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Illinois establishes MFA in creative writing

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor
(217) 333-2177;


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- An advanced creative writing program has been established in the American heartland. Rooted in the rich prairie soil – as is Iowa’s famed writers’ workshop, the new University of Illinois program will offer, its planners say, another
first-rate opportunity for the nation’s most promising writers.

The UI’s MFA (master’s degree in fine arts) program in creative writing will begin in the fall of 2002. Only students who already are talented creative writers will be eligible for admission. Twelve students will be accepted each year.

Students who are accepted into the program, which is offered by the UI English department, will receive graduate study and professional training in the writing of fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction. They also will be trained to become teachers of creative and professional writing.

"The primary goal of the MFA in Creative Writing is to give these literary artists time and space to work on and perfect their writing, and to study the craft and technique of writing," said Michael Van Walleghen, a professor of English at the UI, and the director of the new program.

The English department’s staff of distinguished creative writing faculty, including National Book Award nominees and many prize winners, will serve as teachers.

"Very few places in the country can compete with our talent," Van Walleghen said.

Among the 11 creative writers who will serve as teacher-mentors are fiction writers Richard Powers and Jean Thompson, both nominated for National Book Awards and both UI alumni.
The other MFA professors are Mark Costello and Paul Friedman, also UI alumni, and Philip Graham, Brigit Kelly, Laurence Lieberman, Michael Madonick, Audrey Petty, Van Walleghen and David Wright. A writers-in-residence series also is planned.

According to Van Walleghen, Illinois has long played an important role in the creative writing of the United States.

For example, for 20 years the English department published the prestigious literary magazine Accent, which featured such writers as e.e. cummings, Flannery O’Connor, Katherine Anne Porter, Wallace Stevens and Eudora Welty. The department also runs the Carr Visiting Writers series, which brings distinguished contemporary writers to campus. Carr visitors have included Raymond Carver, Stanley Elkin, William Gass, W.S. Merwin, Adrienne Rich and Mark Strand. Largely because of its noted and productive teaching staff, the English department, Van Walleghen said, consistently is ranked in the nation’s top 20 graduate programs in English. For several decades, the department has offered undergraduate majors in rhetoric and in professional writing, and 10 years ago it established the Center for Writing Studies.

The future for creative writing also looks promising, Van Walleghen said. While applications to graduate schools nationally are dropping, applications to creative writing programs are up.
"The demand is there. Established writing programs receive some 400-500 applications a year from hopeful students."

English department head Dennis Baron agreed. "This field is a good magnet, and a logical extension of what we do here – train students to read and write and generally improve the life of the citizens of Illinois."

The new MFA program becomes only the second such program in the state of Illinois. Southern Illinois University in Carbondale also has a program.

The English department will begin accepting applications this fall, and will notify students in the spring of 2002.

For more information, contact Van Walleghen at or at
(217) 333-2391.