Master of Fine Arts

Course Descriptions

 

Workshops

English 5100 Graduate Workshop in Poetry (3) 

The Graduate Workshop in Poetry is a semester-long course during which MFA students compose a series of new poems or revise older poems and offer them up to the class and instructor for workshop.  The workshop discussion is aimed at helping the student-poet achieve her vision for her poem, and suggesting possibilities for the poem beyond what she had envisioned. Extensive written feedback from the class and the instructor addresses the poem on both a global level (e.g. thematic focus, argument, form) and a local level (e.g. diction, syntax, lineation). This feedback identifies for students the most powerful and effective aspects of their poems, as well as those that require the most attention in revision. The aim is always to help poets to write in language that is precise, fresh, and interesting. Each student must provide weekly written feedback on all poems submitted for workshop. This course is offered every semester.  UMSL MFA poetry students must take the Graduate Workshop in Poetry at least four times.  To finish the MFA degree, they must have a total of five MFA Workshops classes.  (To satisfy this requirement, they may also take the Graduate Workshop in Non-fiction or Graduate Workshop in Screenplay Writing.)  

English 5110 Graduate Workshop in Fiction (3) 

Twice during this semester-long workshop an MFA student presents a short story or novel chapter to the class and instructor.  The following week the class convenes for a workshop discussion that is lively, perceptive, and thorough.  The instructor and class offer detailed written feedback on clarity, tone, point of view and other technical matters.  The primary goal of each workshop is to make the student-writer aware of the story's most notable accomplishments, its thematic focus, and the elements within the story that are not yet working or need careful adjustment.  Graduate Fiction Workshop requires that students generate new writing over the course of the semester.  Each student must also carefully read, consider, edit and respond to all the manuscripts that are presented for workshop.  This course is offered every semester.  UMSL MFA fiction students must take the Graduate Workshop in Fiction at least four times.  To finish the MFA degree, they must have a total of five MFA Workshops classes.  (To satisfy this requirement, they may also take the Graduate Workshop in the Novel, the Graduate Workshop in Non-fiction, or the Graduate Workshop in Screenplay Writing) 

English 5130 Graduate Workshop in the Novel (3) 

This semester-long workshop follows the same procedures and requirements as the regular Gradate Fiction Workshop--except that it is focused on the distinct artistic and technical difficulties that come with writing a novel.  There’s so much a beginning novelist must get right, especially in the first few chapters: characters need to be introduced, a suitable tone or voice established, plot lines begun, themes set forth, a sense of place evoked.  This workshop helps students understand and address these demands.  Most students who take this course do not yet have a completed novel.  Instead they workshop the first two or three chapters of their novel-in-progress.   The Graduate Workshop in the Novel is offered once every two to three years.   

English 5140 Graduate Workshop in Nonfiction (3) 

This is a graduate level workshop that explores several of the following nonfiction forms: personal essay, memoir, travel writing, literary journalism, or biography.  Early in the course, students read a wide and compelling variety of creative nonfiction and isolate the techniques that make these nonfiction pieces successful.  Later in the semester, students choose a nonfiction form and compose their own essay, memoir, literary journalism or biography and offer it to their fellow students and instructor for workshop.  The discussion that follows emphasizes each piece's most notable accomplishments, as well as the elements within the nonfiction piece that are not yet working or need careful adjustment.  The Graduate Workshop in the Non-fiction is offered once every two to three years.   

English 5950: G4 Graduate Workshop in Screenplay Writing  (3)

During the first half of this semester long workshop class, MFA students read several exemplary screenplays, watch several notable films, and then have detailed discussions regarding the written construction of these films.  The primary goal of the course is to provide students with an understanding of how the screenplay functions as a blueprint for films, with special emphasis on story structure, genre conventions, and character archetypes.  In the second half of the semester, students compose the first act or a plot outline of a feature-length screenplay and offer to their fellow students and instructor for workshop.  The Graduate Workshop in the Screenplay Writing is offered once every two to three years.  

Non-Workshop Courses

English 5170 Techniques, Methods, and Effects in Fiction Writing-Short Story (3) 

This course is meant to help short story writers understand the choices they make by looking at choices already made by important fiction writers (mostly contemporary) in the areas of point of view, tone, setting, form, and plot structure. We will examine the effects of those choices, and we’ll consider and discuss fictional techniques that contribute to a story's characterization, tension, interest, reliability, drama, irony, and humor.  We’ll  do all this by reading stories by such writers as Joy Williams, Raymond Carver, Denis Johnson, Deborah Eisenberg, Charles Baxter,  Margaret Atwood, George Saunders, Alice Munro, Joyce Carol Oates, John Edgar Wideman, Edward Jones, Jess Row, Tony Early, Lorraine Lopez, Stuart Dybek, Amy Hempel, and many others, some just beginning to make names for themselves with their first New Yorker publications, their first appearances in the prize anthologies. We normally use the latest Best American Short Stories, one of the most recent Puschcart Prize anthologies, and at least one other of the  “Best” anthologies, such as the Best of the South, Best Nonrequired Reading, Best of the Midwest, etc. We’ll also use an older anthology, such as The Art of The Story, edited by Daniel Halpern, and a book about close reading by Madison Smart Bell. As well as reading nearly 70 short stories, we will also read a collection of craft talks/essays on techniques. Students finishing this course will understand the variety and power of short stories, and will be better able to understand and revise their own work.  This course is usually offered once a year in either the fall or spring semester.  Open to students in the MFA program and to others with consent of the instructor.

English 5170 Techniques, Methods, and Effects in Fiction Writing-The Novel  (3) 

The primary goal of Techniques, Methods and Effects in Fiction Writing - The Novel is to impart a semester’s worth of useful novel craft: everything from point-of-view to beginnings and endings to varieties of structure and the varied elements that apply to fiction in general.  On the most practical level the course might also be titled: 101 Essential Things You Need to Know Before Writing Your First Novel. The secondary aim of this class is to help the emerging student writer define his or her aesthetic.  We do this by reading 8-9 novels (most of them recently published) that demonstrate an exemplary level of fiction craft and quality prose.  Novelists typically studied in this course: Jennifer Egan, Jeffrey Eugenides, Kazou Ishiguro, Ian McEwan, David Mitchell, Tea Obreht, Ann Patchett, Elizabeth Strout, Richard Yates.  By the time a writer finishes an MFA program, he should have a much more definitive understanding of what constitutes good writing and good storytelling and exemplary novel craft.  This course is usually offered once a year in either the fall or spring semester.  Open to students in the MFA program and to others with consent of the instructor.

English 5180  Form and Theory in Poetry Writing (3) 

Form and Theory of Poetry will seek to address those aspects of poetry that concern the contemporary practitioner, teacher, and reader: how do poets use lines, what does the practice of formal poetry include, where did free verse come from, what are the differences between prose and poetry, and how may the student define the kinds of poetry she may be reading and/or writing at this time. We also study various “forms” the poem takes, such as the sonnet and the blank verse poem, and we discuss various “modes” of poetry, such as the elegy, the pastoral, and the ode. One of this course’s main goals will be to illuminate the practice of most poetry written today, free verse.  Although the exploration of poetic practice may vary with a given instructor, readings for the course in Form and Theory of Poetry typically include volumes by contemporary or canonical poets such as: T.S. Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Louise Gluck, Gwendolyn Brooks, Li-Young Lee, Tony Hoagland, Robert Hass, James Wright, and Muriel Rukeyser.  Students will also study essays in the theory of composition and the elements of poetic language, and literary criticism written by poets.  This course is usually offered once a year in either the fall or spring semester.  Open to students in the MFA program and to others with consent of the instructor.

English 5190 Literary Journal Editing (3) 

In this course students serve as the readers of all submissions to UMSL's nationally-distributed and nationally-recognized literary magazine, NaturalBridge. Students will read and evaluate poems, short stories, essays, and translations, and through discussion in class with other classmates and the guest editor (one of the MFA faculty members) select the work for that issue. Sometimes, maybe rarely, students and the guest editor will work with an author, suggest changes and improvements in a piece before publication. In addition to selecting work, the students in the class also choose the cover of the book and work on its design, select the writer for the 3-part interview and conduct that interview, edit and proofread assigned parts of the finished book, decide on placement and design of the overall book, and sometimes they help the Managing Editor ( a second or third year graduate student) with data entry, author contacts, gathering bios, distribution, and publicity of the journal. Literary Journal Editing may be taken twice. The course is open to students in the MFA program and to others with consent of the instructor. We prefer MFA students to have taken at least one MFA Workshop class before enrolling in Literary Journal Editing. (Students should know some final work on the book produced by their class will carry over into the next semester. )

English 5200 MFA Readings (3)

This is an independent readings course.  An MFA student may ask a member of the MFA faculty to be the instructor for this class.  If the faculty member is available, the student and faculty member will choose a selection of 7-10 novels / story collections or 8-12 poetry collections  to read and evaluate.  Over the course of the semester, the MFA student and faculty member will meet (usually every two weeks) to talk about the craft and accomplishments of the assigned books.  Students may also provide a written response to each assigned book.  To see a list of the books that instructors typically assign for MFA Readings courses, go to each faculty member's individual faculty page on this website. MFA Readings may be taken only once. Open to students in the MFA program and to others with consent of the instructor.

English 6000 Thesis (3 hours) 

During an MFA student's last year in the program, he or she concentrates on the MFA Thesis.  A student will choose one faculty member as a Thesis Chair.  During the final semester in the program, the student and Thesis Chair work together selecting and editing the material that appears in the MFA student's final thesis.  Typically, a thesis in fiction will include 80-150 pages of a novel or story collection.  A typical a thesis in poetry will include a chapbook-length selection of poems (about 48 poems.)  Some theses are a combination of fiction and non-fiction or combination of poetry and nonfiction.  English 6000 Thesis is taken only once at the conclusion of an MFA student's studies.       

 

Classes that are occasionally offered 

English 5150:  Studies in Magical Realism: Myth and Tale (3)  

English 5950:  Seminar in Special Topics: Chekhov and his Heirs (3)

English 5950:  Seminar in Special Topics: The Contemporary Novella (3) 

 A hybrid class—part readings class in which students read contemporary novellas, and part workshop in which students then they turn in the first 30 or so pages along with outlines for their own novellas.