Message from Randy Albers, Chairperson
Welcome to the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College, home to the nationally renowned Story Workshop® approach to the teaching of writing, Story Week Festival of Writers and one of the largest, most exciting creative writing programs in the country.
The Fiction Writing Department offers a BA and BFA in Fiction Writing (with specializations in fiction, creative nonfiction, playwriting, publishing, electronic applications, and teaching), and a BA and BFA in Playwriting, along with graduate MFA in Creative Writing—Fiction, MA in the Teaching of Writing, and Combined Degree programs. It also offers an undergraduate minor in Fiction Writing, as well as interdisciplinary minors in Creative Nonfiction and in Playwriting.
With an exceptionally wide and comprehensive range of classes, the Fiction Writing Department features the acclaimed Story Workshop® method in sequenced core fiction and nonfiction classes, along with a variety of other complementary approaches in two other strands designed to achieve both depth and breadth to students’ education. These courses enable students to discover the power of their own voices and develop skills and capabilities crucial to success in any professional endeavor. Graduates of the fiction writing program are publishing widely in a variety of genres and forms; and among them are winners of the National Book Award, the Nelson Algren Award, Great Lakes Book Award, the Pushcart Prize, the Midland Society of Authors Award, Columbia University Scholastic Press Association awards, and many others.
In addition, alumni are competing successfully in today’s job market, which places a premium on individuals with excellent oral and written communication skills who also bring heightened creativity and imaginative problem-solving capacities to their chosen career paths. Graduates work in a wide variety of professions, including teaching, publishing, movie producing, writing for media, journalism, theater, management, computer applications, advertising, law, medicine, speech writing, grant writing, and many others. Each year, Career Night brings back alumni who speak about the many ways in which the skills that they gained in Story Workshop and other Fiction Writing Department classes enabled them to get and advance in an array of jobs.
The Story Workshop approach, originated by former chair John Schultz, differs from the approaches of most other colleges and universities by being a dynamic, highly interactive, process-based method that draws fully upon students’ diverse backgrounds and experiences. Emphasizing permission for and development of each student’s unique voice and story content, the Story Workshop approach enables students to tap into their creative potential as they explore the interrelated processes of reading, listening, perceiving, experiencing, oral telling, critical thinking, creative problem solving, and writing—all in an intimate, small-group setting that stresses close individual attention and positive feedback from faculty. The intensive training offered in the core sequence is complemented by process-and-technique Critical Reading and Writing courses designed to broaden students’ understanding of their own reading and writing processes and of the tradition in which they work, as well as by Specialty Writing courses that encourage applications of fiction writing skills in genre fiction, script forms, freelancing, and a variety of other areas necessary to competing successfully in the work world. Writers interested in teaching can be recommended for training at tutors in the department’s Story Workshop tutoring and outreach teaching programs. Exciting internship possibilities are also available and encouraged for all Fiction Writing and Playwriting majors.
Playwriting students undertake work in sequenced core classes leading to the development of full-length plays and to the enhancement of skills useful in a variety of professions. In this unique interdisciplinary and highly integrated program, playwriting majors bring together Fiction Writing Department courses in writing and in the study of processes used by successful playwrights with Theatre Department courses emphasizing theatrical and historical elements of performance. Graduates of the playwriting program are prepared to see their work produced in Chicago’s thriving theater community and to undertake theater-related jobs and other professions where script or presentation skills are at a premium, including writing for electronic media, creative and business-related video production, community-based teaching, work with nonprofit organizations, and many others.
Along with courses on campus, the Fiction Writing Department offers exciting learning opportunities for study abroad in Prague, Florence, and Bath, England. Students also may also apply for our Semester in L.A. Program, run in conjunction with the Film Department’s Adaptation program.
Recommended students work on the annual anthology of student writing, Hair Trigger, selected by three different national organizations over the years as the top such collection of in the country, or on F Magazine, the department’s nationally distributed literary magazine devoted primarily to novels in progress. Many other locally and nationally distributed magazines and journals have originated in the Fiction Writing Department, and students and alums have founded numerous reading series that are presently active throughout the city.
Each year, the department sponsors an extensive array of public programming adding vitality to the thriving literary scene in Chicago. The renowned Story Week Festival of Writers brings acclaimed writers, performers, agents, editors, and publishers to the city to join students and faculty for readings, Conversation with the Author sessions, panels, performances, and special words-and-music events. Visiting writers such as Irvine Welsh, Edwidge Danticat, Jane Hamilton, Junot Diaz, Hubert Selby, Jr., Joyce Carol Oates, Dave Eggers, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Richard Price, Dennis Lehane, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Marcus Sakey, Aleksandar Hemon, Jennifer Egan, Francine Prose, Karen Tei Yanashita, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Valerie Wilson Wesley, Sherman Alexie, Dorothy Allison, Charles Johnson, Sandra Cisneros, Salman Rushdie, John McNally, Jonathan Lethem, David Morrell, Anchee Min and many others reflect the rich diversity of voices that the department seeks to foster among its students. In addition, the Fiction Writing Department collaborates with the English and Journalism Departments to present Creative Nonfiction Week each fall. Class visits by writers, playwrights, performers, editors, and other literary types round out students’ exciting and stimulating educational experience in the Fiction Writing Department.
Chairperson, Fiction Writing