Master of Fine Arts Program

UNM’s MFA Program in Creative Writing is designed for graduate students committed to pursuing the writing life. This three-year degree combines studio-based workshops in fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction with craft seminars and coursework in literature, pedagogy, and professional writing.

The MFA faculty is committed to supporting its graduate students with teaching assistantships for the full three years it takes most students to complete the program, offering them the opportunity to teach not only Freshman Composition and Expository Writing but Introduction to Creative Writing as well. At UNM, we believe that MFA students should not go wildly into debt while completing their degrees. For this reason we encourage all applicants to our program to apply for teaching assistantships. Our program is small by national standards, but with a relatively small student-faculty ratio and competitive teaching stipends for three years, we believe we offer our MFA students the chance to fully immerse themselves in writing without the exorbitant price tags attached to some other MFA programs.

In the same spirit, UNM’s MFA Program prepares graduate students for professional lives outside the program, offering coursework not only in creative writing pedagogy, teaching composition, writing theory for teachers, and teaching literature and literary studies, but also electives in editing, proposal and grant writing, publishing, technical writing, documentation, and scientific, environmental, and medical writing. Additionally, we offer our students practical internships in editing and arts administration through the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference, Blue Mesa Review, UNM Press, and two highly popular reading series. MFA students have taught students at local high schools and through program affiliations with such illustrious nonprofit organizations as the Lannan Foundation and the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Through internships at the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference, MFA students have studied craft with such luminaries as Wally Lamb, Elizabeth Strout, Dorothy Allison, Pam Houston, Antonya Nelson, Robert Boswell, and John Dufresne. Recent visiting writers include Sherman Alexie, Augusten Burroughs, Emily Rapp, Charles McLeod, Richard Garcia, and Luis J. Rodriguez.

During their final three semesters, students work individually with a faculty mentor on a book-length creative dissertation suitable for publication. Among recent graduates who have published books are Robyn Mundy (The Nature of Ice), Juan Morales (Friday and the Year that Followed), Gary Jackson (Missing You, Metropolis, winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize), Molly Beer (with David Dunaway, Singing Out: An Oral History of America’s Folk Music Revival), Israel Wasserstein (This Ecstasy They Call Damnation), Richard Vargas (McLife, American Jesus), Tanaya Winder (Soul Talk, Song Language: Conversations with Joy Harjo), and Paul Bogard (The End of Night). Additionally, students while in our program have published essays, stories, and poems in a wide variety of literary journals, including The Georgia Review, Gargoyle, Crab Orchard Review, Bellevue Literary Review, The Minnesota Review, Mosaic, The Believer, Cream City Review, New Ohio Review, PANK, Mid-American Review, Connecticut Review, Southern Humanities Review, and Cura, among many others.

Our widely published creative writing faculty, along with a distinguished visiting writers series, a faculty and student reading series, the acclaimed Taos Summer Writers’ Conference, a nationally recognized, student-run literary magazine, and a setting in the Rio Grande Valley overlooked by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and mere minutes from the Colorado Plateau make for an exciting, rich, culturally and ethnically diverse atmosphere for the study of creative writing.

Program History

Edward Abbey, Paula Gunn Allen, Rudolfo Anaya, Denise Chavez, Sandra Cisneros, Robert Creeley, Gene Frumkin, Joy Harjo, Tony Hillerman, Antonio Mares, N. Scott Momaday, Simon Ortiz, Louis Owens, Leslie Marmon Silko, Patricia Clark Smith, and Luci Tapahonso (listed in alphabetical order) are just some of the celebrated writers associated with UNM’s creative writing program as students, faculty members, or both.

Among the awards garnered by alumni and faculty: a Pulitzer Prize, a National Medal for the Arts, a Before Columbus Book Award, a Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature, a William Carlos Williams Award, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, numerous National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, and an Academy of American Poets Prize, to cite only some of the most noteworthy awards.

No other university in the Southwest and no more than a handful of institutions in the nation can claim such an illustrious gathering of artists. Our current creative writing faculty includes award winners in all three genres.

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MFA Degree Requirements (48 hours)

Core Course (3 hrs)

  • Engl. 501: Introduction to the Profession for Writers (3 hrs) (Students are strongly encouraged to take this course in the Spring semester of their first year.)

Workshops (18 hrs) MFA students must take at least twelve hours in a primary genre; at least three hours must be in a secondary genre.

  • Engl. 521: Fiction Workshop (3 hrs)
  • Engl. 522: Poetry Workshop (3 hrs)
  • Engl. 523: Creative Nonfiction Workshop (3 hrs)

Four of the six workshops are to be taken as regular courses. Two may be taken in an independent study format as studio hours.

Genre Studies (6 hrs) MFA students must choose at least one genre course (3 hours) in their area of concentration. (Students may take no more than twelve hours of Engl. 587.) Engl. 587: Genre Studies (3 hrs)

Distribution Requirements (12 hrs) MFA students must take four courses chosen from at least two of the following groups:

  • A. British literature to 1660
  • B. British literature from 1660 to 1900
  • C. American literature to 1900
  • D. Literatures in English since 1900
  • E. Literary criticism and theory, rhetoric and writing.

Professional Preparation Electives (6 hrs)

  • Engl. 513-520: Professional Writing courses in Science, Environmental, Medical Writing; Documentation; Publishing: Editing; Biography/Autobiography; Proposal and Grant Writing; Visual Rhetoric; other topics (3 hrs)
  • Engl. 536: Teaching Adult ESL Writing (3 hrs)
  • Engl. 537: Teaching Composition (3 hrs)
  • Engl. 538: Writing Theory for Teachers (3 hrs)
  • Engl. 539: Teaching Professional Writing (3 hrs)
  • Engl. 540: Topics in Language or Rhetoric (3 hrs)
  • Engl. 592: Teaching Literature and Literary Studies (3 hrs)

Electives (3 hrs) May be taken outside of English.

Creative Dissertation (6 hours)

  • Engl. 699: Creative Dissertation (6 hrs)

Foreign Language Requirement

There is no foreign language requirement for the MFA degree.

MFA Committee on Studies (COS)

All MFA students must assemble a COS to assist in planning a program of studies designed to foster a fundamental knowledge of the major field, both in depth and breadth, and facilitate the students’ advancement in their chosen genre(s). The chair of the COS should be chosen by the end of the third semester of study.

The COS generally includes three University of New Mexico faculty members approved by the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies (ACGS). Students generally select their major advisor to be the chairperson of the COS. The basic role of the committee is to help students plan an integrated individual program of study and creative output that meet general UNM, OGS, and specific MFA requirements. The COS will serve as the MFA comprehensive examination committee, and in most cases, as the core of the Dissertation Committee. The COS may also establish prerequisites when needed, recommend transfer of credit, and approve significant changes in the program of studies.

Appointment of the COS involves the following steps:

  1. Students arrange for an appropriate faculty member to serve as COS Chair;
  2. Students confer with their COS Chair to agree upon the remaining members of the Committee;
  3. The ACGS approves the COS, as evidenced by his or her signature on the Committee of Studies form and Application for Doctoral Candidacy.

Comprehensive Examination

MFA students must take and pass a written comprehensive examination as a required component of the MFA graduate degree. The examination, which must adhere to the general MFA exam requirements outlined in the UNM Catalog, is an essay in which students demonstrate their understanding of the theory and craft of their chosen genre(s) and the literary tradition in which they are writing. The exam, which may eventually serve as the preface to the dissertation, is evaluated by the COS. Students must pass the examination before hours in Engl. 699 (Dissertation) will count toward the degree. The English Graduate Office must file the “Announcement/Report of Examination” two weeks before the Committee evaluates the exam. Therefore, students must notify the English Graduate Office in advance of this date. (See the English Department web page for more details about the MFA comprehensive exam.)

Advancement to Candidacy

In order to earn the MFA degree students must file for Advancement to Candidacy by completing the Application to Candidacy form, which formally summarizes their MFA program of studies. The ACGS and the MFA comprehensive examination committee approve the program of studies by signing the form. The English Graduate Office forwards the Application for Candidacy forms to the Dean of Graduate Studies after students pass their MFA comprehensive examination. After determining that all requirements except for outstanding course work and the dissertation have been fulfilled, the Dean of Graduate Studies advances all qualified students to candidacy. (Note: This form must be filed by the end of the semester before graduation and is available at: http://grad.unm.edu/resources/gs-forms/index.html).

The MFA Dissertation

All MFA students must write a dissertation according to the guidelines that follow.

MFA Dissertation Committee

The MFA Dissertation Committee supervises, directs, reads, and approves the MFA dissertation. The committee consists of four graduate professors, at least one of whom must be from the English Department at UNM and one from outside the English Department. The external reader may be a faculty member from another accredited graduate institution; in such cases the student must submit a formal application to the Dean of Graduate Studies who must approve the appointment of the external member. The Dissertation Committee Chair must be a tenured or tenure-track member of the University of New Mexico faculty and have regular graduate faculty approval.

To select a committee, students should arrange for a qualified faculty member to serve as the director of their dissertation. Together with their director, who serves as the Dissertation Committee chair, students then select the other members of the committee. To get the Dissertation Committee approved, students must file an Appointment of Dissertation Committee form with the English Graduate Office no later than two weeks before the Prospectus defense. Students generally submit this form right after passing the comprehensive exams, and no later than the first semester of 699 enrollment. If the members of the Dissertation Committee change, a revised Appointment of Dissertation Committee form must be submitted to the English Graduate Office for forwarding to OGS. OGS may request additional documentation when such changes are made, particularly regarding outside readers. (See the UNM Catalog for more details about the Dissertation Committee and qualifications for committee membership.)

Writing and Submitting the MFA Dissertation

MFA candidates must complete a book-length, creative dissertation in their genre (fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction) and defend this dissertation in an oral examination conducted by an approved dissertation committee. The dissertation includes a preface that demonstrates an understanding of the genre(s) covered by the dissertation, and it places the dissertation within a literary tradition. The preface may include material from the comprehensive examination essay, but students will determine the dissertation’s final form in consultation with their dissertation director. Students must submit the dissertation to OGS, so the manuscript must adhere to the dissertation format stipulated by OGS and outlined under the doctoral section of the UNM catalog.

MFA Dissertation Hours

During the course of their dissertation work, MFA candidates are required to enroll in a minimum of six hours of dissertation (699) credit. Students must pass the comprehensive exams before 699 credit hours will count. Enrollment in 699 cannot begin prior to the semester in which a student takes the MFA comprehensive examination. Only those hours gained in the semester during which the comprehensive examination is passed and in succeeding semesters can be counted toward the six hours required. Students who fail the comprehensive exam cannot apply any 699 credits toward their program of studies until the semester in which they retake and pass the comprehensive examination. After registering in Engl. 699 for the first time, university regulations require that students maintain continuous enrollment in Engl. 699 for a minimum of three hours per semester (excluding summers, when not taking other courses) until successfully completing the dissertation defense.

Final Examination for the MFA (Defense of Dissertation)

The MFA final oral examination is the last formal step before the degree is awarded. Students are responsible for providing each member of their dissertation committee with complete copies of all written materials in ample time for review prior to the examination. The presentation and examination phases of the examination are open to the university community and are published in various sources; the deliberation phase is only open to the committee.

The focus of the final examination is the dissertation and its relationship to the candidate’s major field. Its purposes are:

  1. To provide an opportunity for candidates to communicate the results of their research and creative work to a wider group of scholars through a public reading;
  2. To afford an opportunity for the members of the examination committee, as well as others (faculty, students, staff, etc.), to ask relevant questions;
  3. To ensure that the research and creative work reflects the independence of thought and accomplishment of the candidate; and finally,
  4. To ensure that the candidate is thoroughly familiar not only with the particular focus of the dissertation, but also its setting and relevance to the discipline of which it is a part.

At the conclusion of the examination, the dissertation committee confers and makes a recommendation to accept or reject the dissertation. The committee then submits the Report of Examination to OGS communicating the examination results. (Note: In order to qualify to sit for an exam during intersession, students must be registered for the following semester.)

Announcement of Examination/Defense Form

At least two weeks before the final examination is held and no later than November 1 for Fall graduation, April 1 for Spring, or July 1 for Summer, the English Department must notify OGS of its scheduled date by submitting the Announcement of Examination/Defense form.

Notification of Intent to Graduate

Students must inform the English Graduate Office in writing of their intent to graduate. The proposed graduation list must be received by OGS no later than 5:00 p.m. on the last day of the semester immediately preceding the semester of graduation. (Remember, students must file an Application for Candidacy form in the semester before the semester of graduation.)

MFA Time Limit for Completion of Degree Requirements

MFA candidates have five years from the semester in which they pass their MFA comprehensive examination to complete the degree requirements. The final requirement is generally the acceptance of the dissertation by the Dean of Graduate Studies.

Teaching Assistantships

Teaching Assistantships are competitive and are based on a variety of factors including financial need, prior teaching experience, and overall completeness and quality of the application submitted. Decisions are made by a committee including the Director of Creative Writing, the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies, and the Associate Chair for Core Writing. Opportunities to teach creative writing (Engl. 221, 222, or 223) are also competitive. Students applying for these positions must have one previous year of teaching Engl. 101 or 102 at UNM.

Teaching Assistantship Limits

MFA students who hold Teaching Assistantships are limited to six semesters of assistantship funding, excluding summer TA appointments. Petitions for extensions may be addressed to the Graduate Committee through the ACGS. Extensions are the exception rather than the rule, and all extensions are contingent upon academic progress, the availability of funding, and departmental need. MFA students who receive a TAship after their first year lose those prior semesters of TAship eligibility.