Students admitted to the MFA program enroll in two years of course work. The program requires two full years of residency in Baltimore. Students take two courses per semester: a writing workshop in poetry or fiction, and a second “readings in literature” course taught within the department. In addition, first-semester students take a third course in pedagogy, in preparation for their own teaching of undergraduate fiction and poetry in the spring of the first year. Poetry courses are offered by Mary Jo Salter, David Yezzi, James Arthur, Andrew Motion, and Dora Malech. Fiction courses are offered by Danielle Evans, Jean McGarry, Brad Leithauser, and Eric Puchner.
Students are paired with one member of the graduate faculty who serves throughout the MFA program as advisor in the student’s chosen genre, and who becomes the thesis director. At the end of the first year, students present a first-year portfolio, approximately half the length of the projected thesis, for faculty review. Students are given the opportunity to meet with the combined faculty in their genre for the “first year conversation,” in which their performance as writers, students, and teachers is discussed, and guidance offered for the second year.
The thesis, due in the second year, is the most important indication of the student’s accomplishment. A fiction student’s thesis is a substantial manuscript in the form of a novella, a novel excerpt, or a collection of fiction. Poets produce a thesis of collected poetry. In the second year, the student is assigned a second reader—a faculty member from a different genre—who serves on the thesis committee.
It is our belief that having a second language (at the intermediate level, at least) allows a writer the flexibility to experiment with the first language, and permits development of a literary voice through a deeper understanding of how language functions. Students may show foreign language proficiency in the first year by passing a placement exam or a translation test. Students also have the option of enrolling in a full year at any level of college-level foreign language study, to be passed no later than the end of the first semester of the second year. Students are also welcome to take courses in other departments outside The Writing Seminars, beyond our own requirements.