University of Guelph Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing
Since September 2006, the University of Guelph has offered an exciting Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Program in Creative Writing, located in the University of Guelph-Humber building on the north campus of Humber College in Toronto. Our stellar faculty includes Dionne Brand, Catherine Bush and Judith Thompson, and associated faculty Karen Connelly, Russell Smith and Michael Winter, among others. We offer workshops in the following genres: creative nonfiction, drama, fiction and poetry. Defining characteristics of the program include the innovative plenary courses “Writers on Writing” and “Writers in the World,” a semester-long mentorship with a professional writer, the participation of a wide range of well-established writers from Canada and abroad as associated faculty, mentors and visitors, and alliances with a variety of cultural organizations in the Toronto area. We emphasize reading as essential to the art of writing and promote the idea of an engaged writing practice. We offer students such pedagogical initiatives as the Parkdale Project, the opportunity to design and teach creative writing workshops in downtown Toronto schools. We attract a diverse student body and are proud of the trail-blazing publication and production accomplishments of our growing number of alumni. Through the program, we aim to offer students stimulating, challenging, and engaging ways to shape a writing life.
The Creative Writing MFA takes full advantage of its location in Toronto, an international literary and cultural centre. The program has been designed to provide students with a wide range of opportunities to interact with the community, and especially to connect students with well-established writers from across Canada and abroad as workshop instructors, mentors, and visitors. Our partnership with Harbourfront’s International Festival of Authors is a distinctive feature of the program. Through the IFOA we offer annual Master Classes with authors visiting the festival. We offer additional winter Master Classes and panels on such topics as structuring the novel, teaching writing, and writers and money. Our partnership with the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival offers MFA students annual reading spots at the Festival. We host a monthly program reading series, Speakeasy, in downtown Toronto. We also offer a teaching practicuum, the Parkdale Project: MFA students co-teach six once-a-week writing workshops to Grade Seven and Eight students at Parkdale Public School, or act as solo instructors for two high school level workshop sessions with Parkdale Collegiate students. We offer play reading opportunities for our playwriting students and intensive voice workshops to train students in how to read their work. Additional partnerships with the Humber School for Writers, Humber College, and Toronto theatres provide extraordinary extracurricular, volunteer, and work opportunities for our MFA students.
Students pursue the program on a full-time basis. The program has been designed to facilitate completion within two years.
Required courses include three intensive semester-long workshops, two plenary courses (“Writers on Writing” and “Writers in the World”), an individual study course, and a thesis.
Normally, students take one workshop and one plenary course in the first (fall) semester of study; one workshop, or two, in the second (winter) semester; the individual study course in the third (summer) semester; and the other plenary course and a final workshop, if necessary, in the fourth (fall) semester. The remaining two semesters of the two-year program are devoted to the thesis.
NOTE: With permission, MFA students may take one or two courses at the University of Guelph—e.g., MA courses in the School of English and Theatre Studies in which the student has a strong interest and the subject material feeds into work being done within the MFA program. Normal course requirements for the MFA program may be modified to accommodate this.
About the Courses
(0.5 credits each)
Students are required to take three workshops over the course of the program—all incoming students take one in the first fall semester, then one or two in the first winter semester, and one, if required, in their second fall semester. We offer five workshops—three (drama, fiction and poetry) in the fall, and two (creative nonfiction and fiction) in the winter.
We admit 12-13 students in each cohort. The average workshop size will be between 8 and 12 students.
Generally students take one and sometimes two workshops in their primary genre. Students are required to take at least one workshop outside their area of primary interest. The admissions process is used to identify areas of interest and to ensure a reasonable level of balance within the program.
In making workshop assignments to faculty, we try to ensure that a student working in the same genre twice will do so with different instructors. (The requirement that workshops be taken in at least two genres is important because sustained exposure to and practice in another genre may reveal or develop new creative strengths.)
The workshops are strongly focused on writing, but each also involves a substantial reading component. It is worth noting here that the most consistent and urgent advice given to new writers by established professionals is to read—widely, voraciously, and well. Through the reading component of the workshops, students learn to read as writers. They grow in an understanding of the writer’s craft; they will be able to discuss technique knowledgably and to incorporate insights gained from their reading into the writing they produce for the workshop.
A very important part of the workshops is the interaction between students and the responses they provide to one another’s work; attendance is therefore mandatory. Please note that these are intensive courses. The writing requirement of the workshops is substantial, as is the workload overall.
(0.5 credits each)
These courses are called “plenary” courses because all students enrolled in the program take them at the same time. One plenary is offered each year, in the fall semester, and students are required to take both. These reading-based courses are intended as a forum for the lively discussion of a range of ethical, aesthetic and practical issues pertinent to the writing life. Students are encouraged to examine the choices that writers make on the page and in the world. Discussions are augmented by visits from writers and other literary professionals including editors and agents. Reading for the plenaries is drawn from the literature on writing by writers and primary texts in a variety of genres.
Plenary courses meet once a week. Student presentations on selected readings make up a significant part of the course. Student participation is paramount. There will also be written assignments.
1) Writers on Writing
This plenary course allows students to acquaint themselves with and vigorously debate the varied ways in which writers describe their art and practice, and includes readings from such writers as Italo Calvino, Anne Carson, Sheila Heti, Dennis Lee, Harold Pinter, and David Shields, among others. We will examine how writers understand and describe their creative processes, techniques, and aims, and engage with a range of subjects including the competing roles of experience and imagination, the place of theft and influence in creativity, the usefulness of the idea of perfection, questions of representation, including the nature of realism, and the use of formal structures in poetry and prose.
2) Writers in the World
This plenary course involves students in significant, often highly contentious debates on the role of writing in the world—debates that form a context within which the solitary writer creates his or her own imaginative worlds. Issues to be considered include varying conceptions of the writer’s role and responsibilities, the idea of a national literature, the way value is assigned to a work of literature, transgression in writing, the changing copyright climate, and the impact of the internet on writers’ professional lives. Work by writers including Chinua Achebe, Margaret Atwood, Dionne Brand, J.M. Coetzee, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie among others will be examined.
INDIVIDUAL STUDY COURSE
The individual study course, required in the third (summer) semester of the program, offers students the opportunity to work one-on-one with a professional writer. For the majority of students, it is likely to be an intensive writing course conducted through a twelve-week mentorship with a professional writer chosen by the student in consultation with the program Coordinator. Many students use the mentorships as an opportunity to begin focused work on their thesis manuscript, although this is not required. The writing is supplemented by readings chosen by the student and writer/mentor in consultation with the Coordinator. Occasionally, the mentorship will be primarily a reading course, with practice in writing in relation to particular models or readings.
Great care will be taken to achieve a good match between student and mentor. The mentorship is designed to accommodate the variable learning needs of individual students. The design and schedule of the individual study course will be arrived at through consultation between the Coordinator, the student, and the mentor. Students work closely with their mentors and have regular contact with them through whatever combination of face-to-face meeting, telephone, mail, e-mail, and/or Skype consultation works best for the individuals concerned.
(credits are not assigned)
The thesis is the single most important component of the MFA program. The thesis might be a novel, a book-length manuscript of poems, a collection of short stories, a full-length play or screenplay, or a work of creative nonfiction. The standard to be applied is that the thesis should be a substantially revised manuscript of creative work approaching publishable quality in the estimation of the examiners.
Each student will have a thesis advisor and a two-person advisory committee made up of the advisor and one additional faculty member. When it has been determined by the advisory committee that the thesis is ready for examination, the thesis will be evaluated by a three-person examining committee. An oral examination is the final phase of the thesis requirement. The examining committee, whose first and most crucial task is to assess the merits of the thesis itself, will conduct this examination.