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 CQN. “Queer Stories, Queer Lives”: A Fiction Workshop on Queer Narratives

Instructor: Nick White
Thursday, 12:00-2:45 pm | Location: TBA
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students

Is there a queer aesthetic? Or is there a particularly queer way to tell a story? Do our lived experiences as queer folk affect the kinds of stories we tell?
In this workshop, we will explore how queer writers have endeavored to tell their stories, and then we will craft and workshop our own. Readings to include excerpts or full texts from: Alexander Chee’s Edinburgh, Garth Greenwell’s Cleanness, Jewelle Gómez’s The Gilda Stories, Randall Kenan’s A Visitation of Spirits, Andrea Lawlor’s Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, Morgan Thomas’s Manywhere, as well as others. You will write one flash piece and one short story/novel chapter (around 5k words). Your final project will be a substantial revision of the short story/novel chapter. 

This course satisfies the English Concentration "Diversity in Literature" requirement for students on the “Common Ground” curriculum.

English CVLP. Plundering the Americas: Histories of Extractive Violence and Creative Resistance in the Americas

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

This course focuses on the histories of extractivism and violence against land and bodies in the Americas, centering on ways in which writing, art and activism have responded to systemic violence across the region.

We will be considering works from across different languages, cultures and disciplines –such as literature, sound art, visual art and performance–  and will be grounding our discussions in the history of global commodities, such as gold, silver, coffee, cotton, sugar, bananas, avocados and bodies. Students will write weekly responses to readings, and work on their own hybrid forms of prose, which will be read in class and workshopped collectively.

Authors include: José Martí, Aimé Césaire, Natalie Díaz, Dolores Dorantes, Gabriela Wiener, Audra Simpson, Rita Segato, and Yasnaya Elena Aguilar. 

This course satisfies the English Concentration "Diversity in Literature" requirement for students on the “Common Ground” curriculum.

 

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

English CVR. Fiction Writing: Workshop

Instructor: Jamaica Kincaid
TBA | Location: TBA
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

English CAJR. Investigations: Journalism and The 2022 Elections

Instructor: Jill Abramson
Tuesday, 9:00-11:45am | Location: TBA
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students

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.

English CAP. The Art of the Personal Essay: Workshop

Instructor: Darcy Frey
Section 1: Wednesday, 3:00-5:45 pm | Location: TBA
Section 2: Thursday, 3:00-5:45 pm | Location: TBA
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students.

What makes for a successful work of personal narrative? What transforms mere experience into shapely art? In this workshop, we will study—partly by reading the published work of iconic and experimental essayists, mainly through the submission and discussion of students’ own writing—the craft and technique of the personal essay. Readings include work by James Baldwin, Joan Didion, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, David Foster Wallace.

English CIJR. Introduction to Journalism: Workshop

Instructor: Jill Abramson
Tuesday, 9:00-11:45am | Location: TBA
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students

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.

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.