Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Top MFA Programs for Genre Writers (from guest blogger Emily Matthews)

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming writer Emily Matthews to the pages of Somebody Dies. An MFA applicant herself, she has offered to share some of her knowledge with other genre-fiction writers.

For all the arguments for and against obtaining a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, one of the greatest concerns among authors is choosing the right program. This concern goes beyond simply choosing between a program that is geared toward fiction or poetry.

In the past, creative writers who wanted to explore the depths of certain genres such as mystery and thriller novels had every right to be skeptical about the value of MFA programs. There was a prevalent notion that MFA fiction programs shunned genre writing in favor of highbrow literary drama and writing for the performing arts. What’s a genre fiction writer to do when you’re searching for a master's degree program to practice your craft? Don’t give up hope.

While it’s true that masters of literature such as Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan, as well as acclaimed screenwriters such as Darren Starr and David Benioff, graduated from MFA programs, authors of thrillers and mysteries can definitely find a program geared towards their chosen genre. Authors of mysteries and thrillers who are looking to create suspense will find that there is an MFA program waiting for them.

The MFA program at the University of Southern Maine has an option for popular fiction writing. The school not only welcomes burgeoning writers of mystery and thriller novels, it actually encourages them to market their work.

Science fiction and techno-thriller authors are gladly accepted at the University of Kansas and its esteemed James Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction. Genre fiction is actually a graduate course for writers attending the North Carolina State University MFA program.

Taking a critical look at the professors teaching at specific MFA schools can shed light on their inclination towards genre writers. At Florida International University, Les Standiford has been at the helm of the creative writing program for decades. He is well known for his crime and suspense novels based in Miami, and he even gave Raymond Carver his first writing gig. Adam Baron, who teaches at the prestigious Kingston University London, is a thriller and crime writer whose work has been serialized for BBC Radio.

Writers of mystery and thriller novels do not have to jump from one workshop to sharpen their skills and become masters of their craft. In terms of cultural standing, the MFA programs above recognize that mysteries and thrillers have an important place in the world's literature. Entering the right MFA program is a great opportunity for authors to become the next Michael Crichton or John Grisham.

Emily Matthews is currently applying to master's degree programs across the U.S., and loves to read about new research into health care, gender issues, and literature. She lives and writes in Seattle, Washington.


Mike Arnzen said...

GREAT post. I'm biased because I teach in it, but I confess that I'm really surprised that the MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University wasn't mentioned here. It's located just outside of Pittsburgh, PA, and is a distance learning program with two intensive residencies per year. For all genres, including mystery. Visit http://fiction.setonhill.edu/ for more info.

Craig Clarke said...

Thanks for the addition, Mike. I think it's fascinating that there are so many programs available, given the usual perception that genre writing somehow does not require study to be done correctly.

I hope that this helps set that perception straight.

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