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: Saturday, January 15 at 11:59 pm ET

For a list of Spring 2022 creative writing workshops: https://english.fas.harvard.edu/spring-term

Our online submission manager (link below) will open for Spring 2022 applications on Friday, January 7 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 | Location: Barker 018
Course Website
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students

This class is open to anyone who can write a letter, not an e-mail, a letter, just a plain simple letter, to someone who lives far away from you and who has no idea really of who you really are, except that you are, like them, another human being. I have not quite yet settled on the books we will read but we will see some films: The Four hundred Blows, Black Girl, The Battle of Algiers, The Mack, a documentary about the Motown singing group, The Temptations.

Supplemental Application Information: 

A brief autobiographical note, to give me some sense of who you are and what your are interested in now, will be appreciated. Many thanks.

No writing sample

Apply via Submittable (deadline: Saturday, January 15 at 11:59pm ET)

English Cnmj. Fiction Workshop: Forms and Styles

Instructor: Meng Jin
Wednesday, 3:00-5:45pm | Location: Barker 211
Course Website
​​​​​​​Enrollment: Limited to 12 students

What gives a fictional work life and meaning and originality? In this workshop, students will be exposed to and try on a wide range of forms and styles in fiction to discover what suits and excites them. We'll sample a variety of sensibilities, approaches, and aesthetic possibilities, reading writers working in various traditions -- from Toni Morrison to Ted Chiang to Grace Paley – exploring the many ways fiction can come alive by following what is mysterious and inimitable in each work. Students will read a writer (sometimes two) a week and write a creative response inspired by some element of the assigned reading, which we will workshop in an effort to discover and nurture the mysterious and inimitable in our own work. One or more of these responses will be developed into a longer, complete piece.

Supplemental Application Information: Please submit 3-5 pages of fiction, along with a letter describing why you'd like to join the workshop, what you hope to get out of it, your previous encounters with creative writing, and anything else you’d like to say about why or what you write. Please also tell me about one or two writers or books you love, and why.

Apply via Submittable (deadline: Saturday, January 15 at 11:59pm ET)... Read more about English Cnmj. Fiction Workshop: Forms and Styles

English Cngs. Advanced Fiction: The Good Stuff

Instructor: Meng Jin
Thursday, 3:00-5:45pm | Location: Barker 218
Course Website
​​​​​​​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.

Supplemental Application Information: Please submit 3-5 pages of fiction, along with a letter describing why you'd like to join the workshop, what you hope to get out of it, your previous encounters with creative writing, and anything else you’d like to say about why or what you write. Please also tell me about one or two writers or books you love, and why.

Apply via Submittable (deadline: Saturday, January 15 at 11:59pm ET)... Read more about English Cngs. Advanced Fiction: The Good Stuff

English Csgj. Advanced Fiction Workshop: What's So Western About the Western Story?

Instructor: Gish Jen
Monday, 12:00-2:45pm | Location: Barker 211
Course Website
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students

Is there an identifiably “Western” story? Where did it come from? Would some of our most celebrated authors survive an MFA program today? Are there alternative ways of thinking about fiction? And —most importantly—what can we take away from them? In the first half of each class we will discuss such matters, placing mainstream fictional tenets in cultural context via stories from Alice Munro to Leo Tolstoy to Zadie Smith. In the second half of class we will turn to student work, with each student given three opportunities to share a piece with the class.

Supplemental Application Information: Please submit a sample story and an application letter explaining your interest in this course. 

Apply via Submittable (deadline: Saturday, January 15 at 11:59pm ET)

English Cmaf. Introduction to Fiction Writing: Workshop

Instructor: Molly Antopol
Section 001: Monday, 3:00-5:45pm | Location: Lamont Library 401
Section 002: Tuesday, 12-2:45pm | Location: Barker 316
Course Website Section 1
Course Website Section 2
​​​​​​​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: Saturday, January 15 at 11:59pm ET)

English Cwrr. Fiction by Other Means: Workshop

Instructor: Russ Rymer
Time: 12:00pm - 2:45pm| Location: Lamont Library 401
Course Website
​​​​​​​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: Saturday, January 15 at 11:59pm ET)... Read more about English Cwrr. Fiction by Other Means: Workshop

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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.