Writing Science Fiction 101: MFA Programs

If you want to teach writing or literature at the college level, you have hundreds of Master of Fine Arts (MFA) and Master of Arts (MA) programs to choose from in the US.  However, until recently, if your goal was to write science fiction, fantasy, or horror at the Master’s level, you were out of luck.  Though some may tolerate speculative fiction, most MFA programs do not encourage students to write it.  Now, however, two low-residency graduate creative writing programs are specializing in writing popular fiction.  (Low residency programs let you pursue a degree online or through the mail yet require you to spend two to three weeks on campus per year.)

Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing (Popular Fiction option)

The University of Southern Maine offers a low-residency MFA program in Creative Writing at its Stonecoast campus.  The program has options in creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, cross-genre, and popular fiction.  Students (and faculty) in the latter option write and sell mysteries, thrillers, historical fiction, horror, fantasy, and science fiction.

The curriculum includes two ten-day residencies per year.  Most residencies happen at the Stone House Conference Center in Freeport, Maine, but some students may be selected to do a residency in Ireland.  In the first two semesters, students concentrate on the fundamentals and strategies of genre fiction, including plot, suspense, and character development. In the third semester, students begin working on an enhancement project in one of the following areas of emphasis:

  • Craft
  • Literary Theory
  • Community Service
  • Creative Collaboration
  • Teaching / Pedagogy
  • Publishing

Students must complete an essay or thesis based their project.  Projects range from a more traditional thesis on, for example, mythological criticism, to an internship leading a writing program in a homeless shelter.

Stonecoast faculty includes several notable, award-winning speculative fiction writers such as Nancy Holder, James Patrick Kelly, and Kelly Link.  Nancy Holder is a four-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award and the author of dozens of books.  James Patrick Kelly’s works have appeared in many “Best-of” collections throughout the years, and he has taught writing at several other universities and workshops, including The Clarion Workshop.  Kelly Link’s stories have won the Nebula, James Triptree, Jr., and World Fantasy Awards.

Seton Hill University MA in Writing Popular Fiction

Seton Hill University in Greenburg, Pennsylvania offers a Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction.  According to its site, the program “teaches students to write marketable novels in popular genres like mystery, romance, science fiction, horror, and fantasy.”  Students can also specialize in children’s and young adult fiction as well as a blend of genres.

The curriculum includes biannual week-long, on-campus residencies, which consist of workshops and seminars on topics ranging from conflict and plot to astronomy for science fiction writers.  Between residencies, students work on term writing projects with faculty mentors and online peer writing groups. Past mentors have included writers such as James Morrow.

The MA program’s faculty includes multiple Stoker Award-winning author, Michael Arnzen.

Other MFA / MA programs

A few more traditional graduate programs in creative writing may be sympathetic to speculative fiction because, for instance, a noted author is on the faculty.  Those include but are by no means limited to:

  • University of Kansas (KU)—James Gunn founded the school’s Center for the Study of Science Fiction. KU offers MA, MFA, and Ph.D. studies in creative writing.
  • North Carolina State University—Its Creative Writing Program is run by author John Kessel, who incidentally studied under James Gunn at University of Kansas.

3 Replies to “Writing Science Fiction 101: MFA Programs”

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