact with more experienced writers and with their own peers, and direct response to their work within a supportive writing community.
The residencies are also designed to help students choose a faculty advisor and work closely with that supervisor to plan a semester project. Although each project includes creative work, substantial reading, and some analytical writing, the goals of the study derive from the student's own interests and are directed toward his or her development as a writer. During the six-month term, the student submits work to the supervisor every three weeks (new poems or fiction, revised pieces, reports on the reading) and the faculty supervisor responds with specific suggestions as well as general advice, criticism, and support. At the end of the semester, students complete evaluations of their finished projects and return to campus to design new study plans. Thorough evaluations of both the residency and the project become a part of the student's permanent record in the program; a successfully completed semester is granted 15 hours of graduate credit. Throughout the six months away from campus, a student is expected to devote at least 25 hours each week to the semester project; thus, students are able to maintain commitments to family or job while pursuing their studies, combining the solitude and life patterns that are necessary for creative work with a flexible structure of response, criticism, and guidance from an experienced writer and teacher.
Although an undergraduate degree is normally a criterion for admission, the program does accept a small number of students without B.A. degrees or undergraduate concentrations in literature and writing; however, the application manuscripts in these cases must be exceptionally strong. The program also admits a small number of "residency students" each semester who participate only in the residency period.
Students are admitted to the program primarily on the basis of an original manuscript. Submitted in triplicate, the manuscript should indicate sufficient quality of work, level of commitment, and sophistication of skills to suggest the applicant is ready for graduate work in writing and literature.
The application should give evidence of strong preparation in literature, a background in the humanities, the ability to do independent study, and an applicant's readiness to receive and use criticism. Publication and workshop experience will be given consideration, but are not weighted heavily. Transcripts should be sent from the student's school. The program also requires two letters of recommendation from persons who are familiar with the student's writing and able to assess his or her capacity for independent study and congeniality in a close-knit community. Two very important elements of the application are the brief essays requested from each applicant, one in response to some recently read piece of literature, and the other offering an assessment of his/her own writing, reasons for wanting to enter the program, and a general sense of goals.
During the academic year, faculty members from the Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing and/or other writers visit campus and are available to undergraduate students for discussions about writing. The Holden Visiting Writers give public readings, attend classes, and hold writing workshops to discuss student work. Visiting Writers have included Joan Aleshire, Wilton Barnhardt, Andrea Barrett, Robert Boswell, Billy Collins, Anthony Doerr, A. Van Jordan, Laura Kasischke, Thomas Lux, Steve Orlen, Richard Russo, Eleanor Wilner, Dominic Smith, David Haynes, and Jennifer Grotz.
The Fellowship brings a graduate of the College's MFA Program for Writers to campus to teach in the undergraduate writing program for an academic year. The fellowship is awarded by the the Director of the Undergraduate Writing Program and the Vice President for Academic Affairs in consultation with the MFA Academic Board.