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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Point of View & 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
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
Strategies in Contemporary International Fiction
This course emphasizes the literary techniques employed by
contemporary international fiction writers and may also reference classic works
of the late twentieth century. Studying both long and short fiction, students
will examine the strategies writers use to render a social world, whether in
the form of realism, magical or fantastic realism, or metafiction, and consider
how literary influence traverses cultural borders and is shaped and re-shaped
in the process. Students will apply what they learn to their own creative
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
Contemporary Experiments in Nonfiction
This course on innovative approaches to nonfiction
emphasizes present-day writers who work against conventional understandings of
the genre. Readings will investigate the lyric essay, segmented essay, the uses
of fabrication and falsification, hypertext and digital experiments, formal
innovations, and more. Students will learn how contemporary authors are
continuing to push the boundaries of the genre, and practice using such techniques
to expand the possibilities of their own nonfiction.
The History of Nonfiction
This course looks at the history and development of
nonfiction from the classical to the contemporary era. Readings—in both long
and short forms—investigate a variety of modes and subgenres: essay, memoir,
history, critique, manifesto, portrait, lyric, reportage, and others. Students
learn how popular subjects and approaches to the genre have shifted over time,
and use this knowledge not only to apply structure and technique to their own
work, but also to see their work as part of a greater tradition.
Nonfiction Theory & Technique
An in-depth study of nonfiction craft elements and how
writers use them to produce a variety of effects. Students read contemporary
work with a close eye on such elements as scene, setting, characterization,
argument, voice, narrative authority, use of facts, finding a form, and others.
The course will also investigate the genre as a whole—what it is, what makes it
distinct, and how an understanding of technique can help us form aesthetic
judgements toward any piece of nonfiction.
Special Topics in Nonfiction
A customized course focusing on a specific element,
subgenre, or form of nonfiction, with representative readings of primary works
and theory. Topic changes according to the instructor.
Truth, Ethics & Memory
Some writers provide extensive footnotes and back matter
detailing their sources and research, while others don’t provide any
information at all. This course looks at the variety of methods available to
nonfiction writers to find the truth, assemble facts, and piece it all together
into a gripping story. How do we establish authority to get readers to trust
us? How do we write about family, friends, and strangers without exploiting
them? How do we work with the unreliability of memory, and when is it okay to
fudge the truth? Reading a variety of memoirs, essays, and works of reportage,
students will examine the different ways authors seek truth in nonfiction and
learn practical techniques for successfully navigating these issues in their
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Intention and Design in Prose
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.
Internship in Writing
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.
This course will focus on the business of being a working writer. How does publishing work? What career paths might writers consider in and beyond academe? What does literary citizenship involve? What should MFA graduates do next? Students will also have the opportunity to chat with editors, agents, and others in fields related to writing, and discuss fellowships, query letters, and much more. This course is suitable for students working in any genre and may be especially useful to students in their final semester of the MFA program.
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.
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
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.
Nonfiction Workshop I, II, III, IV
Students explore theory and practice in writing nonfiction.
Students explore theory and practice in writing short or
long fiction or both.
Short Fiction Workshop I, II, III, IV
Students explore theory and practice in writing short
Long Fiction Workshop I, II, III, IV
Students explore theory and practice in writing long
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.