Chicago State University

Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing

The department offers a graduate program in a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Students participate in writing workshops in fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry. Additionally, students undertake coursework in African American literature and non-African American literature. MFA candidates also present an MFA thesis (minimum 30 poems or 5 short stories [at least 100 pages] or 150 pages of a novel or creative non-fiction), successfully complete a comprehensive examination in African American literature, and a public literary reading/performance of their original work (manuscript). Essentially, the thesis constitutes a volume of poetry, a short story collection or a novel which students may publish after graduation. Students will show competency in the genre of their choice, choosing from the following categories: fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry. Students may take course work in playwriting and scriptwriting for film and television as electives.

The Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing is a terminal degree and the appropriate credential for the teaching of creative writing. According to the Associated Writing Programs, the MFA in creative writing is considered the equivalent of the Ph.D. in literature, linguistics, or composition. Holders of the degree from Chicago State University will not only be able to teach courses in creative writing, but courses in African American literature, African literature, Third World literature, as well as non-Black literature. The MFA degree focuses on the study of writing through the practice, performance, and publication of original work.

Visiting Writers

Throughout the academic year, writers of prestige and established literary reputation serve as visiting writers at CSU. MFA students have an opportunity to participate in writing workshops or seminars conducted by established poets, novelists, short story writers, playwrights, and scriptwriters. Visiting Writers include Martin Espada, Honree Fannon Jeffers, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Roger Bonair-Agard, Crystal Wilkinson, Kevin Coval, Frank Walker, Achy Obejas, and Sterling Plumpp. 

Admission Requirements

For admission to the program, prospective MFA students must meet the general requirements of the graduate school, hold a baccalaureate degree in the arts and sciences from an accredited college or university, and have a GPA of 3.0 or better (on a 4.00 scale). Applicants are expected to have completed a general education program that includes courses in the natural and biological sciences, mathematics, social sciences, and humanities. Applicants who do not have an undergraduate major in English may be admitted on the condition that they make up deficiencies in course work.

Prospective students are required to submit the following two-part application:

Part One: Application forms from the Graduate Studies Office, official transcripts, three letters of recommendation, GRE general test scores, and a personal essay describing the nature of their writing and their writing process. Part Two: a portfolio of creative work: for poets, 20 pages of poetry; for fiction and creative non-fiction writers, 40 pages of prose. The portfolio is the most essential part of the application. Every manuscript is read by the MFA faculty committee.

Submit all application materials to:

Division of Graduate Studies

Chicago State University

9501 South King Drive, LIB338

Chicago, IL 60628

General Requirements

Fulfillment of the general requirements for admission to the graduate program.

Completion of a minimum of eighteen semester hours of undergraduate work in English and the baccalaureate degree, with an acceptable grade point average.

Completion of at least thirty-six credit hours of graduate level course work, exclusive of teaching methods courses, with grades averaging B (3.0) or above.

Successful completion of the:

1)    Thesis

2)    Comprehensive exam in African American or non-African American literature

3)    Oral presentation

Specific Requirements

Completion of thirty-six semester hours of graduate work in English selected with the approval of the MFA advisor. Teaching methods courses are excluded.

Completion of at least three courses at the  5000-level, including at least two seminars. 

Core Course Requirements

Writing/Workshop (15 hrs) Choose 6 hrs of ENG 5367 or ENG 5368 and 9 additional hours

Publishing (6 hrs) Choose ENG 5456 and 3 additional hours

Literature (9 hrs) Choose at least one seminar

Thesis (6 hrs)

Workshop/Writing Courses

Eng 5367 - Special Topics in English

Eng 5368 - Workshop in English

Eng 5380 - Seminar in Creative Nonfiction

Eng 5381 - Seminar in Fiction

Eng 5383 - Seminar in Poetry

Eng 5395 - Internship in Writing

Eng 5451 - Independent Study in English

Eng 5461 - Adv Poetry Writing Workshop

Eng 5463 - Adv Prose Fiction Writing Wkshp

Eng 5465 - Adv Nonfiction Writing Workshop

CMAT 5323 - Writing for Television

CMAT 5324 - Writing for Screenplay

CMAT 5373 - Advanced Script writing

Publishing Courses

Eng 5379 - Workshop in Publishing

Eng 5395 - Internship in Publishing

Eng 5456 - Seminar in Publishing-Writing

Literature Courses

Eng 5321 - Black Women Writers

Eng 5322 - Black American Poetry

Eng 5323 - Wright, Ellison, and Baldwin

Eng 5324 - Gwendolyn Brooks Seminar

Eng 5331 - Literary Criticism

Eng 5332 - Black American Fiction

Eng 5370 - The Amer Ethnic Experience in Lit

Eng 5382 - The Harlem Renaissance

Eng 5384 - African American Autobiography

Eng 5390 - Women's Voices

Eng 5428 - History of Literary Criticism

Eng 5441 - Advanced Studies in English Lit

Eng 5442 - Advanced Studies in American Lit

Eng 5443 - Advanced Studies in Black Lit

Eng 5447 - Seminar in Black Literature

Eng 5452 - Seminar in English Literature

Eng 5453 - Seminar in American Literature


Program Objectives

  • Upon completion of the program students will be able to demonstrate:
  • A thorough understanding of literary standards and schools of criterion, as applied in fiction, non-fiction, poetry, play writing, and script writing.
  • The ability to analyze creative literary works using the appropriate dictionary terms and standards.
  • A knowledge of literary periods as well as an understanding of how historical contexts impact a literary work.
  • Technical and artistic skill in crafting their own writing.
  • A knowledge and an appreciation of literature produced by writers of diverse cultural backgrounds.
  • Ability to use technology in producing or critiquing literary works.
  • Skills and knowledge base needed to publish work of literary worth.
  • Ability to teach creative writing at the community college and four-year university levels.
  • Independent work as an active creative writer, i.e., publication and performance as a novelist, poet, short story writer, playwright or screenwriter.

The Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing

The MFA program is housed in the The Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing.  Founded in 1990, The Gwendolyn Brooks Center is a literary and cultural center invested in researching, teaching, and disseminating information about acclaimed Black writers, especially the life and works of Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), former Poet Laureate of Illinois and Distinguished Professor of English at CSU.  The goal of the Brooks Center is to strengthen the humanities in general and promote the study of Black writers to a local, national, and international community of students, faculty, and the general public.  The Center's broad selection of culturally insightful and academically stimulating programs include the annual Gwendolyn Brooks Writer's Conference, Black History Month Video and Film Festival, and Women's HIstory Month Lecture and Workshop Series, and The Conjure Woman Writing Writing Workshops.  The Center publishes a bi-annual literary journal, Warpland:  A Journal of Black Literature and Ideas, featuring the works of renowned, emerging, and new writers.

MFA graduates have books in print with Simon and Schuster, Main Street Rag, Third World Press, Urban Books and Willow Press, and have received the following awards, fellowships and prizes:  Fulbright and Cave Canem fellowships, Transitions Abroad Narrative Writing Contest, Elixir Poetry Prize finalist, The Guild Complex Nonfiction Award finalist, and The Essence Magazine bestseller list.  Their work has appeared in national juried literary journals such as Crab Orchard Review, Reverie, Caylx and Sage Publications.  Since the first graduating class in 2003, six students have gone to Ph.D. programs.  Half have received their doctorate degrees in English/Creative Writing and three are ABD from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Milwaukee, The University of Illinois, Chicago, and the State University of New York, Albany and Binghamton.  Finally, our graduates hold tenure-track teaching positions/administrative appointments at Wiley College, University of New Haven, The New School in New York, the City Colleges of Chicago, Purdue University, Lane College, DePaul University, and Columbia College, Chicago.

MFA Faculty(and recent publications):

Kelly Norman Ellis, Director

Tougaloo Blues, Spaces Between Us:  Poetry Prose and Art on HIV/AID co-editor, M.L. Hunter.

Brenda E. Aghahowa

Grace Under Fire: Barbara Jordan's Rhetoric, Praising in Black and White.

Sandra Jackson-Opoku

Hot Johnny (and the women who loved him) (2001); Sea Island Summer (2001); The River Where Blood is Born (1998).

Quraysh Ali Lansana

They Shall Run:  Harriet Tubman Poems , Role Call:  A Generational Anthology - Editor.

Nnedi Okorafor

Zahrah the Windseeker, The Shadow Speaker, Long Juju Man, and Who Fears Death.

Discover the work of faculty, alum and current students: