Western State Colorado University offers writers a unique low residency Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. There are lots of good writing programs out there, but the graduate program for creative writing at Western is unique in several ways. Besides the fact that the low residency element requires students to spend two weeks out of their summer in the beautiful Gunnison Valley of Colorado to attend physical classes, and beside the fact that every student enrolled in the program, gets a free registration in the Write the Rockies Conference as part of their residency each summer, what is it that makes Western’s program stand out above the rest?
Western State’s M.F.A. in Creative Writing program focuses on genre, rather than literary fiction, with three concentrations of study: genre fiction, poetry and screenwriting. The rigorous curriculum is designed with a sense of progression, teaching writing fundamentals and building a basic knowledge of all genres, through both reading and writing of genre works during the first year. The second year offers a more detailed knowledge of genres, pedagogy and business fundamentals of genre writing. Career planning for genre writers is also providing to graduating students, equipping them with the skills and knowledge required to write professionally.
Western State teaches imitative techniques through the study of the masters, using their examples to demonstrate what works and what doesn’t. Students are encouraged to step out of their comfort zones and experiment with unexplored writing techniques. Emphasis is on craft and Western State helps their graduate students hone theirs to perfection. According to M.F.A. program director, David J. Rothman,
“One of the great strengths of our program, something that makes it highly distinctive, is our emphasis on genre and learning through imitation. Most MFA programs focus on manuscript exchange and coaching. Ours offers that, but also focuses on progressive curricula based on the acquisition of knowledge and craft -- this is what draws all of our concentrations together and it is, in the end, what will give you the skills you need when you leave us to conquer the world.”
With accomplished writers and experts in their fields on the faculty of Western State’s M.F.A. program students have a wealth of talent, knowledge and experience to draw from. Poet and critic, David J. Rothman serves as the director of the poetry concentration, promoting an emphasis on Verse craft, as well as the director of the M.F.A. program, with an extensive background in education and administration. Also in the poetry concentration are visiting professors, Ernest Hilbert, who is an accomplished poet in his own right and renowned poet, critic and editor, David Yezzi, with several books of poetry and a libretto to his credit, and experience as an educator including teaching at Johns Hopkins University. The very versatile Dr. Russell Davis is the director of the fiction concentration, as well as being a best-selling author and editor in virtually every genre. His genre fiction team includes visiting professors Michaela Roessner-Herman, speculative fiction author; fantasy author, Dr. Diana Pharaoh Francis; and essayist and editor, Candace Nadon. Accomplished writer and director, J.S. Mayank heads up the film concentration, along with director, writer and cinematographer, Associate Professor Jack Lucido and visiting professor, Bob Shayne, who is an experienced writer, actor and producer.
Another way in which Western State’s program differs from other programs offered is in the thesis requirements. Visiting professor, Michaela Roessner-Herman explains that there are two kinds of graduate writing programs out there, in terms of thesis. Some programs may only require a certain number of pages to be completed in order for the student to graduate. Other graduate programs, like the one offered by Western State, require that the thesis project to be a completed novel in its entirety. The advantage to this, says Roessner-Herman, is that you are mentored through the entire process under the watchful eye of your advisor, with a marketable novel, hopefully, as a result. Just the act of finishing the project can be a very big deal.
As mentioned earlier, two of the unique perks of Western State’s low residency program are the gorgeous Colorado mountain scenery that students of the program get to immerse themselves in each summer, and attendance at the Write the Rockies Conference, headed up by talented novelist, poet, educator and the M.F.A. program founder, Mark Todd. Although still a smaller conference, Write the Rockies is filled with a deluge of talent and opportunity that no serious writer would want to miss, and it’s growing every year, right along with the M.F.A. program, which is now in its sixth year and just celebrated its third set of graduating students.