MFA Creative Writing Program

An innovative and interdisciplinary creative writing program, dedicated to nurturing the experimental impulse in writing within the remarkable laboratory for art making that is CalArts.

Defining Features

1.  A liberated, non-tracking curriculum

A defining feature of CalArts’ two-year creative writing program is that students are free to take courses in, and to write in, any genre they wish.  Poets may take prose workshops to learn narrative conventions and how to deploy or challenge them; fiction and nonfiction writers may benefit from poetry workshops that hone their use of and engagement with language; and still other students may develop multidimensional writing practices.  All students graduate with the ability to comprehend and critique work across genre, and an expanded sense of possibilities for their own work.  CalArts is also one of the few creative writing programs to continually offer workshops in hybrid forms of writing, such as the prose poem, the hybrid essay and ekphrastic writing (writing inspired by other art forms). 

2.  A critical context for creative work 

Our writing program encourages students to situate their creative practice in a critical context – to engage with the history, theory and politics of contemporary writing, and to think hard about what and why they write.  We believe the MFA degree offers graduate students the chance to further develop both their craft and their knowledge base, and our workshops combine attentive critique of student work with the discussion of readings on and in the various genres—or on special topics particularly relevant to writing today.

3.  Interdisciplinary opportunities

A third defining feature of the program is the unparalleled creative environment of CalArts, which offers students the opportunity to engage not only with other writers of all kinds but with a broad range of visual and performing artists on a daily basis.  Students may choose just to soak up the atmosphere, or they may take elective courses in other parts of the Institute, further developing their practices via named concentrations in Writing and Performativity, Image and Text, Documentary Strategies or Writing and Its Publics.  For an even more profound interdisciplinary experience, they may pursue an “Interschool” degree focused equally on creative writing and another art practice, or enroll in Integrated Media. 

4.  Close mentoring and attention to the development of a singular writing practice

Writers don’t come to CalArts to learn how to imitate other writers.  They come to develop their singular visions in dialogue with faculty members and other students whose practices will inform and inspire theirs.  They come to push the boundaries of writing today—with rigor as well as playfulness.  To this end, the program places a strong emphasis on discipline and artistic integrity, supplying close mentorship throughout the two years.  Special support is provided for the long form thesis project required for graduation, including a workshop devoted to presenting thesis material and an independent study with the mentor.

5.  An award-winning, multi-dimensional faculty who are also dedicated teachers

CalArts MFA Creative Writing Program faculty members have been recipients of NEA Fellowships in fiction and poetry, Guggenheim fellowships in fiction, the Whiting Writer’s Award, the PEN award for Poetry in Translation, Creative Capital grants and the American Academy of Arts and Letters award, among others.  In addition to demonstrated excellence in their fields – and across fields—our faculty members together represent a wide range of experience in writing, editing, reviewing, criticism, scholarship and translation.  They are also dedicated, accessible and inspiring teachers, who enjoy being in the classroom and derive pleasure and inspiration from working with emerging writers.

6.  The Katie Jacobson Writer in Residence Program 

The Writer in Residence Program is a new feature of the CalArts MFA Creative Writing Program designed to bring a prestigious writer to campus each year for a public reading, a classroom visit and to meet with our students in one-on-one meetings. The Writer in Residence Program offers a unique opportunity for students to gain special access to important contemporary writers beyond CalArts, to discuss working methods and get feedback on their own work. 

7.  The “Writing Now” Reading Series and Seminar

“Writing Now” is a required course for all first-year graduate students in the MFA Creative Writing Program. It is structured around the work of four visiting contemporary writers (one of these will be the Katie Jacobson Writer-in- Residence). The course is team-taught by 2 members of the MFA Creative Writing faculty, and includes discussions of the visitors’ work, presentations, writing experiments, and workshops of student work.

The Visiting Writer element of Writing Now continues as a one-credit course in the spring, which is required for both first year and second year students. It consists of four visiting writers, one in relation to each of the four concentrations offered by the program (Documentary Strategies, Image and Text, Writing and Its Publics, and Writing and Performance). These events will be curated and hosted by faculty teams representing each of our concentrations.

8.  Active professional development

In addition to a semester-long professional development class entitled “Getting It Out There” and a teaching practicum, the CalArts MFA Creative Writing Program offers its students opportunities to teach composition to undergraduate students as paid teaching assistants; to learn the ins and outs of publishing (for academic credit) as a Black Clock intern; and to curate two readings series: the on-campus "Sprawl" and the off-campus "Next Words," designed to introduce students to LA's lively and diverse literary scene. Students also have the opportunity to participate in the CalArts Community Arts Partnership, teaching creative writing to underserved youth in venues around Southern California. 

9.  Alumni achievements 

Whether producing work in one genre or medium or several; whether publishing at large houses or indie presses or founding their own presses; whether Ph.D. students, professors, journalists, editors or arts administrators, our alums consistently demonstrate the creative innovation, critical capacity and autonomous motivation that are the hallmarks of the CalArts MFA creative writing student.


In February 2017, SUBLEVEL, a new literary magazine housed in our program, will launch online. SUBLEVEL is devoted to the nexus of literature, poetics, art, criticism, philosophy, culture, and politics. It inherits and reflects the dynamism of contemporary Los Angeles as a hub of literature, art, and activism, while also stretching beyond our locality. Based in the CalArts MFA Creative Writing Program, an innovative and interdisciplinary environment dedicated to the experimental impulse in writing and thinking, SUBLEVEL is a literary publication immersed in the world of art without being in service to it. We make no hard distinctions between creative and critical enterprise, but rather celebrate writing of any kind that we find stimulating, timely, or otherwise compelling. We will publish original essays, interviews, roundtables, and other features online; there will also be an annual print component. In time SUBLEVEL will expand in ways we can only begin to imagine. SUBLEVEL is produced in collaboration with the online magazine ENTROPY, and in conversation with EAST OF BORNEO, an online art magazine also housed at CalArts. Students in our program have the opportunity to work on SUBLEVEL, but it is not a student publication, nor does it publish the work of current students. We neither focus on faculty or alumni of CalArts nor exclude them.

Last edited by sblake on Oct 31, 2016
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