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Master of Arts in English


To enter the graduate program in English a candidate must satisfy the requirements both of the Graduate School and the Department of English. A candidate should have a bachelor’s degree, with at least 18 hours in English above the freshmen level. Normally, only students with a grade point average of 3.0 in undergraduate English courses and an overall undergraduate average of 2.75 will be considered. Though the English department welcomes scores from the Graduate Record Aptitude Exam and letters of recommendation, it does not require either of these. (Students applying for Teaching Assistantships, please see "Financial Aid and Teaching Assistantships.")

The Graduate Admissions Office can provide information about admission. Apply online for admission. Contact them at (314)516-5458 or gradadm@umsl.edu.

Applications to the MA in English are considered at all times. However, because spaces in graduate courses are limited, it is strongly advised that prospective students submit their applications well before the semester begins in order to gain admission into their appropriate classes (typically July 1 for the Fall Semester, December 1 for the Spring, and May 1 for the Summer).

About the MA Degree

Students in the MA in English must complete 30 hours, at least 18 hours of which must be in 5000-level Courses. Twelve hours may be taken in 4000-level courses approved by the department and Graduate School. As they move through the program, students are encouraged to explore the wide range of classes that the English Department offers: classes in literature, creative writing, rhetoric, critical theory, pedagogy, and film. The MA is designed to allow students to find a path through the program that meets their interests and needs.

Note that the program description in the University Bulletin is out of date and will soon be changed.

Vibrant Lives, Vibrant Writing

This course pairs literary biographies with the biographical subject’s best work.

“Great art is really just great personhood in compressed form—a distillation of a human being that thrums with that being’s exact flavor.” –George Saunders

Today a life of writing means a life of solitary work and steady living. But in past generations, there were writers who led vibrant, adventurous, tumultuous lives. French writer Collette stretched the boundaries of what a private life could contain with her varied intimate relationships and provocative writing. So did English poet, preacher, essayist, adventurer John Donne. Zora Neale Huston befriended luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance and did important anthropologic field work. James Tiptree Jr. (aka Alice Sheldon) led a truly remarkable (and secret) life as a child adventurer, later becoming a CIA agent, an experimental psychologist, and an acclaimed 1970’s science fiction writer. We will begin the semester by reading a study of essayist Michel de Montaigne, who obsessed over a single question: How to live? We’ll view much of what we read during the semester through that lens. How to live? How is personhood related to the creation of great literature? What can these highly distinctive writers, via their vibrant lives and vibrant writing, reveal to us about how to live in the 21st century?

The New Normal: Introduction to Disability Studies

Disability is surrounded by stigma and myth, which often leads to many problematic assumptions, ignorance, and invisibility. The COVID-19 pandemic has further circulated these assumptions. Whether it be in the shrugging off of COVID-related deaths or debates about masking, discussions about disabled lives in the COVID-era too often frame them as less worthy, less full, or even as necessary “sacrifices” for the non-disabled to return to “normal.”

This course challenges “normal” and interrogates widespread ableist ideologies and actions. One powerful way to re-think disability is through Disability Studies, an interdisciplinary field and stance in which scholars and activists approach disability as a meaningful, positive, generative identity and an issue of social justice and human rights.

This course offers students an understanding of disability as a complex and crucial part of the world and human experience. You will approach disability as a matter of identity, language, writing, power, education, politics, history, art, and more. More specifically, you will read critical disability studies theory, literary works, personal narratives, and histories; create accessible projects; engage in scholarly and/or community-based research and creative work; and candidly grapple with assumptions about disability. Through this difficult but meaningful study, you will assess the value and effect of different ways of thinking about disability and understand the core concepts of disability studies and its emergence as a field, imagining a future where disability is complexly but proudly named and claimed and increasingly centered in intersectional work toward justice.

Studies in Drama: Unmodern Shakespeare

During the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, scholars, critics, and theatergoers – even those who loved Shakespeare – became embarrassed by how ignorant and out-of-date his plays seemed. His language was “scarce intelligible” to modern ears; the humor, when it was not downright crude and indecent, was terribly silly and backward. Even the great tragedies came in for criticism: Macbeth was the product of an unlearned, superstitious age, and Hamlet was deemed “savage...grotesque, and barbaric” by Voltaire (1694-1778). What happened next was possibly the most extraordinary reversal of fortunes in literary history: Shakespeare became Modern. Dubbed “our contemporary” by 20th-century critic Jan Kott, he was now considered to be “ahead of his time.” Most incredibly, his works were “the very beginning” of ourselves and indispensable to understanding modern culture. It was even said that he “invented the human.” It is this “Modern Shakespeare” – the Shakespeare we were all taught in Junior High and High School to admire and relate to, the Bard who is supposed to teach us about ourselves – that this course seeks to demolish. We’ll explore the commonplace modern views of his greatest plays, including Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, and Romeo & Juliet, before viewing them afresh in their UN-modern culture and context.

Studies in Gender & Literature: Imagined (Im)Possibilities—Intersectionality in Literature

Intersectionality: Is it an impossible fantasy or a possible future? Does it present a viable path forward for acknowledging and addressing the realities of individuals and societies, or does it merely muddy the waters until everyone is angry at everyone else and nothing gets resolved? This course seeks to investigate (although by no means answer) these and other questions about intersectionality, especially as it pertains to gender and sexuality. Over the course of the semester, we will work to establish a set of frameworks for examining gender and sexuality, then test those frameworks on a range of intersectional modalities present in literary works spanning multiple centuries and genres, from Jane Austen and Zora Neale Hurston to Justin Torres and China Miéville. We will strive to take an unflinching look at the limitations and potential of intersectional approaches to the human condition and consider what literature can offer as both cynical critique and catalyst for change.

Horror and Rhetoric

Horror is a popular but historically marginalized genre, often creating space for writers and artists to explore difficult questions, political agendas, personal struggles, inquiries about race, disability, queer bodies, identity, history, and more. Because of this creative latitude, horror artists often employ the agency to make visible the often mysterious and terrifying parts of what makes us human. While critics of horror are typically too

distracted by blood and gore to notice the radical potential of the genre, scary stories remind us, often bluntly, that the abject is always present, just under the surface of our skin and within the hidden places of our minds. Once these feelings are externalized through the art of horror, making sense of and perhaps even coping with these fears becomes not just possible, but actively pursuable.

The primary goal of this course is to explore a single question: What makes a story scary? On its surface, that might seem like a simple question, but the rhetorical elements of horror, and its construction and production, help us connect and see our own humanity reflected back to us (or, in the case of a monster, a lack thereof). Through a study of various horror subgenres (e.g. slasher, psychological, isolation horror, eco horror, zombie, comedic horror, true crime, giallo, and more), we will examine how writers and filmmakers create their horrific moments, particularly within social, political, and economic contexts. More nuanced explorations within the genre will involve poverty, grief, xenophobia/marginalized populations, relationships, mental and physical health, and more.

Transfer Credit

Subject to the approval of the Graduate Committee of the English Department and the Graduate Dean, a student may transfer a maximum of twelve hours of graduate course work from other universities. This may include credit earned prior to or subsequent to enrollment at UMSL. Petitions should be submitted to the Graduate Program Director, who will convey the Committee's recommendations to the Graduate Dean for final action. The University does not accept graduate credit for courses from institutes unless the institutes were conducted by UMSL. A candidate working toward an UMSL degree must confer with the Graduate Program Director before enrolling in any course offered by another institution for which graduate credit is anticipated.

Inter-University Graduate Exchange Program

Under the Inter-University Graduate Exchange Program offered by UMSL, Washington University, and Saint Louis University, a student working towards the Master of Arts in English degree at UMSL may take up to 6 hours of graduate credit at Washington University or at Saint Louis University. Credit hours and grade points obtained through the program are automatically counted toward the UMSL degree, and tuition fees are assessed at the UMSL rate. To register for a course offered through the Exchange Program, a student must secure the permission of the off-campus instructor and the Graduate Program Director, and submit the requisite form, which must be obtained in person from the Registrar.

Independent Reading

English 5970, Independent Reading, is primarily designed to allow a Master's candidate to do intensive work in an area of study that has not been or is not likely to become the subject of a regular course or seminar during the student's time in the program. A student who desires to undertake independent study must justify the project to the prospective supervising professor and to the Graduate Program Director. Normally permission to take English 5970 will be granted only once in a student's course of study, and only after the student has completed at least 15 hours of graduate work in English. Moreover, the course may not be used to satisfy program distribution requirements.

Any graduate student who desires to pursue a course of independent reading must confer with the faculty member with whom he or she wishes to work prior to the start of the term in which such a course of study is contemplated. Once the instructor's consent has been received and a schedule of work established, the student should obtain a copy of the Independent Reading Petition from the Graduate Program Director. This form requires a description of the project and the signature of the supervising Graduate Faculty member. It must then be submitted to the Program Director for endorsement; the Program Director will then issue a consent number for the appropriate section of English 5970.



Before registering for the first semester of course work, students should contact the Graduate Program Director to plan a course of study. Thereafter, students will consult with the Director, who serves as adviser to all Master of Arts in English candidates, during each registration period and as the need for advising arises.

Course Load

The minimum course load for a full-time graduate student is nine hours for a regular semester and five hours for the summer term. Graduate students holding departmental assistantships may register for a maximum of nine hours each semester. To register for an overload, a student must have a GPA of at least 3.5 and obtain the written permission of the Graduate Program Director and the Graduate Dean. Forms for requesting permission to register for an overload may be obtained from the Program Director. Such permission will be given only in exceptional circumstances.

Delayed Grades

A graduate student is expected to complete all course assignments by the end of the term in which a course is taken. On occasion, a student may request a delayed grade, but it is left to the discretion of the instructor whether or not to grant the delay. The Graduate School stipulates that delayed grades must be removed within two regular semesters after the time recorded or they automatically become failing grades. However, the English Department encourages the expeditious removal of such grades. Multiple delayed grades may affect the number of courses a student is permitted to enroll for in subsequent semesters and may also lead to academic probation.

Grade Requirement

To receive the Master of Arts in English degree, a student must have a grade-point average of 3.0 or better at the completion of course work. If at any time a student's GPA should fall below 3.0, the student may be placed on probation by the Graduate School. (Any student with a GPA below 2.0 will be dismissed from the Graduate School.) At the end of each semester, the Graduate Committee will review the work of each student who is on probation or on restricted status. Students failing to make reasonable progress will be dismissed from the Master of Arts in English program. Reviews of the work of all students in the program will be made at least once a year.

Time Limitation

Graduate School rules state that students must complete all degree requirements within six years after initial enrollment. Students not registering for two consecutive semesters must reapply for admission to the program unless they have been granted an authorized leave of absence by the Graduate Dean.

The major source of financial aid for the Master of Arts in English candidates is departmental assistantships.

Teaching Assistants receive a stipend each semester, along with 100% remission of their tuition, and pay in-state fees. During their first term, Teaching Assistants tutor in the Writing Center, serve as apprentice teachers in English1100: First-Year Writing, and participate in other professional development activities; they typically teach two sections of English 1100 in the following terms. Assistants can expect to work approximately 20 hours per week.

Positions are renewable for up to six semesters, contingent on satisfactory performance. Some Summer teaching opportunities, which carry tuition remission and a per-course stipend, have traditionally been available.

Applications for admission to the MA program must be submitted prior to applications for Teaching Assistantships. Required materials for Assistantships include:

All materials, including materials from recommenders, should be sent to Dr. Chris Schott, Chair of the English Graduate Committee.

Assistantships are usually awarded in early April, and Assistants normally begin their appointments in the Fall term. The Graduate School requires that TAs enroll in at least six hours each term. Assistantships provide six semesters of funding, so students will want to plan their degree path and course loads appropriately to ensure finishing their degree in a timely fashion.

Teaching Assistants are required to take English 5890, Teaching College Writing, typically during their first semester in the program.

Each Spring, the Master of Arts in English Prize Essay will be selected by a departmental committee from among those papers submitted to it by Graduate Faculty during the preceding academic year. The author may revise the paper prior to submission. All papers must be received by the Department Chair by February 1; the award will be presented to the winner at a departmental colloquium in the Spring.