Program Requirements

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Overview

The Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at OSU-Cascades is a 2-year program divided equally between intensive ten-day residencies and term-length individual mentorships. OSU-Cascades runs on a quarter system, with mentorships in the winter and summer quarters and residencies in the spring (early June) and fall quarters (early November).

This rigorous yet flexible course of study enables our students to pursue a graduate degree while weathering the responsibilities of everyday life.

What is the teacher/student ratio?

The teacher student ratio is approximately 1:4. Professors are devoted to students’ work and create an individualized program of study for each student mentee.

What is the demographic of your students?

Our graduate students come to us from top-ranked universities all over the country and from a wide variety of academic majors and post-collegiate careers. We accept students of all ages and backgrounds and welcome diversity.

How selective is your program?

We do not enroll to meet certain quota; accepted applicants must meet our very high standards and demonstrate the ambition, talent, self-reliance and collegiality to thrive in our low-residency MFA Program.

What is the basis for admission?

The basis for admission is your work, your background and goals as a writer, our sense that we are a best fit for your writing career, and your demonstration of the self-reliance and collegiality needed to thrive in a low-residency MFA Program.

Can I write in more than one genre?

MFA students are admitted in a single, self-selected genre but have the opportunity to write and study across genre—and even to challenge the notion of genre itself. We work across disciplines and styles to find the most true, most meaningful, most nourishing ways to make art and support one another’s art-making. There is an emphasis on hybrid- and cross- genre work (through common texts and assignments), mixed-genre seminars, and faculty and visiting artists who work and teach in multiple mediums.

Program Requirements

What is required to graduate?

The MFA in Creative Writing at OSU-Cascades is a 2-year program; 4 residency quarters and 4 mentorship quarters are required to graduate.

Students are expected to have completed an annotated bibliography of 15-18 books by the end of their degree and to have produced a minimum of 70 pages for a prose thesis and 48 pages for a poetry thesis.  

The thesis is a sustained piece of imaginative writing of literary merit. Generally, length, form and content are mutually agreed upon by the student and the thesis mentor, depending on the student's needs and goals, with final approval resting with the mentor. No one is held or limited to a single mode or genre, and the curriculum culminates in capstone collaborative presentations: multi-media happenings and site-specific performances devised in groups.

This capstone measures a writer's growth and tests ingenuity and academic knowledge. It showcases the student's own creative work, and typically illustrates a student’s mastery of theory and technique, the history of the genre, and the contemporary situation in the field of creative writing. The committee consists of the student's thesis mentor, a second representative from creative writing and the MFA director.

There are four phases to your study in our Low-Residency MFA: residencies, mentorships, pre-residency coursework, and self-directed study.

Self-Directed Study

Self-directed study refers to time during which faculty are “off” and you are working independent of their supervision. You should continue to devote an average of 20-25 hours per week. Activities you might complete during this time include creating new work; revising old work; reading; responding to reading; attending readings, festivals, lectures, workshops, or other creative writing events; working with your buddy and/or peer editors; participating in a book group; writing book reviews; researching and drafting application materials for conferences, retreats, and fellowships; researching and drafting materials for publication venues; researching graduate school requirements for matriculation; pursuing internships; and so forth!

Generally, you should be practicing the life of a working writer, which is unpredictable! Time-consuming! Totally demanding! In fact: sometimes your friends will be going out for happy hour, and you’ll be at home: writing. Some times your friends will be going out for brunch, and you’ll be at home: writing. Some times your friends will pop out for a movie, and you’ll be at home: writing. Guess what? You’ll be writing. And you’ll be doing it because you are passionate about it and because you want to make the most of this time in which you are fortunate to have supportive community and peers and teacher-practitioners. Because you are hungry for knowledge. Because you are drive to self-expression. Because our task as writers is the most all-consuming but also the most satisfying. Because you believe the work you are doing is useful and necessary and the words you are putting down on the page matter.

During this time, it’s important that faculty take a break from their teaching and supervisory duties and focus on their own writing lives, so it’s a good idea to:

1) Get advice from your mentor about what to do during your self-directed time during the previous mentorship or residency.

2) Take advantage of your buddy and/or peer editors. Just because a faculty member isn’t involved doesn’t mean you can’t curate your own collaborative experiments; in fact, we encourage you to do so!

3) Make a contract with yourself, including regularly scheduled appointments for creation, revision, reading, and responding to reading. Treat these appointments like you would a trip to your doctor or your lawyer: as in, there are real consequences to cancelling late or just not showing up. Take yourself seriously, and your writing will flourish!

Finally, this is also a good time to take advantage of other resources OSU offers its graduate students. Make a phone appointment with an advisor at the graduate school. Arrange a face-to-face or video meeting with our technology librarian Sara Thompson. Get involved with an extracurricular activity with the program director.

The possibilities are endless and they are up to you!

Mentorships

Faculty Interaction
We have six core faculty who actively teach in our program; these mentors are familiar with the program formats and standards and actively involved in curriculum design. While we guarantee no greater than a 5-1 student-faculty ratio, the usual number is 3-1.

It’s important to the program that students work with faculty mentors who are passionate about their work and feel able to contribute toward individual goals and to grow individual talents. In advance of each residency, the program director and the core faculty work together to read student work samples and statements of objectives to determine mentorship pairs. Assignments are pedagogical and seek to match the particular strengths, experience and enthusiasms of faculty and students. Each mentorship pairing starts during the residency and continues into the subsequent mentorship term. It’s approximately a ten-week relationship. It is assumed that students will be paired with a variety of mentors throughout their course of study, unless there is some compelling pedagogical reason to do otherwise. Students have the opportunity to work with up to 4 different mentors (in a variety of genres) in our two-year program.

Philosophy & Logistics
Mentorship of individual students happens in winter and summer quarters and involves regular exchanges of packets of work and responses to student work. Packets include original creative work by students, revisions of original creative work by students, and responses to reading assignments. Faculty responses may be written and/or oral and should include suggestions for revision, guided writing exercises, reading suggestions, publishing advice, etc., as well as evaluation of student progress. The timing of the exchange of packets and the contents of each packet is negotiated on a case-by-case basis by the student and the mentor. Generally, students must submit packets at three-week intervals or less, and faculty must respond within one week. The number of pages of original and revised work depends on a variety of factors, including genre, the nature of the student’s project, and the student’s status in the program. All mentorship plans must be approved by the program director by the second week of the term.

Long-Distance Community
The disciplined, dedicated, talented, mature, and motivated students our program attracts are well-equipped to grow community long-distance. The generous, noncompetitive spirit of our residencies seeds enduring friendships; these friendships become essential support networks during mentorship terms. Here are some innovative strategies we've devised to keep our students and faculty connected:

1. Peer Editorships: each peer editorship is unique, and is curated by core faculty mentors.
Peer editorships emphasize the importance of sustaining and initiating dialogue as part of the writing process, inspire students to be playful and take advantage of the creative and intellectual energy of their peers, and encourage collaboration by creating a community of mutual respect for one another's imaginative growth. This is just another of our curricular innovations, and also an important strategy for encouraging students to take responsibility for their own education & to build nourishing relationships with their peers.

2. Artist Life Assignment: Each mentorship term, the program director curates a cross-disciplinary and communal creative experience. These are unpredictable but always curricularly relevant. They are also, like the peer editorship, mandatory. In the winter mentorship, all students participate and in the summer mentorship only first year students participate. Generally, students are required to work with their buddies to complete collaborative writing exercises that challenge our notions of the community and vocation of creative writing.

3. Extracurricular Opportunities: Under the supervision of the program director, our students have collaborated on a Learning & Technology Innovation Grant, a Dead Author Reading Series, and a Journaling Workshop. These are only a few of the opportunities our students have of supporting each other’s art-making and practicing the team-building and networking skills necessary to sustain a healthy writing life.

Residencies

Our ten-day residencies are the first Friday-second Sunday in November and the second Friday-third Sunday in June. You attend four residency sessions during our two-year program and always enter in the fall and start off with a residency. Why? Because we firmly believe in the importance of face-to-face contact and in-residence community building before embarking on long-distance mentorships.

In the fall residencies, you are assigned to workshops and mentors; in the spring residencies, you choose their workshops and mentors.

You can expect to spend about a third of your time in workshop, focusing on your writing and writing goals, getting to know your peers, and preparing your project plan for the winter term with your core faculty mentor. The rest of the time you will be taking special topics workshops in craft, making, vocation, and the history of literature/literary trends. These special topics workshops focus on aspects of our art germane to all genres; you will be in class with students in both their first and second years, working in a variety of genres. These workshops give you an opportunity to work with faculty in other genres, to connect with students in other genres, to experiment with other genres, and to think about the ways in which our craft is not in fact genre-bound!

You can also expect:

To be challenged for at least the entire time you are awake. Expect to take risks—all kinds of risks: aesthetic, emotional, physical

To have plenty of time for rest and sleep—if you read the residency schedule very carefully, and carve it out for yourself.

To learn as much outside of instructional events as during them. Expect to look forward to lunch, dinner, optional hikes, and creative skill shares as times to really get to know your peers, as well as the artists in residence.

To leave each workshop, each salon, each lecture changed—and we mean this quite literally.

Students are required to participate fully in the entire residency for award of the term’s credit and the MFA in Creative Writing degree.