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MFA in Creative Nonfiction

The no-residency MFA is a comprehensive, 39-credit-hour, two-year degree program that prepares graduates to write literary nonfiction of publishable quality and to understand and write about the history of creative nonfiction as a literary genre.

Through the study and practice of various creative nonfiction forms—stories of the spiritual journey, food and travel writing, health and wellness narratives, biographies, women’s stories, narrative journalism, the personal essay, and the memoir—students will learn the essentials of strong writing that will help them develop a master’s thesis: a 150-page manuscript that can serve as the foundation for a full-length book. Two-semester professional tracks will train students in the areas of publishing and teaching creative writing; each track will include a second-semester practicum.

Publishing Track: A two-course track on the process of getting published. The first course, “Introduction to Publishing,” will demystify the journey through examination of the steps necessary to generate agent/editor interest; the structure of the publishing industry (including the burgeoning virtual publishing world); the roles played by agent, editor, publicist, sales representatives, and other key figures; and the all-important work an author can do after publication to give his or her book the best chances for commercial success. The second course, “Immersion in Publishing,” will provide first-hand experience in the publishing world, via a semester-long internship at a publishing house, an independent bookstore, in an editor’s office, or at a literary agency. 

Teaching Track: A two-course track in teaching creative writing. Students living near the college campus will have the option of teaching a creative writing course under the guidance of an experienced writing instructor. Students living outside of the area will have a teacher training experience arranged at a location nearer the home of the student, which can include facilitating a non-credit community-based class to an underserved population, such as new citizens or residents of shelters, housing projects, nursing homes, and hospitals.

The program consists of:
Six Core Courses (21 Credits): required
mfa615, mfa620, mfa625, mfa660, mfa661, mfa690, mfa691
two specialized Track courses (6 Credits): choose one track
Publishing track - mfa680 & mfa681 or Teaching Creative Writing - mfa675 & mfa676
Four Elective courses (12 Credits): choose four
mfa632, mfa636, mfa640, mfa666, mfa667, mfa668, mfa670

Curriculum & Schedules

Code Course Name Credit Hours
MFA615 Mentorship Lab I 3

This course will provide students with a foundation in the genre of creative nonfiction through reading and writing assignments. We will read and discuss books and articles on the writing craft with an emphasis on CNF techniques, including Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and Lee Gutkind's You Can’t Make This Stuff Up. We will also read a series of short creative nonfiction pieces from the anthology In Short that will serve as models and points of departure for weekly writing assignments. We will produce a minimum of ten pages of original creative nonfiction, share work we may have produced in other courses or written independently, and carefully respond to each other's work. In this way, we will have the opportunity to practice as writers and editors of creative nonfiction. Throughout the semester, our primary focus will be on “befriending” the creative self, expanding the range of our imagination, and cultivating the habit of daily writing.

MFA620 Mentorship Lab II 3

Mentorship Lab II, the second in a three-course series, will provide students with advanced practice as both writers and readers of creative nonfiction. We will read and hold in-depth audio discussions (via Voice Thread or using Canvas Rich Content Editor) on three book-length memoirs, The Color of Water by James McBride, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and Lit by Mary Karr. Students will produce a minimum of 10 pages of original creative nonfiction three times during the semester and incorporate instructor feedback into a final 30-page draft, in addition to hosting a book discussion and leading a flash seminar during the course. Our primary focus will be on strengthening our writer’s voice, expanding our knowledge of creative nonfiction techniques, and deepening our understanding of the writing process.

MFA625 Mentorship Lab III 3

Mentorship Lab III represents the third step in the program-long process of working toward the major project that is the student’s 150-page thesis. The focus of this intensive 8-week course is two-fold: 1) generating a substantial body of work that will serve as the foundation for thesis work in the second year; and 2) learning the art of significant revision with an eye toward polished, structured, and creatively distinctive writing. The course will provide students with advanced practice as writers, readers, and editors of creative nonfiction. Students will submit original work for full-class workshopping a minimum of twice per semester (one longer piece of up to 3,000 words and one shorter piece of up to 700 – 1,000 words); carefully read, reflect on, and discuss their classmates’ work; and turn in their significantly revised longer piece to the instructor at the end of the semester. In addition to the final essay, students will hand in a one-page statement explaining their editorial choices and describing the challenges faced and discoveries made during the revision.

MFA632 Nature and Environmental Writing 3

Through poetry, fiction, and nonfiction we will explore how writers from diverse cultural backgrounds have imagined a relationship to nature. Within these literary contexts, we will study the intersections of nature and culture in a variety of landscapes—wilderness or the “wild,” pastoral/antipastoral, urban and suburban—paying special attention to writing techniques, styles, and strategies authors use to create compelling narrative portraits of the natural world and our relationship with the world in which we live. Through a series of writing assignments, we will generate essays and poems on the theme of nature, the cultural messages about nature we received growing up, and the role nature plays in our lives today.

MFA636 Travel and Food Writing for Publication 3

In Travel and Food Writing for Publication, we’ll explore writing about food and travel for magazines, newspapers, guidebooks, cookbooks, literary journals, and blogs, and take a look at visual storytelling through social media such as Instagram and vlogging. We’ll delve into discovering a place through its culinary backdrop and examine how food writing goes beyond what’s on the fork. We’ll dissect what “travel literature” includes—from guidebook to memoir. Using a variety of readings (literary essays, feature articles, blog posts, cookbook reviews, and more), we’ll examine what writers do in preparation for original work geared towards publication, whether it’s in print, online or is DIY.

We’ll focus on the craft of writing—from brainstorming ideas, to drafting/revising, workshopping and refining—as well as explore the business of writing. We’ll discuss our fears, expectations and goals of publishing, how to pitch (the do’s and don’ts), and what to know when going from the page to print.

Short weekly writing assignments will culminate in a revision assignment (1,500 words) and we’ll end the semester with a long article/essay assignment geared towards publication (2,500 words). Peer review and comments are essential to this course and will be centered around bi-weekly Canvas forums.

MFA640 Women's Spiritual Writing Through the Ages 3

This course focuses on creative writing as a meditative process in which we listen to voices – our own and those of others – and put into words what we hear. Spiritual writing, in particular, offers insight into the unique voices of women throughout history, articulated in distinct styles of writing and often revolutionary in content. Students are asked weekly to read, reflect on, and discuss selected works, examining the meditative practices and writing style of each. In doing so, students are encouraged to develop meditative writing practices, recognize the spiritual nature of their inner voice, and put into words what they hear, i.e., become truly creative writers. In addition to reading and reflecting on the works of women spiritual writers, students will submit weekly comments on the text and participate substantially in online discussions.. The final written assignment at the end of the semester will be a 2500-5000-word paper, in which students reflect on what they have learned from these women in developing their own meditative practices to facilitate creative writing.

MFA660 Creative Nonfiction Writing I: Form & Theory 3

This introductory seminar course is aimed at intensive study of and experimentation with the forms and techniques of nonfiction. Reading assignments will be delivered online and original work might include a braided essay, a memory told in second person, an in-depth interview. Discussion of reading assignments will occur online via the Bay Path University online educational delivery system.

MFA661 Creative Nonfiction Writing II: Form & Theory 3

This introductory seminar course is aimed at intensive study of and experimentation with the forms and techniques of nonfiction. Reading assignments will be delivered online and original work might include a braided essay, a memory told in second person, an in-depth interview. Discussion of reading assignments will occur online via the Bay Path University online educational delivery system.

MFA666 Generational Histories: Writing about Family 3

This course focuses on research and writing about family history through the generations. We will focus on the numerous sources of family stories: oral histories, diaries and letters, newspaper articles and announcements, videos and photographs, interviews, census records, legal documents, and archival materials. Through readings and discussion of the literature of ancestry –family memoirs, essays, and histories—we will gain an understanding of writing as a tool for biographical exploration and a means of artistically interpreting our own histories. We will also conduct our own ancestral research and interviews and write three biographical essays, each exploring a different aspect of family history.

Throughout the course, we will focus on the essentials of good biographical writing: attention to the telling detail; a balance between technical objectivity and emotional subjectivity; an awareness of the “so what” question, or why this story is important to

others and not just the writer; insight into the human struggles of the individuals being described; a perspective that allows for moral complexity (as opposed to villain/victim narratives); an understanding of the difference between “foreground” and “background” information; the judicious use of humor (when appropriate), metaphorical language, and emotional speculation; and clear and vivid prose. We will also focus on the ethics involved in biographical writing about others and the ways in which different writers have resolved or negotiated this issue.

Writers we will study and discuss include James McBride, Mary Karr, Geoffrey Woolf, Maxine Hong Kingston, Marjane Satrapi, Augusten Burroughs, David Sedaris, Mary Gordon, and Martin Sixsmith. At the conclusion of the course, students will know how to initiate a family research project, what distinguishes a literary family biography from a straightforward historical account, how to choose a focus and develop a theme when writing about personal material, and how to gauge whether an essay has the potential to be developed into a book-length work

MFA667 Health and Wellness Writing: Storytelling as a Healing Art 3

This course focuses on writing about the journey from illness to health, both of the body and of the mind and emotions. Sometimes referred to as “narrative medicine,” health and wellness stories emphasize the personal aspect of healing, or how the individual experiences and negotiates the path toward wellness. We will read and discuss the work of writers who have documented their wellness journeys in books, essays, and articles; examine the common themes among these narratives; and produce original written work about our own—or a loved one’s— passage from illness or injury to health. Throughout the course, we will focus on how our first-person health narratives can be enriched by blending research, science, psychology, history, and other disciplines; broaden our understanding of the parts of our own life that can and should be written about; develop a personal and a shared critical language by which to judge and discuss the genre of the personal essay; master the essential aspects of the craft (developing narrative voice, crafting dialogue, creating a narrative arc or “plot,” the art of creating live-action scenes, managing time, and writing engaging beginnings and satisfying endings); and seek to know, understand, and practice the ethics and responsibilities of first-person health essays—both the writer’s ethics and, if applicable, as a healthcare provider or clinician.

MFA668 Creative Writing Field Seminar 3

Travel with seminar leaders and other students to Ireland and generate creative work about the experience. A one-week travel experience, the seminar will include daily workshops, lectures, readings, and ample time for immersion in the local culture. Headquarters for the seminar will be a quiet and cozy bed-and-breakfast in the seaside town of Dingle, where prose and poetry workshops, lectures, and readings will be held daily. A rotating roster of distinguished visiting writers and speakers will join the seminar for discussions and readings. Leading the week will be two writers who frequently visit and write in Dingle: Suzanne Strempek Shea, Bay Path University’s Writer-in-Residence, whose latest book, This is Paradise, is set partially in Dingle; and Tom Shea, Bay Path MFA faculty member, author, and award-winning journalist.

MFA670 Getting Inside Lives 3

This course essentially “reports” from inside the minds, hearts, and life experiences of people. Whether the prescribed subjects are people of great distinction or ordinary folk, students will come to know them intimately. Subjects might include a principal, a politician, a prison inmate, a disaster survivor, a refugee, an activist, or someone who lives on the margins of society. No matter who the subject is, students will be challenged to capture the internal and external conflict in that individual’s story, and their emotional depth. Instructors will ensure that students will not just focus on capturing the exterior details of a person in their reporting (describing movements, mannerisms, language, clothes, physical traits, or their professional resumes), but that they will also uncover their subjects’ “internal resumes,” the cathartic moments that shaped and changed them, as well as the social milieu which influenced their values, morals, and belief systems. As a result, students will be able to depict the “unvarnished” essence of their subject’s life. The instructor will also provide tools by which the students will conduct psychological interviewing and intimate reporting, and learn to “dig” into personal memories of their subjects. Students will learn how to investigate online personal writings, photographs, emails, and other documents that reveal character.

MFA675 Learning to Teach 3

The course will prepare students to confidently step to the head of a creative writing classroom (online or face-to-face) and positively impact their own students. Through online instruction, students will become skilled in creating course syllabi, in selecting appropriate reading material (especially that of a digital nature), structuring class time, and leading face-to-face as well as cyber workshops. They will also learn to effectively respond to all types of classroom challenges as they prepare digital responses to the important and relevant teaching practices provided by the instructor.

MFA676 Teaching to Learn 3

Building upon the learning from MFA 675, students will apply their skills in a semester-long practicum during which they gain hands-on experience in teaching creative writing. Students will design and teach their own workshop: options include offering a semester-long writing workshop to an underserved population, including new citizens and residents of shelters, housing projects, nursing homes, correctional facilities or hospitals. Students are required to complete a total 50 hours of teaching/preparation time over the course of the semester. This class will provide a checking-in and additional learning setting for the experience. A detailed essay on the experience will be due at the end of the semester.

MFA680 Introduction to Publishing 3

This course is intended to demystify the world of publishing and provide an inside view of the process of publishing a book, essay, story, or article online or in print. During the last decade, the publishing industry has undergone major changes due to new technologies and distribution channels, including e-books and online PDF books; independent, hybrid, and self-publishing presses; and the rise of social media. In this course, students will investigate traditional practices and the changing trends in publishing to gain an understanding of the industry from the perspective of both publisher and writer.

The focus of this course is to educate writers about the publishing process. We will explore various types of publications in both printed and digital form, including books, magazines, and literary journals. Students in this course will learn through a series of hands-on activities and vigorous discussions. Activities will include interviews with publishing professionals, student presentations, interaction with guest speakers on writing and publishing, and the creation of an individualized Writer's Path.

MFA681 Immersion in Publishing 3

Building on their studies in MFA 680, students will complete a publishing internship (50-80 hours). Students may work remotely using electronic and online tools, or they may work on-location. They will document their internship experience via blog posts, and share their learning with classmates via audio/video presentations. At the end of the semester, students will submit a reflective essay or edited Q&A based on their internship experience. Alongside their internship in publishing, students will continue the work they began in MFA 680 on their individual Writer’s Path projects, culminating in the creation of a Writer’s Contract at the end of the course.

MFA690 Thesis I 3

This two-course sequence represents the culmination of a program-long process of working toward the completion of a book-length piece of creative nonfiction. Via the internet, students will further develop the craft of shaping a book-length nonfiction project by working individually with a faculty mentor, and by discussing their shared writing experiences with student peers. Though each student will actively work toward the creation of new pieces of nonfiction, and toward the revision of individual works, the primary emphasis of the course will be on developing the student's ability to shape a book-length collection of writing into an aesthetic construct that is at once informed by, and larger than, the sum of its parts. Regular online workshops will be provided for peer feedback and critique.

MFA691 Thesis II 3

This two-course sequence represents the culmination of a program-long process of working toward the completion of a book length piece of creative nonfiction. Via the internet, students will further develop the craft of shaping a book-length nonfiction project by working individually with a faculty mentor, and by discussing their shared writing experiences with student peers. Though each student will actively work toward the creation of new pieces of nonfiction, and toward the revision of individual works, the primary emphasis of the course will be on developing the student's ability to shape a book-length collection of writing into an aesthetic construct that is at once informed by, and larger than, the sum of its parts. Regular online workshops will be provided for peer feedback and critique.