Writing Upstarts

readingbooksFour years after its creation and only a year and a half after granting degrees to its first class, the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing program at Vanderbilt University has been named a top 20 program in the country by Poets & Writers magazine.

Vanderbilt was ranked No. 18 in the November/ December 2009 issue of the magazine. Poets & Writers ranked programs in eight categories, including size, duration, cost of living, teaching load and curriculum focus. Vanderbilt—which admits three poetry and three fiction writers to its program each year—was ranked No. 4 in the country for selectivity.

“Last year we had 374 applications for those six slots, and we will expect to receive many more this year—demand is increasing,” says Mark Jarman, Centennial Professor of English, director of creative writing, and an acclaimed poet. “Our teacher-student ratio is 1 to 1. If you are accepted into this program, you are going to get attention.”

Each of the six students accepted receives full-tuition scholarships, health insurance and stipends, says Sandy Solomon, a poet and associate director of the program. This support is a significant attraction for incoming students, she says, as is the prospect of acquiring teaching experience at Vanderbilt. All the students tutor at the Vanderbilt Writing Studio during the first year and teach a workshop in their genre during the second year.

“As soon as I arrived in Nashville, the members of the MFA faculty were calling me to invite me out to coffee, to take me out to lunch, to offer me their furniture, anything,” says Matt Baker, a first-year fiction student. “At any program in the country, you can study under talented, published professors, but at Vanderbilt they’re also genuinely interested in the lives of their students. That’s something the Poets & Writers rankings don’t even take into account. Take that into consideration, and I think our program ranks at least in the top five.”

Vanderbilt launched its Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program in 2006. The faculty includes fiction writers Tony Earley, Lorraine López, Alice Randall and Nancy Reisman; poets Jarman, Solomon, Beth Bachmann, Kate Daniels and Rick Hilles; and nonfiction writer Peter Guralnick.

Find out more: www.vanderbilt.edu/english/creative_writing

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