Founded in 1947 as the Department of Writing, Speech, and Drama, the Writing Seminars was the second academic institution in the country to create a degree for creative writers. Initially formulated by the poet Elliott Coleman, the department’s mission is to teach student writers the necessary skills and knowledge to create powerful literary works and to recognize their role as part of a community of writers.

John Barth, who was among the department’s earliest students, taught generations of American fiction writers how to extend a literary heritage into a vital literary future. The poet Karl Shapiro, columnist Russell Baker, and newsman and scholar Louis D. Rubin fostered a spirit of aesthetic inquiry in seminars, or “workshops,” devoted to creative writing. 

Subsequent faculty built on these foundations. Poets David St. John, Cynthia MacDonald, and the critic Tony Tanner arrived; translator William Arrowsmith, journalist Gary Wills, and novelist Leonard Michaels came, too. The poet and scholar John T. Irwin guided the department for nearly two decades. During his tenure, international stars Julian Barnes, Edna O’Brien, Nobel Laureate J. M. Coetzee, fiction writers Robert Stone and Doris Grumbach, and Pulitzer Prize-winning poets Howard Nemerov and Anthony Hecht taught in the department. Among its most important hires were professors Alice McDermott and Jean McGarry who, along with Stephen Dixon, would make the Hopkins program in fiction writing one of the most selective in America.

Distinguished Writing Seminars alumni include Louise Erdrich, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, ZZ Packer, Wes Craven, Rosanna Warren, Elizabeth Spires, Esi Edugyan, Iris Chang, Gil Scott-Heron, Wayne Koestenbaum, Vikram Chandra, Lawrence Hill, Wyatt Prunty, Gina Apostol, Natalie Shapero, Richie Hofmann, Amanda Gunn, Gwen Kirby, Leslie Harrison, Moira Egan, and Greg Williamson. These and others studied with a distinguished faculty that would, in the 1990s, include poets Mark Strand, another Pulitzer Prize winner; J. D. McClatchy, editor of The Yale Review; Andrew Hudgins; and Dave Smith, then editor of The Southern Review.

A steady flow of visiting readers and lecturers in recent years has included Colson Whitehead, Claudia Rankine, Marilynne Robinson, Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith, Lorrie Moore, Gish Jen, Jennifer Egan, Ilya Kaminsky, Jesmyn Ward, Tim O’Brien, Paul Beatty, Isabel Wilkerson, Yiyun Li, Teju Cole, Tracy K. Smith, Terrance Hayes, James Shapiro, James Fenton, Alan Hollinghurst, Dinaw Mengestu, Alice Oswald, Christopher Ricks, Jorie Graham, Colm Tóibín, Natasha Trethewey, Anne Carson, Robin Coste Lewis, Monica Youn, Ange Mlinko, Afaa Michael Weaver, Hernan Diaz, and others.  In 2006, John Irwin realized a dream he had long harbored, relaunching The Hopkins Review, a quarterly journal that appeared briefly in the department’s early days. A joint venture between the Writing Seminars and Johns Hopkins University Press, the journal is currently edited by Dora Malech. Recent issues are available at