Thursday, February 22, 2018

The University of Iowa is already renowned for its prestigious graduate writing programs, whose alumni have gone on to win major literary awards, including 17 winners of the Pulitzer Prize, six U.S. Poets Laureate, and numerous winners of the National Book Award, MacArthur Foundation Fellowships, and other significant honors. The new undergraduate degree in creative writing offered by the English department goes one step further in cementing the university’s distinction as “The Writing University,” a destination for writers from all over the world.

A collaboration between the Department of English and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the new English and Creative Writing major, which College Magazine ranked No. 1 for aspiring young writers, is as rigorous as it is inventive.

“Exploring and hearing the breadth of voices present in English literature has been such a fulfilling experience,” says undergraduate Austin Hughes. “Being able to read works from people I’ve never heard of before always feels like a source of artistic growth for me. The major has been a fantastic reminder of the versatility, weight, and the promise of written word, and I enjoy experiencing, again and again, that pleasant shock of a resonant voice I’ve never heard before.”

In the second year of its existence, the major has already seen a boom in enrollment. Over 500 undergraduates are now enrolled as English and Creative Writing majors. The major is also one of the most diverse in the university, with over 20 percent of students coming from minority or international backgrounds. 

In the English department, it’s also important to us to give back to the community. Every semester, students in the Nonfiction Writing Program offer free creative writing workshops, which have become so popular that they fill up within a few days of being announced. Outreach efforts also include the unique Lloyd-Jones Residency for Versatile Writing, which has served three dozen high school students in rural Iowa since being founded last year. In all, the program estimates that it offers over 110 hours of free classes each year to more than 400 students—a major effort to nurture the literary community in Iowa and beyond.

“I hope our writers will graduate with an appetite for urgent innovation in their own work, met by an inspired sense of responsibility and belonging as emerging stewards of a fulfilling, inclusive literary community,” says Robyn Schiff, director of the undergraduate English and Creative Writing major. “We don’t inherit a literary community as writers,” explains Schiff, “we make our communities in a lifelong commitment that radiates far beyond the classroom.”