Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing

The Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing—with specialization in either Poetry or Fiction—is a two-year program of workshops, literature courses and electives, culminating in a final thesis of literary work worthy of publication. Distinguished by the one-on-one attention students receive from our faculty poets and writers, the MFA program offers a strong, supportive start to a life in Letters.

You may be surprised to learn that the Research Triangle's sole Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing is at NC State and not at UNC or Duke, who have powerhouse undergraduate programs.  It happens there's a long history of Creative Writing at NC State with novelist-teachers like Guy Owen (The Flim-Flam Man), Lee Smith (Family Linen, Oral History), and Angela Davis-Gardner (Plum Wine, Butterfly's Child) as well as poets like Gerald Barrax (Leaning Against the Sun) and two-time National Book Award-nominee John Balaban (Path, Crooked Path, Locusts on the Edge of Summer).  Through the years we've had some superb writers pass through our graduate writing program—Kaye Gibbons, Lynn York, T.R. Pearson, and Haven Kimmel.  Since upgrading our MA to an MFA (circa 2005), our graduates have produced many splendid publications:  novelist William Conescu (Being Written and Kara Was Here), poets Michael Begnal (Ancestor Worship and Future Blues), Noel Crook (Salt Moon), Celeste Doaks (Cornrows and Cornfields), and Megan Roberts (Matters of Record).  Hey, wasn't Megan here for Fiction?  Another ambidextrous author, Amy Knox Brown has a short story collection (Three Versions of the Truth) and a chapbook of poetry (Advice from Household Gods). Poet Shannon Camlin Ward had a recent chapbook, too (Blood River), as did Kelly Michels (Mother and Child with Flowers) and Jessica Sampley (Tuscaloosa to Tupelo). Novelist Pamela Duncan is the author of Moon Women and The Big Beautiful; she now teaches creative writing at Western Carolina University. Kij Johnson's first collection of short stories (At the Mouth of the River of Bees) contained stories that went on to win Nebula and Hugo Awards. She now teaches at the University of Kansas. Novelist Therese Anne Fowler's fourth book--fourth? didn't she just graduate?--Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, was a 2013 New York Times best-seller and is now a television serial starring Christina Ricci (Z: The Beginning of Everything), available through

NCSU has a first-rate faculty who believe that the workshops, though important, are not everything.  The one-on-one in the office, the wrangling with manuscripts until they're finished, the individual attention—that's what makes this program different and probably why Poets and Writers had us ranked at #28 in a 2013 listing, which ain't bad for a program ten years in existence. Our current Poetry faculty includes the much-awarded Dorianne Laux (Facts About the Moon, The Book of Men) and Joe Millar (Overtime, Blue Rust and 2017’s Kingdom) and—just added to the tenure-track—one of the most celebrated poets on the scene, Eduardo C. Corral, late of Columbia University and the Hodder Fellowship at Princeton, author of Slow Lightning, winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize. (Eduardo was the first Latino American to do so).

Our Fiction instructors are the two-time Nebula Award-winning science fiction writer John Kessel (Good News from Outer Space, The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and the 2017 novel The Moon and the Other).  There is former Sports Illustrated reporter and novelist Wilton Barnhardt (Gospel, Emma Who Saved My Life and the New York Times best-seller Lookaway, Lookaway), late of MFA programs at Warren Wilson College and UC-Irvine; best-selling author Jill McCorkle (The Cheer Leader, Carolina Moon, Life After Life, plus several award-winning story collections including Going Away Shoes), recently of the Bennington MFA and Harvard creative writing programs; and our newest fiction professor, Belle Boggs, known for her much-praised collection of short stories (Mattaponi Queen) as well as her PEN-nominated nonfiction The Art of Waiting.  Her first novel, The Ugly Bear List, is under contract from Graywolf Press. Joining us for Spring 2018 will be features editor Dan Kois, who will conduct a seminar in online feature writing and editing.

You'll be in good hands with this crew.

Read more about us, in The Masters Review MFA Program Profile.

The MFA accepts only about a dozen students year, six/seven in fiction and six/seven in poetry. Consequently, students will receive considerable individual attention from faculty and be able to pursue interests in history, linguistics, science, design, or other disciplines that may inform and enrich their creative writing.  It's a 36-hour program:  four workshops (12 hours), and six classes of graduate-level coursework (18 hours), plus thesis hours (6 hours).  There is no foreign language requirement. There is, taken upon one's final term, a degree essay required (of 15-20 pages) in the form of a take-home exam. This is not a research or scholarly paper--it is to be a close reading and explication of a few writers studied in the student's two years, one writer comprehending the techniques and strategies of another.  The finished Master's Thesis for the MFA should be . . .

  • For Fiction: a book-length manuscript of approximately 200 pages or more, novels preferably finished
  • For Poetry: a collection of at least 50 pages

Ideally, the thesis should be a work of literary value and publishable quality, worthy of submission to an agent or publisher. Again, the goal is to prepare you for your life as a working writer.  Some applicants write to us with many questions about teaching, being trained as a teacher, can we find you work as a creative writing teacher . . .  We are not here to make creative writing teachers.  We are here to temper and improve poets and authors.  We'll train you as a T.A., and—believe us—there'll be plenty of teaching to come if writing is your path, but this is first and foremost a two-year literary fine arts program.  We want writers.

All admitted applicants to our program with an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher and who apply by the February 1 deadline are offered full funding in the form of a graduate teaching assistantship that includes full tuition coverage (excluding university fees), health insurance as university employees, and a living stipend for each of the program's two years.

We're in Raleigh, the state capital of North Carolina.  Despite recent headlines and hijinx courtesy of our inimitable politicians, it really is a great place to dwell, regularly appearing at the top of those lists ranking the highest standard of living and "Best Places to Live" polls.  The Research Triangle (for the record:  North Carolina State University in Raleigh, Duke University in Durham, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), is as ranked the No. 2 metro area in the nation for highest percentage of bachelors degrees in the population. It is an artistically rich, educated, historical region that supports great independent bookstores and a constant flow of celebrated visiting writers who appear at those bookstores or in the universities' reading series; Raleigh boasts renowned performance series in all the major arts, as well as many cultural resources, libraries--get a load of NC State's new robot-operated state-of-the-art Hunt Library--foundations, collections, museums. (And the area is not without Southern charm and delightful weather... well, most of the year!)

For more information about the program, please contact:

Assistant Director
MFA in Creative Writing Program
Department of English
Campus Box 8105
NC State University
Raleigh, NC  27695-8105

Or, more dependably, write him at

Applying is fairly self-explanatory, and you can begin the process at the NCSU Graduate School site ( Our Graduate Programs Coordinator, Cara Smelter, can answer questions as they arise.  You may call her at (919) 515-4106 or email her at

We have a great reading series and two big prize-offering contests each year (with graduate prizes).  Most of the details can be found at . . .