Program Overview

Master of Arts and Fine Arts in Creative Writing

The part-time graduate program in creative writing provides students the opportunity to grow as artists within the specializations of fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction. The small-group workshop format allows for individual attention from published, award-winning faculty. Flexible scheduling gives students the opportunity to balance their professional, personal and writing lives. While earning their degrees, students connect with other writers at readings and other events in an artistic community that extends beyond the University into Chicagoʼs vibrant literary scene. This program is also the home of literary journal TriQuarterly.


Faculty Perspectives

Distinguished authors and MA-MFA in Creative Writing faculty members Stuart Dybek, Faculty Director Christine Sneed, and Naeem Murr share their thoughts on writing and on Northwestern's MA-MFA program.

Recent and continuing faculty include:

  • Eula Biss
  • Chris Abani
  • Stuart Dybek
  • Reginald Gibbons
  • Goldie Goldbloom
  • Cristina Henríquez
  • Marya Hornbacher
  • Juan Martinez
  • Ed Roberson
  • Christine Sneed
  • Patrick Somerville
  • S.L. Wisenberg

Program Goals

  • To help students determine the strengths and weaknesses of their writing, and learn how to evaluate criticism of their work
  • To teach students how to take their writing apart, re-think and revise it
  • To show students how to experiment with different styles and forms
  • To guide students in creating a publishable manuscript or portion of one
  • To teach students how to read literature as a writer and a critic
  • To train students to teach creative writing, informed by current pedagogy and classroom experience
  • To give students the opportunity to edit an international literary magazine with their peers
  • To provide students with the tools to create strong applications for jobs in teaching, publishing, and editing

Areas of Focus

  • Creative Nonfiction
  • Fiction
  • Poetry

Curriculum Requirements

Depending on whether they choose the MA or the MFA track, students complete 10 or 18 courses. The last 4 courses of the MFA are tuition-free for students in good-standing. Current students should refer to curriculum requirements in place at time of entry into the program. 

MA in Creative Writing

Core Courses (6 courses)

  • 3 workshops in one genre: MCS 411, MCW 413, or MCW 461
  • 1 cross-genre course: MCW 479 or MCW 480
  • 2 graduate-level literature courses

Electives (3 courses)

  • 3 courses drawn from MCS special topics courses, internships in teaching and publishing, literature courses or liberal studies courses. Students can take a maximum of 2 independent study courses as electives

Thesis (1 course

  • MCW 590 Thesis

MFA in Creative Writing

The 18-course curriculum includes seven workshops in a concentration, six electives and two thesis courses to complete the MFA program experience

Core Courses (10 courses)

  • 7 workshops in one genre
  • 1 cross-genre course: MCW 479 or MCW 480
  • 1 seminar on teaching creative writing
  • 1 practicum in teaching or publishing

Electives (6 courses)
6 courses drawn from the MALit program, special topics courses and internships in publishing
—Must include 3 literature courses (LIT or ENG)
—Maximum of 2 optional independent study courses

Thesis (2 courses)

  • 2 thesis writing courses

Electives are chosen from the graduate course offerings in the Master of Arts in Literature program, creative writing special topics courses (MCW 490) and the seminars and internships (practica) in teaching and publishing. Since good writers also need to be good readers, students must take electives in literary studies. Recent electives include courses on reading poetry; the narrator in fiction, nonfiction and poetry; and writing humor. Independent studies round out the program and provide an opportunity to strengthen writing portfolios.


The final project of both the MA and MFA programs is a creative thesis, an original work of high literary merit (judged on the basis of art as well as craft). The creative thesis is structured and revised under the supervision of a faculty member (or faculty mentor) and a second reader. The project may be one long piece or a series of shorter pieces. It may include or be an expansion of work written during the student's course of study as long as it represents a culminating effort to shape stories, prose pieces, a long piece, or a group of poems into a coherent, self-sufficient work. This large-scale project supplements the smaller-scale study of craft with the invaluable experience of creating a larger work. And for students who plan to pursue book-length publication after graduation, the master's creative thesis may be the first version of a work in progress.

Core Courses:

  • IPLS 420-0 Introduction to Digital Studies
  • MCW 411-0 Poetry Workshop
  • MCW 413-0 Fiction Workshop
  • MCW 413-0 Fiction Writing Workshop
  • MCW 413-0 Fiction Writing Workshop
  • MCW 413-DL Fiction Writing Workshop
  • MCW 461-0 OR 461-DL Creative Nonfiction Workshop
  • MCW 461-0 Creative Nonfiction Workshop
  • MCW 461-0 Creative Nonfiction Workshop
  • MCW 479-0 Poetry for Prose Writers
  • MCW 480-0 Prose for Poets
  • MCW 570-0 Teaching Creative Writing
  • MCW 579-0 Practicum in Teaching
  • MCW 590-0 Thesis Research

Elective Courses:

  • IPLS 401-0 Religion, Existentialism, and Film
  • IPLS 401-0 Imagining the Internet: Fiction, Film and Theory
  • IPLS 402-0 Asian Religions in Lit & Film
  • IPLS 492-0 New Documentary Film
  • IPLS 492-0 Queer Theory
  • IPLS 492-0 Black Chicago
  • IPLS 492-0 Defining Chicago
  • LIT 405-0 20th C British & American Lit
  • LIT 405-0 Topics: 1890s British Lit
  • LIT 405-0 20th C Lit: Joyce and Woolf
  • LIT 405-0 Victorian Travel & Crime
  • LIT 405-0 Anglo-American Mysteries
  • LIT 405-0 The Seven Deadly Sins
  • LIT 405-0 Conceptions of the Body in Midieval Literature
  • LIT 405-05 Jane Austen and The Rise of The Novel
  • LIT 480-0 Lit. and Cultures of 1968
  • LIT 480-0 Postmodern Film
  • LIT 480-0 An Exploration of German Film
  • LIT 480-0 Latin Amer. & Latina/o Sci-Fi
  • LIT 480-0 Slum Cinema
  • LIT 480-0 French & Francophone Women’s Writing
  • LIT 492-0 Topics in Lit: The Jazz Age
  • LIT 492-0 Topics: Proust
  • LIT 492-0 After the American Century
  • LIT 492-0 Special Topics: Proust
  • LIT 492-0 Race, Space & Place in Chicago
  • LIT 492-0 Contemporary Adaptation
  • LIT 492-0 Lit of Amer. Century & After
  • LIT 492-0 Inventing the American Novel
  • LIT 492-0 21st-Century Latino Literature
  • LIT 492-0 Literature and Wartime
  • LIT 492-0 Bad Mothers
  • LIT 492-0 Chicago Transformed
  • LIT 492-0 The US-Mexico Border in Literature and Film
  • LIT 492-0 Feminism in Trumplandia
  • MCW 490-0 Representing Interiority
  • MCW 490-0 Writing Reviews
  • MCW 490-0 Writing Humor
  • MCW 490-0 Travel Literature
  • MCW 490-0 Brief Encounters
  • MCW 490-0 Shosetsu
  • MCW 490-0 War, Violence, Suffer
  • MCW 490-0 The Video Essay
  • MCW 490-0 Writing About Work
  • MCW 490-0 Reading & Writing Poetry
  • MCW 490-0 Revision: Prose Forms
  • MCW 490-0 Research in Creative Writing
  • MCW 490-0 Research in Creative Writing
  • MCW 490-0 Reading and Writing Travel
  • MCW 490-0 YA & Middle Grade Fic/Nonfic
  • MCW 490-0 Writing from Works in Transl.
  • MCW 490-0 Basics of Screenwriting
  • MCW 490-0 Making Narrative Time
  • MCW 490-0 The Short Novel
  • MCW 490-0 Cross-Genre Texts
  • MCW 490-0 Literary Adaptation
  • MCW 490-0 Between the Sheets: Writing Sex
  • MCW 490-DL Writing for Television
  • MCW 575-0 Seminar on Journal Publishing
  • MCW 575-0 The Publishing Industry
  • MCW_SEMINAR 490-0 Beyond The Hunger Games
  • MCW_SEMINAR 490-0 Plot and Structure for Novelists
  • MCW_SEMINAR 575-0 The Publishing Industry