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

Instructor: Paul Yoon
Section 1: Wednesday 12:00-2:45pm | Location: Barker 316 
Section 2: Wednesday 3:00-5:45pm | Location: Barker 316 
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students.

Course site: Section 1
Course site: Section 2

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.

Supplemental Application Information: Please submit ONLY a letter to me. I want to know what your favorite novel is and why; and then tell me something you are passionate about and something you want to be better at; and, lastly, tell me why of all classes you want to take this one this semester. Please no writing samples. Again, note: This is NOT a typical workshop.

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

English CNMJ. Fiction Workshop: Forms and Styles

Instructor: Meng Jin
Thursday, 3:00-5:45pm | Location: Barker 316 
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students
Course site

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 Clarice Lispector to Yiyun Li to Ursula LeGuin – 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. One or more of these responses will be developed into a longer, complete piece, which we will workshop in an effort to discover and nurture the mysterious and inimitable in our own work.

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: 11:59pm EDT on Sunday, August 21)

English CTLL. “Telling and Retelling”: Reshaping and Remixing Myths and Fairy Tales

Instructor: Nick White
Thursday, 3:00-5:45pm | Location: 2 Arrow St 420
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students
Course site

In this workshop, we will study how writers have taken classic stories (fairy tales, Greek tragedies, Shakespeare’s plays, epic poetry, parables from sacred texts) and retold them with a contemporary sensibility. In the first half of the semester, we will closely read exemplary short stories and novels by writers such as Angela Carter, Emma Donoghue, John Gardner, Helen Oyeyemi, and Kamila Shamsie. In the second half of the semester, we will workshop your own retellings: you will submit one flash piece and one longer story (around 5,000 words) to be workshopped. The final project will be a significant revision of the longer story. 

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 CVLI. Imagination Under Siege: Creativity in Times of Crisis

Instructor: Valeria Luiselli
Wednesday, 12:45-2:45pm | Location: Lamont Library 401
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students

What happens to our imagination and capacity for creativity during crises? Do circumstances like wars, authoritarianism, exile or confinement ignite or stifle our creative drive? What roles do fear and isolation play in our creative lives? What is the relationship between imagination, memory and will? Is imagination an instrument or an end in itself? These are some of the questions that will be addressed during this workshop.

Students will write brief weekly responses to readings, and work on fragmentary and hybrid forms of prose and/or sonic essays, in search of new ways of exploring imagination as both a tool for creative resistance and as an end in itself. We will be engaging with work by: Audre Lorde, Plato, Natalie Díaz, María Zambrano, José Limón, Joseph Brodsky, Aristotle, Aeschylus, Borges, Daniil Kharms, and Yásnaya Elena Aguilar, among others.

Supplemental Application Information: Admission by application only. For information on specific application requirements and instructions, please see the full course listing on the English Department website. DEADLINE: for all Fall 2022 workshops, applications will open TBA and are due via Submittable by 11:59pm EDT on TBA. Students will be notified of admissions decisions by 4:00pm EDT on TBA. Workshops will meet the first week of classes.

Apply via Submittable (deadline: 11:59pm EDT on Sunday, August 21)... Read more about English CVLI. Imagination Under Siege: Creativity in Times of Crisis

English CAJR. Investigations: Journalism and The 2022 Elections

Instructor: Jill Abramson
Tuesday, 9:00-11:45am | Location: Barker 018
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students
Course site

Taught by veteran political journalist Jill Abramson, the former Executive Editor of The New York Times, this advanced seminar focuses on political journalism and closely examines coverage of the 2022 elections for Governor, U.S. Senate and the U.S. House as these races unfold this fall.  We will try to answer the question of whether political journalism does its job of delivering voters the quality information they need to select their leaders. On a weekly basis, we will read and study the political coverage of major news organizations, from print (including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic and The New Yorker, among others), broadcast (PBS Frontline and The NewsHour) podcasts, newsletters, blogs and other outlets chosen by students.

Choosing from a list of closely contested races, each student will closely follow news coverage of a statewide or local race. Readings will include in-depth candidate profiles, analytic articles about electoral dynamics, and investigations into subjects such as the role of money in politics. Through close reading, we will examine the rules of quality journalism and see if they apply to political coverage and explore concepts such as objectivity and bias, which are in flux. We will delve into the rise of partisan and ideological journalism and read examples of this type of political writing. Students will examine the role of social media platforms in their electoral races. Writing assignments will include candidate profiles reported by students, editorials (opinion pieces) and an investigative article about assaults on democracy.

The emphasis of the course is on narrative and investigative writing techniques (ie. not horse-race coverage), the development of story ideas, refinement of voice and narrative framing. Students will learn how to outline, draft and revise their articles, and will master the fundamentals of the editing process in journalism.

Guest speakers will include many of the political journalists whose articles are included on the syllabus. No prior journalism experience required.

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: 11:59pm EDT on Sunday, August 21)

English CIJR. Introduction to Journalism: Workshop

Instructor: Jill Abramson
Thursday, 9:00-11:45am | Location: Barker 018
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students
Course site​​​​​​​

An intensive seminar for those interested in understanding the changing role of journalism and learning the art of reporting and writing narrative stories. The course is designed for students who want a better sense of how journalism really works, taught by the former Executive Editor of The New York Times. Major types of journalism-- profiles, features and investigations will be examined and analyzed. Coursework will include two, magazine-length, narrative nonfiction articles. One is a reported profile. The other is on a subject chosen by each student. A first-person memoir is assigned between these two articles. Readings will include some of the best examples of modern journalism, from magazine features by authors including Gay Talese, Jane Mayer, David Carr and Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah to multimedia narratives such as The New York Times' "Snow Fall" and podcasts.” On a daily basis, students will listen each weekday to The Daily, the news podcast produced by The New York Times. Because this seminar is focused on improving writing skills, students will master the various stages of writing and editing pieces of longform journalism, from how to come up with story ideas, how to outline, how to write a draft and revise work for a final, publishable version. No previous journalism experience required.

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: 11:59pm EDT on Sunday, August 21)

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.