Creative Writing (Iowa Writers' Workshop)


  • Lan Samantha Chang
Graduate degree: M.F.A. in English
Web site:

The Creative Writing Program (Iowa Writers' Workshop) is a world-renowned graduate program for fiction writers and poets. It was the first creative writing program in the United States to offer a degree, and it became a model for many contemporary writing programs. In addition to its Master of Fine Arts program, it also offers writing courses for undergraduates.

Creative writing classes at the University of Iowa began in the 1890s, and in 1922 the University became the nation's first institution of higher education to accept creative work as theses for advanced degrees. The Iowa Writers' Workshop began in 1936, drawing distinguished fiction writers and poets who would lecture and stay to discuss students' work; some came for a full year of teaching.

Today the program's faculty and alumni include nationally and internationally prominent poets, novelists, and short story writers; many have won Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards, and other major literary honors. In 2003 the Iowa Writers' Workshop received a National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities—the first awarded to a university and only the second given to an institution rather than an individual.

To learn more about the Creative Writing Program's history and faculty, visit the Iowa Writers' Workshop web site.

Graduate Program of Study

  • Master of Fine Arts in English

The Program in Creative Writing offers a master's degree program. However, unusually well-qualified Ph.D. students in the Department of English may obtain permission to submit a creative dissertation for the doctoral degree; the Program in Creative Writing assumes responsibility for granting permission for the option of the creative dissertation and for approving the dissertation once it is completed. Contact the director of graduate studies in the Department of English for more information.

Master of Fine Arts

The Master of Fine Arts degree in English (creative writing) requires 48 s.h. of graduate credit taken over four semesters in residence at the University of Iowa. Students specialize in fiction or poetry.

The program is flexible and individualized. Approximately half of the credit required for the degree is earned in writing courses; the rest may be earned in other graduate courses. Up to 18 s.h. of graduate transfer credit may be counted toward the degree, but transfer credit does not change the residency requirement.

Students must enroll in CW:7870 Fiction Workshop or CW:7875 Poetry Workshop during each semester of residence in the program. In each course, groups of 10-15 students read and critique each others' work.

The program's seminars provide students with a thorough knowledge of their chosen literary form and related aspects of craft. Seminars include CW:7810 Form of Fiction, CW:7820 Form of Poetry, CW:7830 Seminar: Problems in Modern Fiction, and CW:7840 Seminar: Problems in Modern Poetry. Each focuses on a single aspect of modern poetry or fiction, such as a single writer's work or a body of work with a common theme or purpose.

In addition to taking Creative Writing Program courses, many M.F.A. students choose courses offered by other University of Iowa departments and programs, such as the interdisciplinary Center for the Book (Graduate College), the Department of Theatre Arts, the Comparative Literature Program, and the Department of English.

During the second year of the program, each student must take the M.F.A. examination, an essay exam that may be written outside of the classroom. Students submit their graduate thesis during the last semester, CW:7895 M.F.A. Thesis; the thesis is a fiction or poetry manuscript of substantial length.


Applicants to the Creative Writing Program (Iowa Writers' Workshop) must meet the program's admission requirements as well as those of the Graduate College; see the Manual of Rules and Regulations of the Graduate College.

A creative writing manuscript is the most important element of the application for admission to the workshop. Submissions for poetry should include 10-12 poems. Submissions for fiction should include two or three short stories or a section of a novel, or both, usually 30-80 double-spaced pages (may not exceed 100 double-spaced pages).

Other application materials include a personal statement, official transcripts from all universities and colleges attended, the graduate application form, three letters of recommendation, an application for graduate awards, and an application to the Graduate College. Graduate Record Exam (GRE) General Test scores are optional, but they may make applicants more competitive for a wider range of financial assistance.

For detailed information on application materials and procedures, see How to Apply on the Iowa Writers' Workshop web site.

Financial Support

Financial assistance is available to Creative Writing Program students in the form of teaching assistantships, research assistants, and fellowships. See Financial Aid on the Iowa Writers' Workshop web site.

Creative Writing Courses

The Creative Writing Program offers courses for undergraduates as well as graduate students. Enrollment in some graduate-level courses requires admission to the M.F.A. program. See "Courses" in the Department of English section of the Catalog for course descriptions and prerequisites to enrollment.

Lower-Level Undergraduate

CW:1800 Creative Writing Studio Workshop3 s.h.
CW:2100 Creative Writing3 s.h.
CW:2870 Fiction Writing3 s.h.
CW:2875 Poetry Writing3 s.h.

Upper-Level Undergraduate and Graduate

CW:3107 Creative Writing for the Health Professions3 s.h.
CW:3215 Creative Writing and Popular Culture3 s.h.
CW:3218 Creative Writing for New Media3 s.h.
CW:4745 The Sentence: Strategies for Writing3 s.h.
CW:4751 Creative Writing for the Musician3 s.h.
CW:4760 The Art of Revision: Rewriting Prose for Clarity and Impact3 s.h.
CW:4870 Undergraduate Writers' Workshop: Fictionarr.
CW:4875 Undergraduate Writers' Workshop: Poetryarr.
CW:4894 Undergraduate Project in Creative Writingarr.


CW:5870 Graduate Fiction Writing (guided independent study)3 s.h.
CW:5875 Graduate Poetry Writing (guided independent study)3 s.h.
CW:7810 Form of Fiction3 s.h.
CW:7820 Form of Poetry3 s.h.
CW:7830 Seminar: Problems in Modern Fictionarr.
CW:7840 Seminar: Problems in Modern Poetryarr.
CW:7870 Fiction Workshoparr.
CW:7875 Poetry Workshoparr.
CW:7890 Graduate Project in Creative Writingarr.
CW:7895 M.F.A. Thesisarr.