city view at night
streetcar on market
flowers at Kalmanovitz
Shurin and Brady
Kalmanovitz front door
girl with braids
reading series speaker
MFA students and Kate Brady

Graduate Program in Writing

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.

Program Timeline

Requirements include four workshops, five elective seminars, and two semesters of one-on-one thesis work.

Year 1
Fall           literature seminar and workshop
Spring      literature seminar and workshop
Summer   thesis I

Year 2

Fall           literature seminar and workshop
Spring      literature seminar and workshop

Year 3

Fall           literature seminar and thesis II

Fiction Courses

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 tradition. 

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. 

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 long fiction.

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. 

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 work. 

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.  

Nonfiction Courses

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 own work.

Poetry Courses

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. 

Poetry International

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.

Cross-Genre Courses

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.

Professional Development

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 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.


Nonfiction Workshop I, II, III, IV

Students explore theory and practice in writing nonfiction.

Fiction Workshop

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 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.


Thesis I

Students work with individual thesis instructors to formulate, plan, and begin to execute the thesis. Offered in the first summer semester.

Thesis II

Students work with individual thesis instructors to complete the thesis. Offered in the final fall semester.