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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
MFA630, mfa636, MFA637, mfa638, mfa640, mfa666, mfa667, mfa668

Curriculum & Schedules

Code Course Name Credit Hours
MFA615 Mentorship Lab I 3

Each student works individually and in a small group with a faculty mentor who guides him or her through the writing process. Via the Internet, for each of the subsequent four months, the student will submit to his or her mentor online written assignments designed to improve writing and critical thinking skills related to producing small written pieces to book-length projects. The mentor will also assign published online reading materials which students will critically assess. The mentor will provide feedback and be available to mentees by e-mail, telephone or by Skype to answer questions, work on problems, and give advice on submitting work for publication.

MFA620 Mentorship Lab II 3

Each student works individually and in a small group with a faculty mentor who guides him or her through the writing process. Via the Internet, for each of the subsequent four months, the student will submit to his or her mentor online written assignments designed to improve writing and critical thinking skills related to producing small written pieces to book-length projects. The mentor will also assign published online reading materials which students will critically assess.
The mentor will provide feedback and be available to mentees by e-mail, telephone or by Skype to answer questions, work on problems, and give advice on submitting work for publication.

MFA625 Mentorship Lab III 3

Each student works individually and in a small group with a faculty mentor who guides him or her through the writing process. Via the Internet, for each of the subsequent four months, the student will submit to his or her mentor online written assignments designed to improve writing and critical thinking skills related to producing small written pieces to book-length projects. The mentor will also assign published online reading materials which students will critically assess.
The mentor will provide feedback and be available to mentees by e-mail, telephone or by Skype to answer questions, work on problems, and give advice on submitting work for publication.

MFA630 Writing Contemporary Women’s Stories 3

Women’s stories are rife with the truth and grit and beauty of real life. Writing personal narrative, such as memoir and personal essays, or writing pieces on a remarkable woman’s story, can be a transformative act. The writing returns us to our true selves and reminds us of our unique voice and creative vision. Students will craft real-life experiences into essays, or the stories of others into long-form journalism. Writing by authors including Jo Ann Beard, Barbara
Ehrenreich, Sharline Chiang, Cheryl Strayed, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, and Faith Adiele will be studied, discussed online and written about as inspiration, and as stepping stones to the latest contributions to this category of nonfiction.

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.

MFA637 Reading as a Writer 3

This course exists to address, foster, and expand the fundamental and necessary connection between a vibrant, rigorous reading life and the act of creative writing. While all writers must read and read constantly, deeply, and broadly, writers enrolled in an MFA program must also read in a very particular way: they must read as writers. They must be encouraged and guided to become seriously engaged with quality published works—and to participate in discussions and formulate responses to those works.

This course recognizes and champions the truth that graduate student writers (indeed all writers!), must read not just within their chosen genre and form, but from the wider range of literary works. Hence, this course will include not only texts of CNF (memoir, personal essay, literary journalism, and other forms), but also fiction (novel, novella, short story), and poetry. The intention is to expose student writers to the rich panoply of written expression across the lines of genre, form, style, and other labels often imposed by the academy, media, and the marketplace.

The reading—and ensuing discussions, assignments, annotations, and responses—are all meant to help students grow substantially as writers, as observers and analysts of the craft, and as discerning, intellectually curious readers/writers throughout their future writing lives.

MFA638 Reading and Writing about Culture, Race & Identity 3

In this course, students read essays, articles, and memoirs by contemporary writers exploring the topic of culture in America. How do we define “culture”? How does race, language, religion, gender, class, country of origin, and sexual orientation influence our experience of the world we live in? How do we define who we are and where we belong? How do we write about it?

In our eight weeks together, we will read, discuss, and write about these questions. We will focus on the multiple ways writers help define and express the concept of culture and how we both contribute to it and are shaped by it. We will look at issues of privilege and of oppression, of discrimination and celebration. We will pay special attention to literary craft and the strategies writers use to bring us into their lived experience. And we will write our own stories, developing narratives that expand our understanding of self-identity and the identity of others.

MFA640 Women's Spiritual Writing Through the Ages 3

Students will trace the legacy of the spiritual/devotional writing of women through the ages, from Greek poet Sappho through Sufi and Hindu writers, Christian mystics of the Middle Ages, Jewish writers of their time, to contemporary writers including Anne Lamott and Joan Chittister. Native American women's voices, as well as Mexican (Juana Inés de la Cruz), Pagan, Latina and Buddhist (Joan Halifax) will be explored. Eco-Spiritualists such as Alice Walker and also Marian
Wright Edelman could be included. Students will write responses to the critical spiritual questions affecting women posed by their instructor

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 explore the nature of the body and mind, the role of the body in literary art, the depiction of mental and emotional imbalance in contemporary literature, and the creative relationship between healing and writing. We will also learn the essentials of good health and wellness writing: specificity of sensory detail; avoidance of editorializing; vivid and convincing dialogue; a willingness to express and explore difficult truths; both grace and boldness in describing physical experience (i.e. a balance between excessive reserve, on one hand, and gratuitous detail, on the other); honesty and candor; and a well-constructed narrative that creates a story with an emotional arc, rather than an accumulation of incident.

MFA668 Creative Writing Field Seminar 3

Travel with faculty and other students to Ireland and generate creative work about the experience. A ten-day travel experience, the seminar will include daily workshops, lectures, readings, and ample time for immersion in the local culture. Enrollment will be limited to 20 participants. Costs of travel and lodging are not included in the tuition fee for this course

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 will demystify the journey to publication through examinations of the steps involved on the writer’s behalf; the structure of the publishing industry; the parts played by agent, editor, publicist, sales representatives and other key figures; and the all-important steps an author can take after publication to give a book the best opportunity for success. Information about online publishing as well as digital self-publication techniques will be offered through the Bay Path
University online educational delivery system. Cyber visits by agents and editors will also be included.

MFA681 Immersion in Publishing 3

This course will provide first-hand experience in the electronic book world, via a semester-long internship at a publishing house, a literary agency, or in an independent bookstore or an editor’s office. A detailed essay on the experience will be submitted by the students through the Bay Path University online educational delivery system. Prerequisite: MFA 680

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.