Creative Writing (MFA)

Time to degree: 2 years across genres, with option of a third year
Part-time options are available

Here at Columbia College Chicago, we have spent two years revamping our Creative Writing MFA into a single, seamless program that allows you to take classes in as many genres as you like (poetry, fiction, or nonfiction). Furthermore, our new MFA supports hybrid writing that combines elements of more than one genre.

We're interested in the rich literary history by which the genres are traditionally constituted, and in the ways in which such definitions may fall away.

Writing of all kinds happens here in a supportive, exceptionally creative community.

books by faculty

As a full- or part-time student in the Creative Writing MFA program at Columbia, you'll be part of a vibrant community of writers of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and hybrid work across genres. Innovative and exploratory approaches are encouraged, as are more traditional approaches to prose and/or poetic forms. With an unusually large, well-published, aesthetically diverse faculty, you'll be stimulated and nurtured as a writer in one of the most exciting cities in the country for emerging literary artists.



In the Classroom

In graduate seminars, workshops, and hybrid courses, the reading, writing, editing, translating, and critical engagement of texts are foregrounded in interdisciplinary, theoretical, historical, and international contexts. Our flexible, student-centered curriculum supports your participation in the literary conversation of our time, and you'll find opportunities to share your work outside the classroom as well as within. The MFA culminates in a substantial thesis that has benefitted both from workshop critiques and faculty guidance.

Faculty

As a student in Columbia College Chicago's Creative Writing MFA program, you'll have close working relationships with our award-winning faculty members in an intimate community of writers. You'll find a home at Columbia if you're looking for a program that emphasizes discipline and process, craft and critical thinking, and cross-genre possibilities. Our faculty members will support you in your growth as a writer. As role models and authors, they'll encourage and inspire you to experiment, take risks, and engage with other writers and artists.

Core Graduate Faculty in Creative Writing:

  • CM Burroughs is the author of two collections: The Vital System (Tupelo Press, 2012) and Master Suffering (Tupelo Press, 2020.) Burroughs has been awarded fellowships and grants from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, Djerassi Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Cave Canem Foundation. Burroughs’ poetry has appeared in Poetry, Callaloo, jubilat, Ploughshares, Best American Experimental Writing, and The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks.
  • Don De Grazia wrote the novel American Skin (Scribner) and other works which have appeared in TriQuarterly, The Chicago Tribune, The Outlaw Bible of American Literature, Rumpus, and elsewhere. He is a screenwriter in the WGA (East) and his rock opera, co-written with Irvine Welsh, debuted at the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where it was short-listed for Best New Musical.
  • Lisa Fishman’s seventh poetry collection is Mad World, Mad Kings, Mad Composition (Wave Books 2020). Earlier books include 24 Pages and other poems, F L O W E R  C A R T, and The Happiness Experiment, on Wave and Ahsahta Press. Her poetry, essays, and hybrid works appear regularly in journals, and she is anthologized in Best American Experimental Writing, American Poetry: The Next Generation, and elsewhere.  
  • Garnett Kilberg Cohen has published three books of short stories. Her prose has appeared in many places, including The Gettysburg Review, Witness, American Fiction, TriQuarterly, and The New Yorker (2019) online. Her nonfiction has twice been awarded Notable Essay citations from Best American Essays, and several of her stories have won awards, such as the Crazyhorse Fiction Prize and the Lawrence Foundation Prize. https://www.wisebloodbooks.com/garnett-kilberg-cohen.html
  • Aviya Kushner is the author of The Grammar of God (Spiegel & Grau); a National Jewish Book Award Finalist, Sami Rohr Prize Finalist, and one of Publishers’ Weekly’s Top 10 Religion Stories of the Year; the chapbook Eve and All the Wrong Men (Dancing Girl Press); and the forthcoming Wolf Lamb Bomb (Orison Books). She is The Forward’s language columnist and a Howard Foundation Fellow in nonfiction.
  • Alexis Pride’s novels include All I Want For Christmas, (co-authored, Level 4 Press, 2021), Where the River Ends (Tanksley-Simpson Publishing), and Sex Kills. With short fiction published in TriQuarterly, F Magazine, and elsewhere. Scholarly publications include “Teaching Beyond the Text: What To Do If Johnny Can’t Read So Good?” (The ICERI Proceedings, Seville, Spain). See https://library.iated.org/view/PRIDE2018RET 
  • Patrica Ann McNair’s third book, Responsible Adults (stories), is forthcoming in December 2020. The Temple of Air (stories) and And These Are the Good Times (essays), have received honors and awards including Chicago Writers Association’s Book of the Year. She has published widely in anthologies, journals, and textbooks on writing. Watch her TEDx talk “Sex, Shame, and the Short Story” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOzWrKu6w_s
  • Joe Meno is the author of seven novels and two short story collections, including Marvel and a Wonder, Hairstyles of the Damned, and The Boy Detective Fails. He is a winner of the Nelson Algren Award, the Great Lakes Book Award, and was a finalist for the Story Prize. His recent nonfiction book, Between Everything and Nothing, follows two asylum seekers in the Trump era.

Opportunities for Graduate Students

New MFA students may be admitted on a competitive basis to the Graduate Student Instructor program, which provides training in the teaching of undergraduate composition and is followed by the opportunity to teach Writing and Rhetoric upon approval. Assistantships are also available to new graduate students on a competitive basis. Students holding assistantships may work as teaching assistants, as editors on department publications, as events coordinators, or on faculty research projects, among other possibilities. 

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Alumni

With a Creative Writing MFA, Columbia alumni go on to find employment in teaching, editing, arts administration, public relations, nonprofit agencies, literary foundations, advertising, and copywriting. Many have started successful journals and independent presses while others work for national publications or continue their studies in doctoral programs. A stunning number of our alumni have had their books and chapbooks published by both major publishing houses and on highly regarded independent presses. They have won contests and awards judged by renown writers nationally and internationally. Their voices are part of the contemporary literary landscape.

Here are just a few of our alumni who have gone on to have their work published, often by winning prestigious contests:

  • Abigail Zimmer (MFA ’14) is the editor of Lettered Streets Press and the author of two chapbooks as well as the full-length poetry collection, girls their tongues, published by Orange Monkey Press.
  • Amy Lipman (MFA ’14) poetry collection, Getting Dressed, was published by Spuyten Duyvil Press, and her chapbook, Cardinal Directions, was a runner-up for the Ghost Proposal Chapbook prize and published on Ghost Proposal.
  • Andrew Ruzkowski’s (MFA ’13) poetry collections are A Shape & Sound, Do You Know This Type of Tree, and Things That Keep Us From Drifting. After his MFA, he completed a Ph.D. at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. A generous scholarship in his memory has been established for students with a primary interest in poetry at Columbia College Chicago; for information about the Andrew Ruzkowski Memorial Scholarship, https://www.colum.edu/columbia-central/scholarships/andrew-ruzkowski
  • Brandi Homan (MFA ’07) is the author of Bobcat Country and Hard Reds, published by Shearsman Books, and is co-founder of the feminist press, Switchback Books.
  • Brittany Tomaselli (MFA ’15) won the 2019 Omnidawn Chapbook Contest (poetry) judged by Carl Philips, resulting in the publication of Since Sunday on Omnidawn.
  • Hafizah Geter (MFA ’10) poetry collection Un-American, was published on Wesleyan University Press.
  • Jan-Henry Gray (MFA ’16) is the author of Documents, selected by D. A. Powell as the winner of the 2018 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and published on BOA Editions.
  • Jeff Hoffmann (MFA ’19) first novel, Other People’s Children, will be published by Simon & Schuster.
  • Leif Haven (MFA ’12) won the 1913 Prize judged by Claudia Rankine, resulting in the publication of his poetry collection, Arcane Rituals From the Future, on 1913 Press.
  • Nathan Breitling’s (MFA ’11) poems have appeared in journals such as Court Green and The Columbia Poetry Review. A generous award in his memory has been established for MFA students with a primary interest in poetry at Columbia College Chicago; for more information about the Nathan Breitling Poetry Fellowship, see: https://www.colum.edu/columbia-central/scholarships/nathan-breitling
  • Sahar Mustafah (MFA ’14) first novel was recently published by W. W. Norton; The Beauty of Your Face has been recently reviewed in the New York Times and elsewhere.
  • Tyler Flynn Dorholt (MFA ’09) co-edits and publishes Tammy and his chapbook, Modern Camping, was selected by John Yau for the Poetry Society of America chapbook prize. His first book, American Flowers, was published by Dock Street Press.
  • Books, chapbooks, zines, journals, and presses have also been published and established by many other prolific MFA alumni, including: Becca Klaver, Chris Terry, Erik Fassnacht, Geling Yan, Geoff Hyatt, Holly Amos, Jessie Ann Foley, Joshua Young, Julia Fine, Kelly Forsythe, Megan Stielstra, Naomi Washer, Ryan Spooner, S. Marie Clay, Steven Teref, Toni Nealie, and more.

Chicago: A City of Writers

chicago downtown nonfiction

Living and studying in Chicago means you’ll have access to one of the richest literary scenes in the country. Readings that are free and open to the public are hosted across the city almost every night of the week; many include open mic opportunities for newcomers. Whether you incline toward story-telling venues, poetry readings, slams, avant-garde literary theater, lectures, spoken word performances or fiction readings, Chicago provides a welcoming environment for both new and established writers.

Our downtown location in the South Loop sets the stage for surprising, challenging, and inspiring conversations among artists, educators, activists, scholars, and performers––whether in museums, galleries, bars, on the subway or in the street.  

You’ll be provided with a free CTA pass while you’re in the MFA program, as well as free membership at the Chicago Institute of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art.


Creative Writing Reading Series

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The Reading Series at Columbia College Chicago has a long tradition of featuring nationally and internationally renown writers of every genre. Hosted by the Department of English and Creative Writing, the series is committed to presenting critically engaged contemporary authors and embracing diverse voices. Every author who reads in our series also meets in an intimate, informal setting with our MFA students and a faculty host either after or before the reading. And our own MFA students “open” for the featured writers by giving a short reading of their own. We also provide the opportunity for students to conduct a studio podcast interview of visiting writers in conjunction with WCRX-FM, Columbia’s radio station.

All readings are free and open to the public. Location: 618 S. Michigan Ave., Second Floor (Stage Two).

Wednesday, September 23rd, 5:30pm
Poet/Performer/Sound Artist Tracie Morris in conversation with Lisa Fishman
https://traciemorris.com/about

Tuesday, October 20th, 5:30pm
Sahar Mustafah in conversation with Patricia Ann McNair
https://www.amazon.com/Beauty-Your-Face-Novel/dp/1324003383

Thursday, November 19th, 5:30pm
Faculty Reading featuring new books by Lisa Fishman, Joe Meno, and Sam Weller

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Degrees Available (Academic Year 2020/2021)

Fiction (MFA)

Time to degree: Three years (38 credits)
Part-time options are available

Columbia College Chicago’s Master of Fine Arts in Fiction program fosters a wide range of imaginative narrative strategies, forms, and subgenres, encompassing everything from literary fiction to sci fi to young adult. The fiction faculty’s commitment to creating generative classrooms and to nurturing the writing practice of each student is at the core of this program, equally centered on both process and craft. In the program, attention is given to opportunities for publication, for which faculty and peer guidance abound.

MFA Quick Links: See application requirements View required courses View program costs (PDF)

Poetry (MFA)

Time to degree: Two years (34 credits)
Part-time options are available

In the Master of Fine Arts in Poetry program at Columbia College Chicago, you’ll be supported in your writing practice and encouraged to try many different ways of working with language, voice, form, sound, and literature from many traditions. You’ll be introduced to the work of poets working in a myriad of cultural contexts and with a wide range of aesthetic inclinations. The poetry program has a long tradition of welcoming hybrid forms and innovation at every level.

MFA Quick Links: See application requirements View required courses View program costs (PDF)

Nonfiction (MFA)

Time to degree: Three years (38 credits)
Part-time options are available

The Nonfiction MFA program at Columbia College Chicago invites you to all forms of this growing genre, from memoir and travel writing to autobiography and lyric essay. Both literary and journalistic approaches are welcome, as are research-based, cross-genre, and interdisciplinary contexts. Nonfiction faculty are alert to publishing opportunities for students and provide professional guidance alongside the refinement of craft.

MFA Quick Links: See application requirementsView required courses | View program costs (PDF)