The low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing has become a relatively commonplace format in American higher education. The nation’s first low-residency MFA program in creative writing was inaugurated at Goddard College in 1976. Since then, more than a dozen other low-residency MFA programs have been launched, some of which are now considered among the finest MFA programs in the nation. While the SPU MFA is logistically modeled upon these prior programs, our approach to content combines their studio approach with a substantive engagement with literary tradition and scholarship.
The heart of the program involves the longstanding relationship between mentor and apprentice. Writing is ultimately a solitary experience, so the rhythm of students sending packets of completed material and receiving detailed feedback from their mentors is both appropriate and highly-effective. The particular advantage of a low-residency program is that it allows students to maintain their current jobs and locations—and also to continue meeting their various personal obligations where they live. The particular advantage of the SPU MFA program is realized during the two, ten-day intensive residency periods at Camp Casey, a stunning location on Whidbey Island in the north Puget Sound of Washington State.
The residency periods are essential to this MFA program. They provide necessary interpersonal contact, the opportunity for extended conversations with mentors and fellow students, experience of face-to-face workshops and craft classes, and an intimate setting for readings, lectures, performances, and daily worship.
Students are required to attend a total of five residencies over the course of two academic years. Each residency lasts ten days. They take place in the months of March and August, allowing for the passage of two academic quarters between residencies. A residency room and board fee covers the cost of your stay.
Residencies are intensive, packing in a great deal into just ten days. Faculty at each residency generally includes all current mentors as well as two or three invited guest speakers, including some of America’s most celebrated writers.
2019 Winter Residency:
Thursday, March 14th – Sunday, March 24th
2019 Summer Residency:
Thursday, August 8th – Sunday, August 18th
Camp Casey, Whidbey Island, Washington
In the 1890s, the newly built Fort Casey on Whidbey Island guarded the entrance to Puget Sound. By 1908, Fort Casey was in full operation and ranked as the fourth largest military post in the state, having a staff of ten officers and 428 men. The big guns at the fort were first fired on September 11, 1901.
Today, Camp Casey Conference Center, owned and operated by Seattle Pacific University, offers versatile facilities and beautiful surroundings, making it an ideal location for an intensive 10-day residency.
MFA students have the opportunity to sample the many cultural and recreational possibilities in the area, including regular visits to historic Coupeville, the second-oldest town in the entire state of Washington, with more than 100 buildings listed in the National Historic Register. Coupeville is home to friendly pubs, quaint shops, and fine restaurants. Students will also be able to take a short ferry ride to Port Townsend, a beautiful town with used bookstores, antiques shops, restaurants, and more.
Learn more about Camp Casey.
Discover more about historic Coupeville and central Whidbey Island.
The heart of the low-residency MFA program is comprised of the dialogue between the student and his or her faculty mentor. Each student is expected to correspond on schedule with the mentor, submitting annotations (engaged articulations regarding the books on the student’s reading list), new and revised creative work, a short, quarterly critical paper, and eventually, an expanded critical paper and a creative thesis.
The Creative Project
During the academic quarter, the student will be responsible for generating three packets (at approximately three-week intervals). Each packet will consist of a cover letter, in which the student might share thoughts about the creative challenges he or she is facing, a segment of new or revised creative writing, and annotations of three or four of the books from the student’s reading list. One packet each quarter will include a short critical paper. Mentors will respond with detailed critical comments on the work submitted, pointing out strengths and weaknesses, and suggesting fruitful avenues for further development. The norm for low-residency MFA courses is for students to devote 25 hours per week on their work.
Reading List/Critical Essays
In close consultation with their faculty mentors, students will formulate a course of reading. Readings will be chosen from two categories: exemplary works from literary tradition and contemporary works that may serve as models and inspiration for students’ immediate creative needs and gifts. Special emphasis will be placed on gaining a deeper understanding of the classic works in the student’s chosen genre. By the end of the two-year program, students will have read 62 books.
Students will write one short critical paper (approximately seven pages in length) per quarter in preparation for their long critical essay (20 pages), due at the end of the final quarter.
The following is a far-from-exhaustive selection of classic literary works from the tradition. Every MFA student in this program will be expected to read several titles from this list: