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University of Iowa News Release


Aug. 24, 2010

UI Master of Fine Arts programs in creative writing are ranked No. 1

The University of Iowa Master of Fine Arts (MFA) writing programs in fiction, poetry and nonfiction ranked No. 1 -- individually and collectively -- in the 2011 MFA rankings announced in the September issue of Poets & Writers magazine.

The magazine ranked the top 50 of almost 150 full-residency MFA programs, including not only the United States but also Canada and New Zealand. View the ranking and the analytical methodology at

The magazine noted that the United States, "a country long known for its alternating indifference and hostility toward its artist class has somehow managed to develop a cultural infrastructure for poets and writers that significantly outstrips its class-based European predecessor -- the noble-patron system -- in accessibility, flexibility and fairness."

The Iowa Writers' Workshop, which includes the MFA programs in both poetry and fiction, was the first creative writing program at any university, and it became the blueprint for other higher-education writing programs in America and around the world.

More than 25 faculty and alumni of the program have won Pulitzer Prizes -- most recently Paul Harding, who won the fiction prize this year for "Tinkers" -- and workshop graduates have been winners of virtually every other major U.S. writing award. Several of the poetry alumni have been Poet Laureates of the United States.

Lan Samantha Chang, the alumna of the workshop who returned to be its director, said, "We are so grateful to the university and community for providing the support that makes this possible."

The Poets & Writers rankings were designed to assist potential students in selecting graduate programs in creative writing, assessing factors including reputation, cost of living, post-graduate placement, selectivity and institutional support.

"It's gratifying to learn that we're considered a leader among nonfiction writing programs," said Robin Hemley, the Writers' Workshop alumnus who directs the Nonfiction Writing Program in the English Department. "A lot of the best writing in the country is being done in the various forms of nonfiction, and a lot of the best young writers in nonfiction come to the UI to study. That's no secret to those of us on the NWP faculty. It's continually exciting and rewarding to teach in this program." 

NWP graduates have also been nationally honored. For example, alumna Eula Biss recently won the National Book Critics Circle Award. 

The UI Nonfiction Writing Program will host a unique NonFictionNow conference in November and the Writers' Workshop will soon celebrate its 75th anniversary, including an alumni conference in June 2011.  

The UI recently declared itself "The Writing University," and the Writing University Taskforce, which spearheaded the successful bid to have Iowa City designated a UNESCO City of Literature, was chaired by Christopher Merrill, the director of the International Writing Program, the UI's unique non-academic residency program for established and emerging foreign writers.

Merrill, who is now the president of the board of directors of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, says that this history and stature of these UI MFA programs was instrumental in Iowa City's selection as the third City of Literature.

"This good news confirms the wisdom of UNESCO's decision to dsignate Iowa City as the third City of Literature in its creative Cities Network," he said. "Indeed UNESCO highlighted the educational element, suggesting that what we have created in this lively literary city might be a model for creative cities around the world."

The MFA writing programs at other Big 10 schools were also ranked highly by Poets & Writers, including the University of Michigan at No. 2, the University of Wisconsin tied for No. 3, Indiana University at No. 15, the University of Minnesota at No. 19. the University of Illinois at No. 25, Ohio State University at No. 33, Purdue University at No. 38 and Penn State at No. 44.

The best-known college rankings come from U.S. New & World Report, which no longer publishes rankings of MFA programs.

The Writers' Workshop and the Nonfiction Writing Program are graduate programs in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

UI arts events are searchable on the UI Master Calendar: Exhibitions are searchable at To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to and click the link "Join or Leave ACR News," then follow the instructions.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, University News Services, 319-430-1013,