Syracuse University Creative Writing Mfa

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All have the presumed goal of training soon-to-be-published writers. Each year, some 20,000 people apply for admission to these programs.

Those accepted will, at least in theory, have access to skilled teachers, be surrounded by other talented rising writers, be funded in a way that lessens their financial constraint, and earn an entree into the world of books and writers.

In writing, more than in almost any other academic discipline, “the content walks through your door,” says the novelist Christopher Tilghman, who teaches at Virginia.

There and at Irvine and Michigan and Texas, to name a few, the numbers of applicants are staggering—often 500 or more.

Across the continent, Boston University’s program director, Leslie Epstein, speaks of a particular group that has cemented BU’s reputation. One shorter-term measure might be the annual Best New American Voices anthology, which publishes student work from graduate writing programs as well as from a host of non-degree-granting conferences and fellowships.

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It includes Ha Jin, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Peter Ho Davies, all of whom were quickly and resoundingly acclaimed after graduation. Each program nominates two stories a year, and each entry is read blind by the final editor. program at Columbia; her win was duly celebrated by proud announcements from both programs. In the simplest matrix for judging creative-writing programs, the first question is: Which well-known authors attended?

Upstairs, in an unused office, are 16 large boxes of alumni books for which no shelf space is yet available.

In a wire basket, on the desk of program associate Connie Brothers, are dozens of clipped reviews of recent books.

Richard Ford, an early product of the University of California at Irvine writing program, eventually won a Pulitzer for his novel Independence Day. This measure often seems more meaningful when a newly minted writer has a quick success that seems directly related to having been in a particular program.

But Ford didn’t really break through as a writer until he published The Sportswriter in 1986, some 16 years after getting his M. (Chabon won the 2001 Pulitzer for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.) Alice Sebold’s memoir about being raped, Lucky, began as a 10-page writing assignment in an Irvine class.

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