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. 

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." 

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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 2021 Application Deadline: Sunday, August 22 at 11:59 pm ET
Spring 2022 Application Deadline: TBD

For a list of Fall 2021 creative writing workshops: https://english.fas.harvard.edu/fall-term

Our online submission manager (link below) will open for applications on Friday, August 6 by 5 pm ET.

To apply online:
submit

Creative Writing Workshops

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

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

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. 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: Prior experience writing fiction is helpful but not required. Please submit a writing sample of 3-5 pages of fiction, narrative non-fiction, journalism or personal essay, 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: Sunday, August 22 at 11:59pm EST)

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

Instructor: Neel Mukherjee
Wednesday, 12:00-2:45pm
Course Website
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students

The course will consist of two halves. In the first hour of each class, we will be doing close readings of an assigned text (please see ‘Syllabus’), 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 be looking at questions of genre, and at the reasons for the quotation marks bracketing the word genre in the heading. We will also 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.    

In the second half of the class, divided into two equal segments of 50 minutes each, we will be workshopping the writing of two students. Our goal is for each of you to have two turns, and approximately 5-10,000 words of your work critiqued, by the time semester ends. The final project involves significant redrafting of a story or a portion of a novel.

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 substantive letter of introduction in which you write about why you’re interested in this course; what experience you’ve had writing; some of your favorite writers; what some of your favorite works of fiction are and why.

Apply via Submittable (deadline: Sunday, August 22 at 11:59pm EST)

English Cns. Fiction Workshop

Instructor: Namwali Serpell
Tuesday, 12:00-2:45pm | Location: TBA
Course Website
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students

This workshop is designed to explore and hone the writing of fiction. We will read and respond to some exceptional published stories in a variety of genres, and each other’s works in progress. We will compose and revise at least thirty pages of fiction—in whatever number, size, and form suit the writer—over the course of the semester. We will also discuss and practice some of the pragmatic matters of a fiction writing career, including giving readings, editorial engagement, and submitting work for publication.

Supplemental Application Information: Please submit a writing sample of 3-5 double-spaced pages of fiction, and a one double-spaced page letter of introduction about you, your writing, and your hopes for the course.

Apply via Submittable (deadline: Sunday, August 22 at 11:59pm EST)​​​​​​​

English Cafr. Advanced Fiction: Writing this Present Life: Workshop

Instructor: Claire Messud
Thursday, 3:00-5:45pm | Location: TBA
Course Website
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 fiction, along with a letter explaining why you'd like to join the workshop, what you hope to get out of it, and what you're working on currently. Please also list your previous writing experience. Your literary and narrative interests are also relevant - what books, films or other artworks speak to you and/or influence your work?

Apply via Submittable (deadline: Sunday, August 22 at 11:59pm EST)​​​​​​​

English Cfa. Advanced Fiction Writing: Workshop

Instructor: Neel Mukherjee
Monday, 12:00-2:45pm
Course Website
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students

The course will consist of two halves. In the first hour of each class, we will be doing close readings of an assigned text (TBA), with the aim of isolating some aspect of the craft of writing in order to take bearings for your own. In the second half of the class, divided into two equal segments of an hour each, we will be workshopping the writing of two students. Our goal is for each of you to have two turns, and approximately 5-10,000 words of your work critiqued, by the time semester ends. The final project involves significant redrafting of a story or a portion of a novel.

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 substantive letter of introduction in which you write about why you’re interested in this course; what experience you’ve had writing, especially what Creative Writing workshops you’ve already taken at Harvard; some of your favorite writers; what some of your favorite works of fiction are and why.

Apply via Submittable (deadline: Sunday, August 22 at 11:59pm EST)​​​​​​​

English Cmag. Introductory Fiction Workshop: Writers’ Voices

Instructor: Allegra Goodman
Section 001: Monday, 3:00-5:45pm | Location: TBA
Section 001 Course Website

Section 002: Thursday, 3:00-5:45pm | Location: TBA
Section 002 Course Website
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students

Some say that to write well, you need to find your authentic voice.  In this workshop we will explore a different proposition—that a writer can adopt many voices, depending on the situation and the story.  We will experiment with different kinds of narrators, and we will practice writing dialogue as we study the structure and craft of the short story.  The syllabus will include stories by writers such as Franz Kafka, Anton Chekhov, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Eudora Welty, Tillie Olsen, Raymond Carver, Jamaica Kincaid, Lydia Davis, Gish Jen, T.C. Boyle, Zadie Smith, and Helen Oyeyemi.  In the first weeks of the course, you will write short sketches.  You will then write two short stories which we will workshop in class.  At the end of the semester, you will choose one of these stories to revise and submit as your final project.    

Supplemental Application Information: Please submit 3-5 pages of prose—either fiction or nonfiction—and a cover letter. In the letter, please share a little about yourself and your interests, why you would like to take the class, and what you like to read.

Apply via Submittable (deadline: Sunday, August 22 at 11:59pm EST)... Read more about English Cmag. Introductory Fiction Workshop: Writers’ Voices

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English Cvr. Fiction Writing: Workshop

Instructor: Jamaica Kincaid
Wednesday, 12:00-2:45pm
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students

A seminar/workshop. Readings include Bruno Schultz, Jean Toomer, Robert Walser, and Rimbaud's Illuminations, among others.

Supplemental Application Information: TBA

Apply via Submittable (deadline TBA)

English Cmaf. Introduction to Fiction Writing: Workshop

Instructor: Molly Antopol
Section 001: Monday, 3:00-5:45pm | Location: TBA
Section 002: Tuesday, 12-2:45pm | Location: TBA
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students

This course will introduce you to the fundamental elements of fiction writing. We will read a variety of work, including pieces by Alice Munro, Edward P. Jones, Joy Williams, James Baldwin, Bohumil Hrabal, Deborah Eisenberg, Yiyun Li and Ben Okri, using each text as a template for examining such aspects in fiction as tension, dialogue, point of view, arc and character. Through class discussions and a series of writing exercises, we will also pay close attention to the ways in which conventions of craft are applied and understood—and sometimes re-interpreted or subverted. As the semester progresses, the focus of the class will shift to your own work, which we will critique and discuss as a group in a workshop setting, with an eye toward drawing connections between craft principles and your own writing practice. You will later significantly revise your piece. 

Supplemental Application Information

Please submit a 3-5 page sample of your own writing, along with an introductory letter, letting me know why you’re interested in taking the course and what you hope to get out of it. Also, please share a few of the novels or story collections that mean the most to you (or the ones you resist but still can’t shake) – and tell me why you chose these books. 

Apply via Submittable (deadline TBA)

English Csgj. Advanced Fiction Workshop: Rethinking the Basics

Instructor: Gish Jen
Monday, 12:00-2:45pm | Location: TBA
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students

We have, in America, a writing culture. It is not a monolith. There is, however, a readily discernable mainstream, which may or may not suit us. In this class we will examine the historical and intellectual roots of the contemporary Western story, especially as it is taught in MFA programs, including its close association with individualism....

Read more about English Csgj. Advanced Fiction Workshop: Rethinking the Basics

English Cwrr. Fiction by Other Means: Workshop

Instructor: Russ Rymer
Time: TBA | Location: TBA
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students

 This is a short-story writing workshop that uses other creative genres – music, poetry, painting, film and photography – to advance students' fiction-writing abilities. Students will consider techniques and principles essential to other arts and apply them to their writing, enhancing in the process their comprehension of literary forms. Readings will include such modern short story masters as Helen Oyeyemi, Mavis Gallant, Angela Carter, and Edward P. Jones. Students will take some photographs, but the aim of the course isn't to improve graphic skills or art criticism abilities (no prior experience with photography or music or movies is required). The aim is to write great short fiction, using other mediums as muse and guide for inspiring, analyzing, and improving original prose. Final product is a publishable short story.

 

Supplemental Application Information: TBA

Apply via Submittable (deadline TBA)... Read more about English Cwrr. Fiction by Other Means: Workshop

English Cap. The Art of the Personal Essay: Workshop

Instructor: Darcy Frey
Section 001: Thursday, 3:00-5:45pm | Location: TBA
Section 002: Wednesday, 3:00-5:45pm | Location: TBA

What makes a successful work of personal narrative? What lifts mere experience into shapely art? In this workshop, students will study—partly through reading iconic and experimental essayists, mainly through the submission of their own writing—the art of the personal essay. We will explore elements of the craft such as the construction of a trustworthy narrator, varieties of structure and the fashioning of a satisfying conclusion. Readings include work by writers such as Annie Dillard, Joan Didion, James Baldwin and David Foster Wallace. Writing assignments include several short essays, one longer essay and an extensive revision.

Supplemental Application Information: TBA

Apply via Submittable (deadline TBA)

English Cijr. Introduction to Journalism: Workshop

Instructor: Jill Abramson
Monday, 3-5:45pm | Location: TBA
Course Website
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students

An intense seminar for those interested in understanding the changing role of journalism and in learning the art of reporting and writing narrative stories. The course is intended for those contemplating careers as journalists or because they want a better sense of how journalism really works. Coursework will include two narrative articles that are ready for publication. Readings will include some of the best examples of modern journalism, from magazine features by authors including Gay Talese to multimedia narratives such as The New York Times' "Snow Fall."

Supplemental Application Information: The application should include a letter saying why the student wants to take the workshop, why writing and journalism interests them, and which websites, magazines, newspapers and other news sources they read. A writing sample is optional for this course application.

Apply via Submittable (deadline: Sunday, August 22 at 11:59pm EST)

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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 March 7, 2022

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.