Department of English 3353
M.F.A. Creative Writing Program
1000 E. University Avenue
Laramie, WY 82071
To earn the MFA degree, we ask that students produce and shape a significant body of work, accompanied by an artist's statement. While University of Wyoming graduate student forms employ the more conventional term "thesis," we encourage a language more suited to the ways in which writers actually discuss their own projects. By framing your work in these terms, we hope to encourage a more flexible, rangy, and expansive understanding of the writing goals you should set for your time in the program. To avoid confusion when it comes to university forms, we'll use the university's terminology for describing your committee ("thesis chair," etc), and we'll call the sum of your body of work and artist's statement "the thesis."
In close consultation with the thesis chair (and typically with input from some or all other committee members), the student will assemble a body of work for presentation to the full committee. The body of work can include writing in various stages of progress and revision, although each piece should be far enough along that it has a genuine sense of necessity, shape, and promise. At least some portion of the body of work should be polished, finished writing. The body of work may include writing in more than one genre. A student might assemble a wide variety of pieces for the body of work, or might present a more singular manuscript (a novel, a nonfiction book project, etc). It is the responsibility of the thesis chair to approve the final body of work before it is sent to the full thesis committee prior to the student's defense.
In the artist's statement, the student should both explain what decisions lay behind the assembling of the body of work, and bring the body of work into a coherent experience for the thesis committee. While the body of work need not be made up of thematically-linked pieces, the artist's statement should find a persuasive way to explain why these particular pieces were assembled together, and what they demonstrate about the writer's growth and/or goals for the work. The artist's statement should demonstrate the student's deep understanding of the genre(s) in which the student writes and the particular genre elements the student employs. It can include discussion of the writer's influences, process, aesthetic, and future goals for the material; it can express the questions the student wishes to ask through her/his creative work. The style, language, and form of the artist's statement is up to the student, but it should present a rich and articulate understanding of the body of work and act as a basis for the discussion at the student's defense. The artist's statement should be a minimum of 10 pages long. It should be placed at the end of the defense draft, after the body of work, not before.
Here are some successful examples of artist's statements by previous MFA students.
Prose thesis: 100 pages
Poetry thesis: 35 pages (assuming a 10-page artist's statement; a minimum of 25 pages of poetry is expected)
Prose/poetry hybrids: 60 pages
These are minimum expectations, and students may and usually do exceed them. In general, students should expect that they will produce a substantial amount of writing during their time in the program, and that not all of those creative efforts will be included in the final form of the body of work.
The thesis committee is made up of a chair drawn from the MFA core faculty; a second reader drawn from the MFA faculty (core or affiliate), or from the broader English Department faculty; and an “external member” (third reader) drawn from outside the English department. Sometimes a fourth, optional member is added to the committee when a special expertise is desired (in such cases, the fourth committee member may be a UW faculty member or someone from outside campus). Part-time writers in residence may also serve as fourth committee members. Students are discouraged from using core faculty members as fourth committee members, and should only expand the committee to four members if special expertise, or work with a part-time writer in residence, is particularly advantageous to the thesis project.
Eminent Writers in Residence may at times be available for thesis committee membership. Through a consortial agreement with Utah State University, members of their creative writing faculty may be able to join MFA thesis committees here.
Students may work with faculty both in their primary genre and outside of it. If a student wishes to present a thesis that includes writing in more than one genre, the committee should be composed so that expertise in each genre in represented.
Students should wait until April of their first year to approach faculty regarding thesis committee membership. Faculty members who are unfamiliar with a student's work may ask the student for a recent writing sample before making the decision to serve on that student's committee. Chairs and second readers ideally are selected before the end of the second semester; external committee members are typically selected during the third semester.
The student will work most closely with the thesis chair to establish a thoughtful schedule for production and discussion of drafts and revisions, and for assembly of the body of work and artist's statement. Second readers are often deeply involved in most stages of the student's work. The external member (and optional fourth reader) most typically join in discussion of the student's work very close to the end of the thesis process. The student can and should explicitly negotiate with each committee member the scope of their involvement in the thesis process. It is the student's responsibility to keep the committee apprised of their progress and to give reasonable notice of any change to the thesis schedule.
In the fourth, final semester, students should not ask MFA faculty members outside of their thesis committee to read their manuscript (in order to allow faculty members to give their undivided attention to their thesis students).
If a student wishes to change the membership of the thesis committee, they should consult with the MFA director regarding appropriate process.
**Please note: This is the typical thesis schedule for full-time students. Part-time students will of necessity follow a different time-line.
Second Semester: During the second semester of study, plan to meet with the MFA director to discuss your preliminary plans for the body of work and to identify a possible thesis chair. Faculty members can be approached beginning at the start of April, and not before, regarding thesis service. By the end of the second semester, you should have chosen a chair (and typically your second reader as well), worked out a brief description of your goals for the body of work, and designed a plan for writing and revision during the summer and into the second year.
Third Semester: Early in the third semester, you need to finalize the full membership of your thesis committee. The thesis chair should consult closely with the student in identifying potential thesis committee members. When the membership of the thesis committee is finalized, the information will be recorded in the MFA program's Record of Thesis Committee form. You should also meet with your thesis chair early in the third semester to discuss the summer's writing accomplishments and to plan for the second year. Students must also submit the university's Program of Study form with all committee members' signatures by the end of the third semester.
Fourth Semester: During the fourth semester, the student is focused on revisions of materials assembled in the body of work and of the artist's statement. The student will consult with the thesis committee, particularly with the thesis chair, regarding preparations of materials for the defense (see "The Defense and Public Reading"). The student will follow university graduation processes regarding filing of forms, payment of graduation fees, and uploading of the thesis (see the Graduate Education page for details).
On rare occasions (see Good Standing), a student may with permission of the MFA director and thesis chair extend the writing of the thesis beyond the fourth semester. If a student exceeds the original time-line given for the thesis, committee members have the right to step down from the committee.
MFA degree candidates are required by UW to schedule and hold a defense and a public reading before graduation. The thesis chair, typically in consultation with other committee members, will determine when a student's body of work and artist's statement are ready to defend and will inform the student when to go forward with the scheduling of the defense. The defense will consist of an intensive discussion with the full thesis committee of the body of work and artist's statement; if the student is passed by the committee, the student will then give a public reading at a later time.
The program strongly encourages students to defend during the regular school year. Summer defenses are not necessarily possible, as faculty members are typically unavailable for thesis work during the summer months and cannot participate. If a student is not prepared to graduate by the end of the fourth semester, a return for a fall semester defense may be required. Students pursuing the ENR double major may sometimes extend into a fifth semester in order to satisfy requirements in both programs. MFA students in this situation are welcome to defend their thesis in the fourth semester and complete ENR coursework in the fifth semester, if at all possible.
The final version of the thesis is due to thesis committee members no later than three weeks before the defense. The defense takes between 1 and 2 hours; only the student and the thesis committee may be in attendance. The typical defense looks like this:
The student may give a brief introduction to the thesis.
Following the introduction, the committee intensively questions the candidate. While the questioning focuses on the artist's statement and body of work, the committee may also ask about material from the student's coursework, about genre and influences, and about the student's future plans for the work. This part of the exam is conducted as a rigorous conversation about matters of importance to the student, about strengths and weaknesses in the writing, and about future possibilities for the material.
Once the discussion is over, the student steps out, and the committee evaluates the student's performance, the body of work, and the artist's statement. The committee then tells the candidate of its decision. At this point, the committee may, and often does, ask for modifications of the written work before forms are officially filed.
If the committee deems the student's performance and/or materials to have failed the minimum expectations of the program, the committee can require the student to produce new or revised materials and to resubmit them for a new defense. The date of the new defense will be set only after approval by the thesis chair of the resubmitted materials.
After a successful defense, the candidate will work with the MFA/English graduate program coordinator to schedule a public reading before the end of the semester. The public reading will typically include several MFA degree candidates; MFA program members and the public will be invited, as required by UW. The program coordinator will handle the formal announcements of the readings. The program coordinator schedules these readings so as not to conflict with classes and other events, and has to balance many students’ needs; please be aware that special requests to change the reading schedule or pre-select the slate of readers may be very difficult for the coordinator to accommodate. We ask for your patience and understanding.
After successfully completing your defense, you must upload either your artist’s statement or your full thesis. UW uploading (“electronic publication” via Proquest) procedures are available on the Registrar’s Graduate Student Graduation page. If you wish, you can use the MFA-specific uploading format approved by the Registrar's Office and available on the MFA website's forms page (see the “thesis upload template”). This specially-designed format allows you to upload just your artist's statement (rather than uploading the full thesis manuscript). Many students prefer this option, since it allows them to keep the body of work from the public eye until ready for submission to magazines and presses.
As noted above, all UW graduate students must complete the required university forms and pay the required university fees in order to formally graduate. These forms and fees are required and processed by the Registrar's office, not the MFA program. We'll help you navigate the process as best we can, but students should keep track of all forms and fees themselves by communicating directly with the Registrar's office and by visiting the Graduate Education site and the Registrar’s Graduate Student Graduation page for the most up-to-date graduation information. Students who do not intend to walk at graduation must still pay any required diploma and uploading fees and must meet all university deadlines.
During thesis committee discussion following an MFA candidate's thesis defense, committee members should consider whether the thesis being defended merits nomination for a university thesis award.