Creative Writing

The English Department is proud to house Harvard’s Creative Writing program. The vital presence of creative writing in the department is reflected by our many distinguished authors. We offer courses each term in fiction, poetry, nonfiction, screenwriting, and playwriting. Courses are open by application to Harvard College undergraduates, graduate students, staff, and students from other institutions eligible for cross registration. Workshops are small, usually no more than twelve students, and concentrate on one genre. For faculty information, please see the Creative Writing Faculty.

Applying to Creative Writing Courses

Applications to creative writing workshops are now online and processed through Submittable. Please make an account with Submittable and submit a separate application for each workshop to which you are applying.

Fall 2016 Deadline: Wednesday, August 31 at 4:00 PM
Spring 2017 Deadline: Monday, January 23 at 4:00 PM

Applications will go offline promptly at 4:00pm and late submissions will not be accepted. No exceptions.

For each course to which you are applying, you must submit the following:

  1. Online Application (you can access each workshop’s application link with its course listing)
  2. Letter of Application 
  3. Writing Sample

Submission guidelines for individual workshops (what to include in your letter of application and how long of a writing sample to include) can be found under individual course listings. Please do not query creative writing instructors. Generally, applicants are asked to submit 3-5 pages of poems, prose, or dialogue, depending upon the course. However, individual instructors might request specific subjects or styles in your writing samples, so please make sure to submit the appropriate materials, based on the instructor’s specifications. Please note that writing samples will not be returned.

When ranking your course preferences, please be consistent. Your first choice workshop must be ranked first on each application. Any applications with inconsistent rankings will be disqualified.

You may not edit or resubmit an application once you’ve applied. Please be sure your application materials are finalized and accurate before submitting.

To apply:

Without approval of the department, no student may take more than two creative writing courses in any one year. A course may be repeated for credit provided the student has the permission of the instructor and the Director of Undergraduate Studies of the Department. English seniors writing a creative thesis may not enroll in a creative writing workshop.

Applicants will receive a course admission decision by 5:00 PM on Tuesday, September 6. Admitted students should add the workshop to their Crimson Cart, and the instructor will approve your enrollment request by the course registration deadline.

Workshops generally do not meet during shopping period, unless instructor notifies admitted students otherwise.

The Creative Writing Thesis

Only English concentrators (including joint concentrators) may apply to write a senior thesis in creative writing. Students submit applications in February of their junior year, including first-term juniors who are out of phase. This year’s application deadline is Wednesday, February 15, 2017. Students applying for a creative writing thesis must have completed at least one course in creative writing at Harvard before they apply. No student is guaranteed acceptance. It is strongly suggested that students acquaint themselves with the requirements and guidelines long before the thesis application is due. The creative writing director and faculty must approve any exceptions to the requirements. Petitions for exceptions to the requirements must be made in writing to the creative writing director by Monday, January 23, 2017. Each petition will be considered on a case-by-case basis. After students submit applications in February, the creative writing faculty considers the proposal along with the student’s overall performance in creative writing and other English courses. Students are notified in early March about the faculty’s decision. Students not chosen to write a creative thesis may still apply to write a critical thesis. Those applications are due, this coming year, on Monday, April 3, 2016. Since the creative writing thesis is part of the English honors program, acceptance to write a creative thesis is conditional upon the student continuing to maintain a 3.40 concentration GPA. If a student’s concentration GPA drops below 3.40 after the spring of the junior year (i.e., following notification of conditional acceptance to the program), the student may not be permitted to continue in the thesis program. The same rule applies to students writing critical theses. Students who have questions about the creative writing thesis should contact the program’s Director, Bret Johnston.

Writers in the Parlor

Writers in the Parlor is an event series that brings the country’s finest authors to Harvard to discuss the writing life. Recently, we’ve hosted Michael Pollan, Margaret Atwood, Rick Moody, Harvard English alumnus Uzodinma Iweala ’04, and Tom Perrotta.

Creative Writing FAQs

How many creative writing courses may I take while at Harvard?
English concentrators may only count two creative writing courses towards their concentration requirements, but any additional courses do count toward a student’s concentration GPA. With the approval of the individual instructor, students may repeat any creative writing course for credit up to 3 times per course number.
How many courses should I apply to?
Apply to as many courses as you like; your chances of being accepted increase with multiple applications. When applying to multiple courses, you must rank them by order of preference; your rankings must be the same on each application you submit.
What if I'm accepted into more than one course?
Each student can be admitted to only one course. The creative writing faculty meets to discuss all applications to prevent multiple acceptances.
What if I apply to a course, but it turns out I can't take it?
Contact the instructor immediately to let them know that you will not be able to take the course. As a courtesy, do not apply for courses that you know you will not be able to attend. If your scheduling needs change after you submit an application, let us know as soon as possible.
What is the creative writing faculty looking for in applications? In writing samples? How can I make my application the best possible?
Please follow the instructions accompanying the course listing that specifies the kind of writing sample you must submit (length, kind, possible topics, etc.). Follow the instructions for each class and submit your best work. If you don’t get into the class you applied for, it may be because there were many more applications than there were available spots. It does not automatically imply that the instructor did not approve of your writing sample.
I'd like to take a certain course, but it doesn't meet at a convenient time. Can I ask the instructor to change the course to suit my needs?
No. You should look for other offerings.
What happens if I don't get accepted into any of the courses I apply for?
Unfortunately, there are usually more applications than spaces in a class. Reapply the following semester. Meanwhile, read what’s being published in contemporary literary magazines, attend contemporary plays, read screenplays, read novels, apprentice yourself to the masters available to you in the libraries, and keep writing. You may fare better the next time.
Is there a waitlist for the course? What if someone else drops it during the first or second week? Might I still have a chance?
Each instructor will have his or her own waiting list. If your name is next on the waiting list, you will be contacted if a spot becomes available.
Which genre is most competitive?
There is no consistently “most competitive” genre. Competition for courses simply depends on the number of courses offered in a given semester, the number of applications for those spots, and the number and quality of the applications received.
Do English concentrators have priority? Can anyone take a creative writing course? What about graduate students? Staff?
Although anyone can take a creative writing course, we do give preference to undergraduate students enrolled at Harvard—as opposed to graduate students, staff, or students cross-registering from other institutions. Although we do not give preference to English concentrators, we do consider each student’s concentration and seniority, among other things.
I'm an English concentrator and I hope to write a creative writing thesis during my senior year. How should I approach applying for workshops in that context?
Explain your intentions in your application so that the instructor may take it into consideration.