Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing
American poet and memoirist Mark Doty (MFA ‘80), a Goddard College alumnus and former faculty member, received the National Book Award for Poetry in 2008.
You have always been a writer. Inside you awaits the book or the play or the script — in other words, the creative project — that you have always dreamed of writing. Today, you have chosen to make that dream a reality. Yet you need help: you need structure, deadlines, support, and the guidance of professional mentors who can help you realize your dreams as a writer without compromising your other family or work obligations. In short, you need a creative community and all that it can offer. Welcome to Goddard’s Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing.
Learn the craft of creative writing one-on-one with advisors — all of whom are working writers — who specialize in the genre you’re passionate about. Convene twice yearly for intensive residencies in either rural Vermont or on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. When the residency’s over, return home with a book list designed specifically for you and a comprehensive plan to produce your creative thesis. During the semester, you’ll stay in close contact with your advisor as you produce packets that explore your craft in great detail. When you return to residencies, you’ll reconnect with your advisors and a diverse community of fellow student writers from around the country.
Be sure to check out our Goddard/PEN North American Scholarship, below, as well as other awards.
Goddard supports students writing in the following genres:
- Creative Nonfiction/Memoir
- Libretto Writing
- Television Writing
- Graphic Novel Scriptwriting
Maybe you’ve got an idea for a novel you’re dying to write. Or you’re unsure how to start your memoir. Perhaps you’re hoping to find a way to tame the poems that seem to spring from your mind when you least expect it. Whatever you’re writing, you’ll have the opportunity to hone your craft with the individualized guidance of published faculty advisors who specialize in your genre. Engage in an ongoing, semester-long dialogue with a novelist about structure, pacing, and plot. Immerse yourself in the language of life-changing poems that you didn’t know existed a month ago. Or map your character arcs with a playwright whose latest work just opened to great acclaim.
Every advisor in Goddard’s MFA Program in Creative Writing is an accomplished writer actively working in their genre. They provide detailed feedback on your work, offer you support and insight into your writing process, and give you reading suggestions to stoke your creativity.
Whether you are an emerging or established writer, working with an advisor allows you to:
- Hone your craft under individualized guidance.
- Engage in an ongoing dialogue about your work.
- Read and analyze life-changing literature.
At Goddard, advisors don’t try to impose a style on you; rather, they support you in the development of your own voice.
Twice a year you will travel to either Vermont or Washington (see Locations below) to attend an eight-day residency. When you arrive at your first residency, you are paired with a faculty advisor who helps you craft your individualized study plan. Your study plan consists of your semester’s assignments and book list — all of it tailored to your specific ambitions and interests. During residencies you attend workshops, readings by faculty and graduating students, and other events designed to inspire your best work.
Goddard students are a diverse, passionate, and welcoming community of writers of all ages, from all corners of the world and walks of life. When you join this vibrant community, either in Vermont (January and June/July) or Washington state (February and July), you will:
- work with your advisor to design an individualized study plan to support your creative vision
- be part of an “advising group” — a small class led by your advisor that meets throughout the week
- design your own residency schedule from a rich and varied menu of activities in all genres: workshops, readings, and other events that will inform, illuminate, and inspire
- attend readings offered by: visiting writers, visiting alumni, current faculty, graduating students, and your peers
- meet industry professionals from both the writing and the theater world
There are also a number of extra-curricular residency options that offer more opportunities to create community. You can choose to:
- publish and be published in The Pitkin Review (a literary journal written and edited by students)
- have your play presented in Take Ten (a ten-minute play festival produced entirely by students — VT option only)
- read for your peers and listen to them in after-hours literary salons
In workshops, during meals, in after-hours salons, after readings, and in long walks in the woods or along the beach, you not only will engage in lively discussions, but you’ll forge friendships to last a lifetime.
“Packet exchanges” allow you to sustain an ongoing dialogue with your faculty advisor about your work throughout the semester. Every packet contains your work — creative pages, critical essays, and/or other degree requirements. You submit one packet a month to your advisor, on specific due dates, and your advisor responds in writing.
A typical packet might include: the submission of a new chapter of your novel, a revision of a short story, new and revised poems, scenes from your script, as well as critical work examining the books you’ve read. Packets also include a process letter in which you raise any artistic concerns or questions about your work and life as a writer.
Your advisor not only reads your creative work and makes detailed margin notes but also writes a lengthy response letter. Your advisor may offer support, highlight a particularly successful passage, challenge your arguments, suggest places to trim, and propose strategies to develop your work. Additionally, your advisor will engage you in a dialogue about how your craft-based exploration can assist you in bringing your own work closer to your vision.
In other words, Goddard advisors don’t dispense one-size-fits-all writing advice you could get from a book. Instead, they are focused on helping you realize your unique creative vision.
Professional Development: Teaching Experience
Teaching Practicum: Maybe you’re already a seasoned creative writing teacher. Or maybe you’ve never faced a roomful of students before but always wanted to give it a try. Goddard’s teaching practicum is unique among MFA programs in that it gives you:
- The opportunity to design and offer your own creative writing course.
- Your choice of location.
- Teaching experience.
- A way to expand your resume.
- A way to give back to your community.
- The opportunity to experiment if you want to try something new.
Your practicum is yours to design and plan. You can offer a course in anything related to creative writing: nonfiction, fiction, graphic novels, dramatic writing, poetry, libretto, and hybrid texts — in fact, any genre offered by our program. And you can conduct it in any number of venues. Our students have offered creative writing courses at colleges, grade schools, retirement communities, libraries, juvenile detention centers, and even cafes.
Since the MFA is a “terminal degree” you’ll also be qualified to teach in universities and colleges, once you graduate.
Professional Development: Publishing Opportunities
Would you like hands-on publishing experience? At Goddard, you can be involved in all aspects of publishing — from editing to layout.
- The Pitkin Review: Get involved with the literary journal written and edited by Goddard MFA students.
- Visiting professionals: Guests from publishing and production (e.g. agents, publishers, literary managers, artistic directors, editors, etc.) speak to you about the ins and outs of your industry.
- Clockhouse: After graduation, you can work with the national, Pushcart-mentioned literary journal edited and published by Goddard MFA alumni.
- Faculty Publishing Panels: At residencies, faculty share their insights and experiences in publishing and production.
For weekly updates, about our student, alumni, and faculty publications, productions, and other literary events, please visit our program’s blog: www.thewriterintheworld.com
Goddard College Scholarships/ Funding Opportunities
Goddard/PEN North American Scholarship: Once a year, the College awards one $10,000 Goddard/PEN North American Centers Scholarship to an MFA applicant in Creative Writing who is a member of any of the North American Centers of PEN International. This award is made possible by a generous $10,000 gift from faculty and friends of Goddard College.
North American PEN members who are admitted to the MFA in Creative Program but who do not receive the Goddard/PEN North American Centers Scholarship will receive a one-time $2,000 MFA Goddard Engaged Artist Award. (North American PEN members who are admitted to the BFA in Creative Program will receive a one-time $1,000 BFA Goddard Engaged Artist Award.) For more info, see the Goddard/PEN North American Scholarship.
Engaged Artist Award: The Engaged Artist Award is given to newly admitted Goddard students who will pursue a baccalaureate or graduate degree in the arts and who are already engaged in their communities or professions as activist artists. Awards range from $1,000-$2,000 depending on the availability of funds. For more info, see the Engaged Artist Award.
The Pearl Fund Scholarship: The Pearl Fund Scholarship was established in memory of Pearl Fink by her children Janis Ian and Eric Fink. Pearl enrolled in Goddard’s Adult Degree Program at the age of 49, after having been in the workforce for several decades. Getting a BA was a lifetime goal for her. Pearl found her passion in playwriting, going on to earn her MA from Goddard at the age of 52, and writing a full-length play. Her daughter, the musician Janis Ian said, “Goddard was the most important thing in the world to her next to her children.” For more info, see the Pearl Fund Scholarship.
The Spirit of Goddard Scholarship: The Spirit of Goddard Scholarship is given to new and returning students with financial need, who demonstrate a commitment to the mission of Goddard College, which is to advance cultures of rigorous inquiry, collaboration, and lifelong learning, where individuals take imaginative and responsible action in the world. For more info, see the Spirit of Goddard Scholarship.
Students can enroll in the MFA in Creative Writing at two locations:
- Plainfield, Vermont. Goddard’s historic main campus is located just outside Montpelier, the state capital of Vermont. It’s a sprawling former farm with a manor garden, surrounding forests, and period architecture.
- Port Townsend, Washington. Located at Fort Worden, this campus is a former Victorian-era Army base with beaches, trails, and a vibrant, seaside arts community on the Pacific Coast.
When you apply, you pick one of the two sites for the duration of your studies. Each residency week, the location you choose becomes home — shared with a lively community of fellow writers in a serene and retreat-like setting.
Goddard College programs operating in Washington State are authorized by the Washington Student Achievement Council. For more information, please refer to Accreditation and Approvals.
Many of our alumni go on to become teachers, professors, journalists, and educators. Others work in all kinds of literary communities — organizing writers’ festivals; working for literary organizations, publishers, and theatres; doing arts-based outreach; or supporting community-based organizations.
“They publish their books or produce their plays, they stay in touch, and they do good work… And by ‘good work’ I mean that they put what they have learned to good use — for themselves as writers and for the good of their communities,” says Elena Georgiou, Program Director. “They use writing to realize their own dreams, and they use it to help others to realize theirs. In our program, students develop an identity as writers within a community. Our MFA community is tremendously supportive, and once our students graduate, they understand that they are not just Goddard MFA alumni, but also writers in the world. In fact, we believe in this so strongly, we named our program’s blog The Writer in the World.” You can read more about what our alumni, students and faculty are doing at www.thewriterintheworld.com
A selection of recent publications, productions and awards by our alumni include:
- Sheila Curran Bernard (MFA ’10) is a recipient of a 2016 New York Foundation for the Arts Award for Playwriting/Screenwriting.
- Charlie Bondhus (MFA ’05) is a poet and author of four books. His latest, All the Heat We Could Carry, was the winner of the 2013 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award, the 2014 Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry, and a finalist for the Gival Press Poetry Book Award.
- Maria Chaudhuri (MFA ’09) is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Beloved Strangers (Bloomsbury, 2014).
- Mark Doty (MFA ’80) is the author of ten books of poetry and two memoirs. He was the first American poet to win the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry, for his book My Alexandria (U of Illinois Press, 1993). His book of poetry Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems (HarperCollins, 2008) won the 2008 National Book Award for Poetry. Norton published his latest collection, Deep Lane, in 2015.
- Cara Hoffman (MFA ’09) is the acclaimed author of the novels Running (Simon & Schuster, 2017), Be Safe I Love You (Simon & Schuster, 2014) and So Much Pretty (Simon & Schuster, 2012).
- Mary Johnson (MFA ’02) — is the author of the memoir An Unquenchable Thirst: Following Mother Teresa in Search of Love, Service, and an Authentic Life (Spiegel & Grau, 2011) and Creative Director of Retreats for A Room of Her Own Foundation.
- Mary Karr (MFA ’79) is a poet, essayist and memoirist. She rose to fame in 1995 with the publication of her bestselling memoir The Liars’ Club.
- Carla Norton (MFA ’09) is a New York Times best-selling novelist and true crime writer, and author of four books, including the award-winning The Edge of Normal and What Doesn’t Kill Her, published by St. Martin’s Press.
- Matthew Quick (MFA ’07) is the New York Times best-selling author of eight novels, beginning with The Silver Linings Playbook (Sarah Crichton Books / Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008), which was adapted as the Oscar-winning movie of the same name starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro. It was also a finalist for a 2009 PEN/Hemingway Award. His work has been translated into thirty languages, and all eight of his novels have been optioned for film.
- Charles Rice-González (MFA ’08), is a writer and long-time community and LGBT activist, and the recipient of the 2014 Lambda Literary Foundation Emerging Writer Award.
The core of your MFA studies is your creative work. To strengthen and support that, we have two additional degree requirements — the critical-writing component and the teaching practicum.
You engage actively in creative writing each semester, even when you’re teaching and working on critical papers. From the start, you submit new and/or revised work in each packet. You’re encouraged to experiment with different genres and methods at each residency and during your first semester. By semester four, you will have completed and revised a unified creative thesis: a manuscript; a poetry collection; the script to a dramatic work; or a graphic novel.
As a final creative requirement, you share your work at a public reading during your commencement residency.
Close reading is the foundation of your critical writing. That means exploring both intention and execution, moving beyond general impressions to note specific choices and consider the implications. You are the main architect of each semester’s bibliography. You will read both widely and deeply, analyzing craft and content to see what applies to your own work. You above all know what your creative thesis will be and what its challenges are: what are its themes, its technical and craft issues, the literary traditions you want to explore? Your reading list addresses and supports those concerns in an active and meaningful way. Your critical writing is an organic and inspiring part of your work that is in active dialogue with your creative writing. It instills in you the habit of reading like a writer and not just a fan.
The critical writing degree requirements include:
- 45-60 annotations
- two short critical papers
- one long critical paper
As a terminal degree, the MFA in Creative Writing is a credential for faculty positions in higher education. To offer you the skills necessary to confidently enter the classroom as a teacher of creative writing, you are also required to complete a “teaching practicum.”
The Teaching Practicum consists of:
- designing and offering your own writing workshop
- writing a reflective essay on your teaching experience
- assembling a teaching packet that includes your curriculum, student work, student evaluations, an observer’s report and your essay
If you’re interested in Vermont teacher licensure, you are also required to participate in supervised student teaching under the auspices of the Goddard’s Education Program (for more information, see the section on Teacher Licensure).
The Residency Experience
For eight days twice a year, you are invited to a magical setting, where writing reigns supreme. At both campuses — a converted “gentleman’s farm” in rural Vermont and Fort Worden State Park in the picturesque Victorian seaport village of Port Townsend, Washington — the residency weeks offer you a dizzying array of seminars, readings, workshops, panels, screenings, a keynote event, presentations by visiting writers and industry professionals, and formal and informal social gatherings. Just as important, it gives you camaraderie, inspiration, and nourishment for both body and soul.
On day one, you receive a schedule listing dozens of classes and events in all genres throughout the week. Choices include:
- master classes in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and hybrid texts, dramatic writing, and the graphic novel
- small seminar groups on individual texts, authors, forms, and theories
- workshops offering writing exercises and inspiration
- panels on publishing, production, and other aspects of professional development
- student-led workshops in virtually any writing-related subject you want
All offerings are open to all Goddard students regardless of genre.
On day two: as a first-semester student, you are carefully matched with a faculty advisor by the Program Director. (After your first semester, you can request specific advisors.) During the week that follows, you and your advisor meet one-on-one twice in order to devise the semester’s study plan, which consists of:
- bibliography of texts to study
- a calendar of deadlines
- a clear direction for your creative manuscript
You, your advisor, and four to seven fellow advisees also meet in four “advising group sessions.” This is a mini-classroom, in which you and your group work together throughout the week.
The residency weeks offer both freedom (an open schedule of classes; a diverse community of writers; mini “writing retreats” for each genre; an open call for students to read from their work) and an intense focus on the craft of writing. You may find your head spinning from the sheer quantity and variety of ideas on exchange. Each residency week is challenging, invigorating, and inspiring — and will launch you into the semester’s worth of work to come.
If you’re looking for fellowship, you’ll find it — in classes, in the common rooms, in the cafeteria where coffee, tea, and snacks are available 24 hours a day, and in evening salons. Our students are eclectic and come from all corners and walks of life, many with full-time jobs and/or families. And if you want to be alone with your thoughts, you can easily do that too; the tranquility of a woodland trail or sandy beach is never more than a two minutes’ walk away.
One of the most anticipated aspects of the MFA in Creative Writing residencies is the Visiting Writers Series. Our visiting writers are generous with their expertise and are happy to share their craft with you through readings, workshops, and informal discussions. As an example, some of our program’s recent visiting writers, at both the Plainfield, Vermont, and Port Townsend, Washington, residency sites, include: Ruth Ozeki, Chris Abani, Todd Haynes, Lynda Barry, Dinaw Mengestu, Mary Gaitskill, Mark Doty, Dani Shapiro, Nilo Cruz, Pablo Medina, Christine Vachon, Meghan Daum, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Walter Mosley.
Alumni Reader Series
The MFA in Creative Writing Program is proud of our alumni and all that they have accomplished. We are delighted to invite alumni back to celebrate and share their professional achievements with you through readings, workshops, and panels. Recent alumni readers include Simone John, Mark Doty, Cara Hoffman, Alexis Smith, Julia Bouwsma, Christian Peet, Matthew Quick, and Selah Saterstrom.
Playwright Enrichment Series
Goddard is unique among MFA in Creative Writing Programs for our Playwrights’ Enrichment Series. Once a year, we welcome a visiting luminary from theatre or film. He or she leads a professional development workshop and discusses career opportunities with our dramatic writing students. The Playwrights’ Enrichment Series began in Fall 2008 and was made possible by an anonymous gift from a program alumnus. It continues to be supported by our loyal alums who relish this opportunity to “pay it forward.”
Recent visitors include:
- Jessie Alick, Literary Manager, Public Theatre
- Lloyd Suh, Director of Artistic Programs, Lark Theatre
- Wendy C. Goldberg, Eugene O’Neill Theater
- Philip Himberg, Sundance Theatre Lab
- John Eisner, Lark Theatre
- Marisa Smith, Smith & Kraus Publishers
- Jane Anderson, Film Director and Screenwriter
- Christian Parker, Literary Manager, Atlantic Theatre
- Caridad Svich, Publisher, No Passport Press
- Graeme Gillis, Ensemble Studio Theatre/Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Science & Technology project-commissioning program for playwrights.
- P. Carl, founder of HowlRound, and artistic director of the TheatreCommons, Emerson College
- Todd London, Artistic Director, New Dramatists
- Terry Nolan, Artistic Director, Arden Theatre
- Gary Garrison, Artistic Director, Dramatists Guild
- Susan Jonas, Dramaturg
- Greg Kotis, Librettist
In addition, the MFA in Creative Writing Program helps you with career development by inviting industry professionals — agents, editors, producers, publishers, and literary managers. These men and women come from all corners of publishing, film, and theatre and share their expertise and offer tools, tips, contacts, and other resources.
Recent visitors include:
- Rhonda Hughes, Publisher, Hawthorne Books
- Angela Rinaldi, President, Angela Rinaldi Literary Agency
- Ira Silverberg, Senior Editor, Simon & Schuster
- Kirby Kim, Agent, Janklow & Nesbit
- PJ Mark, Partner, Janklow & Nesbit
- Betsy Amster, Preisent, Betsy Amster Literary Enterprises
- Betsy Lerner, Partner, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary Agency
- Mitch Horowitz, Editor-in-Chief, Penguin/Tarcher
- Seth Fishman, Agent, The Gernert Company