Students must apply to Stonecoast in one of four concentrations: creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, or popular fiction. It might be helpful to think of the concentrations as the four doors into the program. Every Stonecoast graduate holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, with their individual experiences "weighted" toward one of the four concentrations, but all students may choose to engage in cross-genre study. Nonfiction writers can attend a seminar on speculative fiction; fiction writers can learn the foundations of poetic meter. With permission, it’s also possible to enroll in workshops outside your concentration. Should you want to cast an even wider net, the program regularly offers workshops and seminars in playwriting, screenwriting, and wrting for social justice.
Semester by Semester
All our students are passionate about improving their writing craft. Each semester is designed to foster growth, present more opportunities for autonomy, and offer greater challenges. Here is a brief overview of each semester’s goal:
Students develop a common vocabulary in order to communicate clearly with faculty members and their peers. Students generate a body of work in order to discover their voice and identify the subjects that thrill them. Mentors offer constructive criticism and direct students to texts that will, variously, support or challenge the student’s sense of the possible.
While generating new work remains the primary focus, second semester students will have a better sense of their current project. In some cases this leads the student to a deeper interrogation of a particular area of craft—for example, point of view, sense of place, or dialogue. For other students, now is the time to explore new forms.
By the third semester, most students will have worked closely with four or more faculty members. They have a clear sense of what interests them and the work they need to do. In addition to writing new drafts and revising older work, students will spend some time working on their Third Semester Learning Project. TSLPs can take the form of experiential learning and include a formal academic paper. To fulfill their TSLP, students have interned at literary magazines, taught in prisons, investigated the origins of the werewolf, and published anthologies. Students have presented their TSLPs at numerous conferences and submitted them as part of PhD applications.
In the final semester, also known as the thesis semester, students shape a polished, professionally formatted manuscript with their mentor. The thesis serves both as a record of the work the student has done and, like an ars poetica, announces their further ambitions and goals.
Choices, Choices, Choices
There is only one Stonecoast MFA, but every student personalizes their education to best reflect their interests and goals. This process begins with workshop selections prior to each residency. Students curate their residencies by selecting from a slate of more than twenty seminars led by Stonecoast faculty and guests, including seminars within their chosen genre as well as topics in other genres.
Would you like to attend a seminar on the morality of violence or learn about the voices of Afro-futurism? Would you like to learn how historical details can help you to create fictional worlds or be explore the concept of the Necropastoral? Are you interested in strategies for writing about unforgivable characters or a panel discussion on sports writing? Poets can investigate the plotting of a thriller. Novelists can compose ekphrastic poetry or listen to a panel discuss writing about trauma.
If what you want to study isn’t offered, you and your peers may propose seminars and workshops for future residencies.
Unlike most writing programs, Stonecoast encourages students to work in different genres and to tackle new forms. The majority of our faculty publish in multiple or hybrid genres. They model ways to engage with the writing process, find fellowship with other writers, and build sustainable writing careers. Mentors encourage students to take risks and push boundaries, ensuring that they grow as artists.
We maintain high expectations for our students. At the start of each semester you and your mentor will co-develop a study plan that establishes the requirements and deadlines for the term. These study plans represent a contract between each student and their mentor. Firm deadlines are established right from the beginning, enabling you to schedule your work around other commitments. Negotiating projects and meeting your agreed-upon deadlines prepare you for professional competence in the post-graduate world. The habits you develop at Stonecoast will sustain you well beyond the MFA program.
First the Program Changes You, Then You Change the Program Let’s imagine a nonfiction student entering the program. At their first residency they take workshops with Rick Bass and Porochista Khakpour. Their first mentor helps them generate a list of foundational texts. Let’s say lyrical essays have become this student’s obsession. For their second residency, they sign up for two workshops: the first is designed for students who are writing about the body; in the second workshop, T. Fleischmann creates a space for people to play with experimental forms. As the second semester begins, our student is paired with a new mentor. Their work is evolving, deepening. The possibilities of erasure have now captured their imagination, which leads them to a study a new group of texts. For their third residency they enroll in an erasure workshop, a class that they actually proposed less than six months before. They spend the first three packets of their third semester writing a paper that tries to contextualize erasure as a form. Erasure demands inventiveness, which helped sharpen their language. Better tools permit them to tackle greater projects. Our student is now equipped to take their work in exciting new directions, which makes their fourth residency the most rewarding yet. In their fourth semester, the student’s final mentor provides guidance as the student assembles a thesis that comprises revisions of early work as well as polished polished drafts. In their final residency the graduating student sharing their learning with the Stonecoast community as part of a formal presentation. They also present their work in a public reading. Just before they accept their diploma, a member of the faculty will read an excerpt of their work aloud, a most fitting way to mark the end of one journey and the inception of another.