The graduate curriculum in the Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program at the University of San Francisco provides students with the opportunity to study creative writing at an advanced level and to receive the MFA degree, recognized by the national Association of Writers and Writing Programs as the terminal degree in the field.
Students apply to the program in a specific genre in which they concentrate but are also free to explore their interests in other genres. Workshops and reading-based seminars are offered in the genres of fiction (long and short fiction), poetry, and creative nonfiction.
Requirements include four workshops, five elective seminars, and two semesters of one-on-one thesis work.
Developments in the Novel
Beginning with novels in the mid-nineteenth century and advancing to the mid-twentieth century, this course addresses major literary movements, such as psychological realism, modernism, and postmodernism, and considers literature in English and in translation. Novels are analyzed in relation to historical context and aesthetic tradition. Offered in the fall.
The Architecture of Prose
The metaphor of architecture is employed to examine how works of fiction are “built.” Emphasizing works of long fiction, the course considers the intricate relationship of plot, structure, and patterns of imagery. Readings stress a variety of approaches by authors from different eras and locales, representing a range of fictional traditions. Offered in the spring.
Evolution of the Short Story
This course concentrates on the masters of the short story from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Addressing major literary movements, such as psychological realism, modernism, and postmodernism, the course considers literature in English and in translation. Stories are analyzed in relation to historical context and aesthetic tradition. Offered in the fall.
Contemporary Experiments in Fiction
This course on experimental and radical approaches to fictional prose emphasizes writers who work against the conventions of realism and how they make meaning out of their departures. Readings drawn from around the world make use of such strategies as discontinuous narratives, metafictional techniques, and non-narrative forms and serve as models to encourage students to take risks in their own writing. Offered in the spring.
Techniques of Long Fiction
With an emphasis on contemporary novels, this course engages students in close readings of long fiction, examining ways in which different authors use formal elements, including characterization, structure, point of view, chapter structure, and figurative language. Craft analysis integrates craft theory and emphasizes how students may apply these techniques in their own novels-in-progress. Offered in the fall.
The Craft of Short Fiction
With an emphasis on contemporary short stories, this course engages students in close readings of short fiction, examining ways in which different authors can serve as models for crafting the formal elements of fiction, including structure, characterization, point of view, imagery, and style. Craft analysis integrates craft theory and emphasizes how students may apply these techniques in their own stories. Offered in the fall.
Style in Fiction
To deepen a student’s understanding of style and its relation to content, this course examines fiction at the level of language, emphasizing short stories as a convenient means to analyze a broader range of styles. Elements of style studied include sentence structure, tone, rhythm, voice, and imagery. There may also be a focus on different schools of style, such as such as stream of consciousness, minimalism, magical realism, or surrealism. Offered in the spring.
Point of View and Characterization
This course offers a close study of how writers construct complex points of view and how these points of view shape characters and the reader's deepening understanding of them. Technical considerations may include the choice of person, single or multiple narrators, voice, degree of access to characters, and the question of reliability. Readings will be in both short and long fiction. Offered in the spring.
Finding Form: Novellas & Story Cycles
This course examines the relationship between form and content in works of fiction of varying lengths, with a primary focus on two “in between” forms, the story cycle and the novella. Other works, such as a novel with multiple plotlines or a series of stories by a single writer written over time about the same characters, may be studied as well. The reading list includes both classics and contemporary works from the U.S. and around the world. Offered in the fall.
The Art of the Essay
This course focuses on the history and development of the essay as a creative form. Included are a variety of modes: personal essays, portraits, lyric meditations, cultural investigations, and persuasive manifestos. Students learn to apply the structure and techniques of description, exposition, reflection, narration, and argument to their own short essays. Readings range from classical to contemporary and may include book-length collections. Offered in the fall.
This course focuses on a range of strategies for building longer nonfiction narratives: scene and dramatic structure, reflection and analysis, chronology and character, and the role of the narrator. Readings emphasize contemporary works, including memoir, narrative journalism, and other book-length forms. Offered in the spring.
Research for Writers
This course covers a range of research techniques useful for writers of long and short form nonfiction, from finding the necessary background information and interviewing experts to lending authority to a first-person account of events and issues in literary nonfiction. The course covers the use of print and electronic media and databases and basic reporting techniques. Some fiction reading may be included, and the course may be open to fiction writers. Offered in the fall.
Constructing the World: Time and Space in Nonfiction
This course focuses on how writers construct the time and place their nonfiction characters inhabit. Readings from full-length nonfiction works and shorter essays illustrate how to detail a specific historical era, how landscapes and city-scapes create a play of light and shadow for events, and how characters are illuminated by social and cultural forces. Using description, exposition, narration, and commentary, students learn to determine the most elegant and effective ways to manage time and construct a world that feels real. Offered in the spring.
Contemporary American Poetry
Students explore topics in contemporary American poetry, ranging from the Language poets of the early 1980s to the Dark Room Collective of today. The course follows shifting ideologies and social contexts and examines the way literary schools and counter-influences create a new American poetry for the contemporary. Students read both the poetry and poetics of selected authors and write creative responses. Offered in the fall.
This course examines major developments in modern world poetry by looking at a range of literary traditions and historical contexts of non-English-speaking poets. Though most work is read in translation, reference to original languages is encouraged. Students work on translating from chosen languages, and the class examines both the problems and the excitement of reading beyond one’s borders. Offered in the spring.
Prosody: The Meaning of Poetic Form
An in-depth study of poetic elements, with an eye to the history and evolution of poetic forms. Students look at the organizing principles of syllable, stanza, and line; of stress, meter, rhyme, and a variety of countings, as well as contemporary explorations of fragmentation, interruption, chance, and silence. Readings are drawn from the ancients as well as from postmodern contemporaries to demonstrate a range of structural elements, radical and classic. Offered in the fall.
Intention and Design in Prose
The articulation of ideas of aesthetic judgment in poetry has a long history from Aristotle and Longinus to Stephen Burt and Marjorie Perloff. Students will read essays and poems that give shape to aesthetic judgments and will be encouraged to respond in their own writing to the history of poetic ideas. Offered in the spring.
This course examines how a writer’s plans for prose narratives develop from idea to sketch to final draft. Close examinations of literary works in fiction and nonfiction are augmented by the writer’s letters, essays, notebooks, preliminary drafts, and other aesthetic statements. Students investigate how sensibility is expressed by craft, with an emphasis on the process of composition and revision.
Blurred Boundaries: Writing Beyond Genre
This course focuses on modern literary works that cross or combine genres and therefore stand outside the conventions of any single genre. By studying such works, students learn to draw from a variety of models and modes in order to increase their stylistic and structural range. Readings are drawn from genre theory and works such as “short short,” the “lyric essay,” the “illustrated novel,” the “prose poem,” and the “novel in verse.”
Teaching Creative Writing
A study of the methods, theory, and practice of teaching creative writing. Students read extensively about pedagogy, develop model lessons, and put them into practice. Topics include the philosophy of teaching, course design, principles for teaching craft, and effective ways to respond to student writing.
Word for Word: The Texture of Language
Examines the creative use of diction, syntax, punctuation, and cadence by writers in all genres. Students study the impact of language and grammar as functions of literary style and agents of literary meaning, and apply new linguistic strategies to their own writing.
Internship in Writing
Nonfiction Workshop I, II, III, IV
This course enables students to complete a writing-based internship in the Bay Area. The main mission of the course is to facilitate work in a writing-related field, ranging from internships at literary journals and publishing houses to work at literacy organizations and in the field of public relations. The course also features guest speakers who address both professional opportunities and the value of participating in a writing community. Course may be taken for 1-3 units of credit.
Students explore theory and practice in writing nonfiction.
Short Fiction Workshop I, II, III, IV
Students explore theory and practice in writing short fiction.
Long Fiction Workshop I, II, III, IV
Students explore theory and practice in writing long fiction.
Poetry Workshop I, II, III, IV
Students explore theory and practice in writing poetry.
Students work with individual thesis instructors to formulate, plan, and begin to execute the thesis. Offered in the first summer semester.
Students work with individual thesis instructors to complete the thesis. Offered in the final fall semester.