Creative Writing

The vital presence of creative writing in the English Department is reflected by our many distinguished authors who teach our workshops. We offer courses each term in fiction, poetry, nonfiction, screenwriting, playwriting, and television writing. Our workshops are small, usually no more than twelve students, and offer writers an opportunity to focus intensively on one genre. 

Apply to Creative Writing Workshops

Workshops are open by application to Harvard College undergraduates, graduate students, staff, and students from other institutions eligible for cross registration. Submission guidelines for workshops can be found under individual course listings; please do not query instructors. Review all departmental rules and application instructions before applying. 

Fall 2022 Application Deadline: 11:59 pm ET on Sunday, August 21.
Spring 2023 Application Deadline: TBA

For a list of Fall creative writing workshops: https://english.fas.harvard.edu/fall-term

Our online submission manager (link below) will open for Fall 2022 applications on Thursday, August 11.

Students who have questions about the creative writing workshop application process should contact Case Q. Kerns at cqkerns@fas.harvard.edu

To apply online:
submit

Featured Faculty

Teju Cole

Teju Cole is a novelist, critic, and essayist, and is the first Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice. "Among other works, the boundary-crossing author is known for his debut novel “Open City” (2011), whose early admirers included Harvard professor and New Yorker critic James Wood." In the spring 2019 semester, Cole will teach two creative writing workshops: "Breaking Form" and "Writing Critically." 

Read more

Creative Writing Workshops

English CBST. Blood, Sweat, Tears: The Art and Craft of Horror Writing

Instructor: Nick White
Wednesday, 12:00-2:45pm | Location: Boylston G07
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students
Course site​​​​​​​

In this workshop, we will study the shocking art and bewitching craft that is horror. For those writers daring enough to face the abyss with me, we will spend the first half of the semester closely reading contemporary classics of the form, such as Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom, Carmen Maria Machado’s Especially Heinous, Stephen Graham Jones’ Night of the Mannequins, and Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream. The second half of the semester, we will devote our time to workshopping your own creative work: one shorter flash piece and one longer story or novel chapter (around 5,000 words). The final project will be a significant revision of the longer story or novel chapter.

Supplemental Application Information: Prior experience writing fiction is helpful but not required. Please submit a writing sample of 3-5 pages of fiction, along with an application letter explaining your interest in this course, any writing experience you feel is relevant, and listing examples of work that moves and/or influences you, explaining why it does.

Apply via Submittable (deadline: 11:59pm EDT on Sunday, August 21)

English CCFS. Fiction Workshop

Instructor: Teju Cole
Tuesday, 6:00-8:45pm | Location: Lamont Library 401
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students
Course site

This reading and writing intensive workshop is for students who want to learn to write literary fiction. The goal of the course would be for each student to produce two polished short stories. Authors on the syllabus will probably include James Joyce, Eudora Welty, Toni Morrison, Alice Munro, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Diane Williams.

Supplemental Application Information: Please submit a cover letter saying what you hope to get out of the workshop. In the cover letter, mention three works of fiction that matter to you and why. In addition, submit a 400–500 word sample of your fiction; the sample can be self-contained or a section of a longer work.

 

Apply via Submittable (deadline: 11:59pm EDT on Sunday, August 21)

English CFE. Writing Fiction: Elements of Craft, Style, and Meaning

Instructor: Neel Mukherjee
Monday, 3:00-5:45pm | Location: Barker 018
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students
Course site​​​​​​​

The course will consist of two halves. In the first hour of each class, we will be doing close readings/literary-critical analyses of an assigned text (we’ll be reading writers such as James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Ann Petry, Lucia Berlin, Ernest Hemingway, Gustave Flaubert, among others), with the aim of isolating some aspect of the craft of writing in order to take bearings for your own. Amongst several other things, we shall also be looking at the politics of canon-making; at the white gaze; at writing as representation, empowerment, resistance, reclamation; at some of the long history of racial politics. In the second half of the class, divided into two equal segments of 55 minutes each, we will be workshopping the writing of two students.

Supplemental Application Information: Please submit 3-5 pages of creative writing in prose (fiction is preferable, but non-fiction is also fine) along with a letter of introduction in which you write about why you’re interested in this course; what experience you’ve had writing; some of your favourite writers; what some of your favourite works of fiction are and why.

Apply via Submittable (deadline: 11:59pm EDT on Sunday, August 21)

English CFF. From Fact to Fiction: Finding & Shaping a Story: Workshop

Instructor: Claire Messud
Tuesday, 12:00-2:45pm | Location: Lamont Library 401
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students
Course site​​​​​​​

In this course, we will explore the evolution of a story from a factual anecdote or incident to a fictional creation. The aims of the semester are to learn to listen to someone else’s story in interviews, and to endeavor to find, from there, the necessary bones for a fictional narrative. What is most urgent? What is most emotionally affecting? What are the details from an interview that stay with you? And from there: what, from a broader account, is the story you are moved to relate? Once you make that choice, how do you do further research, if necessary? How do you select the point of view, the frame, the characters for your fiction? What are the ethics and responsibilities of these choices?
In these riven and challenging times, storytelling is vital: learning to listen, to engage, and responsibly to relay what we discover. Each person we encounter is a bearer of wisdom and vast experience; so many urgent stories remain untold. How might we, as fiction writers, address reality, without simply writing about ourselves
Several published writers will visit the class to share their experiences of research, and of the relation in their work of fact to invention. (Past guests include Akhil Sharma, Geraldine Brooks, Kirstin Chen and Jane Rogoyska.)  We will read published examples of fact-based fiction, and discuss the authors’ choices.
The first third of the class will involve preparing and conducting interviews with a chosen subject, and sharing those interviews with the class. The second third will involve refining the story’s arc, research and formal decision-making, and writing a first draft. Finally, we will workshop the revised stories that have emerged from this process.

In these riven and challenging times, storytelling is vital: learning to listen, to engage, and responsibly to relay what we discover. Each person we encounter is a bearer of wisdom and vast experience; so many urgent stories remain untold. How might we, as fiction writers, address reality, without simply writing about ourselves?

Several published writers will visit the class to share their experiences of research, and of the relation in their work of fact to invention. We will read published examples of fact-based fiction, and discuss the authors’ choices.

The first third of the class will involve preparing and conducting interviews with a chosen subject, and sharing those interviews with the class. The second third will involve refining the story’s arc, research and formal decision-making, and writing a first draft. Finally, we will workshop the revised stories that have emerged from this process.

Supplemental Application Information: Admission by application only. Please submit a brief letter explaining why you're interested to take this class, and, if you've a subject in mind, why it's interesting to you. There is no prerequisite for this course: all who are interested are welcome to apply. For your writing sample, submit 2-5 pages of creative work of any genre. If you haven't written creatively before, you might consider writing a brief character sketch or memoir piece. 

Apply via Submittable (deadline: 11:59pm EDT on Sunday, August 21)

English CFMR. Interiority & Experience: Writing Character-Driven Fiction: Workshop

Instructor: Claire Messud
Thursday, 3:00-5:45pm | Location: Barker 018 
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students
Course site​​​​​​​

This course approaches the writing of fiction with character at its center. If fiction is an exploration of what it’s like to be alive on the planet, character is paramount: we are who we are because of a combination temperament and experience. You can’t write convincingly if you don’t know your characters: plot, voice, detail, dialogue, setting – all these elements of story are interwoven with and dependent upon character. While it will be primarily a workshop of student fiction, we will read and discuss fiction through the lens of character – including works by Gustave Flaubert, Virginia Woolf, Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, Viet Than Nguyen, Ben Lerner, and Tayari Jones.  

Supplemental Application Information: Admission by application only. Please submit a brief letter explaining why you're interested to take this class. There is no prerequisite for this course. For your writing sample, please submit 2-5 pages of creative work in any genre.

Apply via Submittable (deadline: 11:59pm EDT on Sunday, August 21)

English CGF. Genre Fiction Workshop: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Speculative Fiction, Horror, The Ghost Story, The New Weird

Instructor: Neel Mukherjee
Wednesday, 3:00-5:45pm | Location: Barker 018
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students
Course site

The course will consist of two halves. In the first hour of each class, we will be doing close readings of an assigned text, with the aim of isolating some concept or aspect of the genre under discussion in order to take bearings for your own. The assigned reading is obligatory. We will look at the convergences and divergences in the various kinds and modes mentioned in the title of the course. We will be thinking of generic topoi, conceptual underpinnings, imagination, style, world-building, storytelling, resolution, among other things. Some of the best writing in these genres is by women on issues of gender and intersectionality, so there will also be a strong feminist component to the course. These genres have also been used, with extraordinary creativity and to great effect, by writers of colour to meditate on issues of race, inequality, oppression, freedom, so the syllabus also features an introduction to that domain. 

The course will consist of two halves. In the first hour of each class, we will be doing close readings of an assigned text, with the aim of isolating some concept or aspect of the genre under discussion in order to take bearings for your own. We will be reading writers such as Ursula Le Guin, Ted Chiang, Nalo Hopkinson, James Tiptree Jr, Stanislav Lem, China Miéville, among others. We will look at the convergences and divergences in the various kinds and modes mentioned in the title of the course. We will be thinking of generic topoi, conceptual underpinnings, imagination, style, world-building, storytelling, resolution, among other things. Some of the best writing in these genres is by women on issues of gender and intersectionality, so there will also be a strong feminist component to the course. These genres have also been used, with extraordinary creativity and to great effect, by writers of colour to meditate on issues of race, inequality, oppression, freedom, so the syllabus also features an introduction to that domain.

In the second half of the class, divided into two equal segments of 55 minutes each, we will be workshopping the writing of two students.

Supplemental Application Information: Please submit 3-5 pages of creative writing in prose (fiction is preferable, but non-fiction is also fine) along with a letter of introduction in which you write about why you’re interested in this course; what experience you’ve had writing; some of your favourite writers; what some of your favourite works of fiction are and why.

Apply via Submittable (deadline: 11:59pm EDT on Sunday, August 21)

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English CACW. Advanced Creative Writing Workshop

Instructor: Paul Yoon
Wednesday, 12:00-2:45 pm | Location: TBA
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students
 

Advanced fiction workshop for students who have already taken a workshop at Harvard. You will be responsible for participating in discussions on the assigned texts, the workshop, engaging with the work of your colleagues, and revise your work. The end goal will be to produce 2 short stories, or 2 chapters of a novel, to be submitted as your final portfolio.

English CAFR. Advanced Fiction Workshop: Writing this Present Life

Instructor: Claire Messud
Thursday, 3:00-5:45 pm | Location: TBA
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students
 

Intended for students with prior fiction-writing and workshop experience, this course will concentrate on structure, execution and revision. Exploring various strands of contemporary and recent literary fiction – writers such as Karl Ove Knausgaard, Rachel Cusk, Chimamanda Adichie, Valeria Luiselli, etc – we will consider how fiction works in our present moment, with emphasis on a craft perspective. Each student will present to the class a published fiction that has influenced them. The course is primarily focused on the discussion of original student work, with the aim of improving both writerly skills and critical analysis. Revision is an important component of this class: students will workshop two stories and a revision of one of these.

Supplemental Application Information: Please submit 3-5 pages of prose fiction, along with a substantive letter of introduction. I’d like to know why you’re interested in the course; what experience you’ve had writing, both in previous workshops and independently; what your literary goals and ambitions are. Please tell me about some of your favorite narratives – fiction, non-fiction, film, etc: why they move you, and what you learn from them.

English CCDS. Scene Work, Dream Work: Fiction Workshop on Design and Structure of Narrative Scenes

Instructor: Nick White
Wednesday, 3:00-5:45 pm | Location: TBA
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students
 

In The Scene Book: A Primer for Fiction Writers, Sandra Scofield asserts that “[t]he scene is the most vivid and immediate part of story, the place where the reader is the most emotionally involved, the part that leaves the reader with images and a memory of the action.” This workshop will explore the elements of dynamic scenes: from lively narrative action to memorable dialogue. We will also study how to organize and structure our scenes within the short story and the novel. We will consult other craft texts on scenes and structure, including Jane Alison’s MeanderSpiralExplode: Design and Pattern in Narrative and Charles Baxter’s Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction. Additionally, we will closely read several contemporary short stories, novellas, and novel excerpts that will serve as model texts for how to use scenes effectively in our fiction.
You will write one flash piece and one short story or novel chapter (around 5,000 words), and both will be workshopped in class. Your final project will be a substantial revision of your short story / chapter. 

English CFMR. Interiority & Experience: Writing Character-Driven Fiction: Workshop

Instructor: Claire Messud
Wednesday, 3:00-5:45pm | Location: TBA
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students

This course approaches the writing of fiction with character at its center. If fiction is an exploration of what it’s like to be alive on the planet, character is paramount: we are who we are because of a combination temperament and experience. You can’t write convincingly if you don’t know your characters: plot, voice, detail, dialogue, setting – all these elements of story are interwoven with and dependent upon character. While it will be primarily a workshop of student fiction, we will read and discuss fiction through the lens of character – including works by Gustave Flaubert, Virginia Woolf, Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, Viet Than Nguyen, Ben Lerner, and Tayari Jones. 

English CNGS. Advanced Fiction: The Good Stuff

Instructor: Meng Jin
Thursday, 3:00-5:45pm | Location: TBA
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students

This course is a workshop in pleasure and delight. And wonder and joy and laughter, and rule-breaking, and everything that makes literature lively and alive and worthwhile. We will discover (or rediscover) what it means to truly read for pleasure, probing for all this good stuff in works by writers such as Natalia Ginzburg, Ross Gay, Deesha Philyaw, Shruti Swamy, Naomi Shihab Nye, and more—works that are not merely hedonistic or escapist, but attempt to maintain a modest humanism in spite of humanity’s sins, and to insist on cheerfulness and loving in the face of catastrophe and personal tragedy. We will try to cultivate these instincts in our own writing practice.

This will be primarily a fiction workshop, though we will occasionally read some joyous and delightful poetry and nonfiction. Student writing will be workshopped as fiction, but we will conceive of fiction in the widest sense, as any prose work whose value is not derived from its basis in fact. This is an advanced workshop, intended for students with some creative writing experience, because the good stuff is hard, and because you will be expected to read and write deeply, and a lot.​​​​​​​... Read more about English CNGS. Advanced Fiction: The Good Stuff

English CNL. The Novel Lab: Studying Long-Form Narratives in Fiction

Instructor: Paul Yoon
Wednesday, 3:00-5:45 pm | Location: TBA
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students
 

What defines a novel? And what does it mean to read one as a writer? How does a painter consider a painting or a photographer a photo? This readings class will study novels through the point of view of a practicing writer. We will read one novel a week, with the goal of exploring the ways in which long-form narratives are constructed, from chapter to chapter, from one movement to another—that is, the architecture of it. Please note: this is not a typical workshop. You will not be sharing you work every week, though later on in the semester we may participate in small group workshops and readings. Consider the class an investigation into all the tools a writer has to create fiction, with the end goal of producing 2 - 3 chapters of the beginning of a novel as your final project.

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Write an Honors Creative Thesis

Students may apply to write a senior thesis or senior project in creative writing, although only English concentrators can be considered. Students submit applications in early March of their junior year, including first-term juniors who are out of phase. The creative writing faculty considers the proposal, along with the student's overall performance in creative writing and other English courses, and notifies students about its decision in early mid-late March. Those applications are due, this coming year, on TBA

Students applying for a creative writing thesis or project 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 well before the thesis application is due. The creative writing director must approve any exceptions to the requirements, which must be made in writing by Monday, February 7, 2022. Since the creative writing thesis and project are 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, the student may not be permitted to continue in the honors program.

Joint concentrators may apply to write creative theses, but we suggest students discuss the feasibility of the project well before applications are due. Not all departments are open to joint creative theses.

Students who have questions about the creative writing thesis should contact the program’s Director, Sam Marks.