October 20, 2009

Creative writing program earns top-50 ranking

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The best place to study creative writing in Illinois is Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

So says the newly posted 2010 MFA Rankings: The Top Fifty in the journal “Poets and Writers,” the standard journal for those in creative writing professions.

SIUC comes in at 47th in the nation, ahead of every other university in Illinois, both public and private.

“We’re a hard-working school and it shows in the work our students do,” Allison Joseph, head of the master of fine arts program in creative writing in the Department of English, said.

The ranking methodology, of necessity, excluded many of the intangibles that create a successful experience for a college student, Seth Abramson, author of the article accompanying the ranking listing, noted. He stated that the most important factor in the ranking was a “poll taken of more than 500 current and prospective MFA applicants between October 2008 and April 2009.”

The survey takers utilized two of the largest online communities for MFA applicants, namely Suburban Ecstasies and the MFA Weblog. The survey included a mechanism for removing duplicate entries. The survey emphasized current and recent MFA students as the best arbiters of which programs offer what students seek, including some of those intangibles that are impossible to quantify.

Joseph noted that it is exactly that difficult-to-quantify factor that lends such strength to the creative writing program at SIUC. She said that all the faculty members in the program, besides being accomplished writers, are caring people genuinely interested in the success of their students.

Other, more tangible perks, include the opportunity to work on the “Crab Orchard Review,” a nationally recognized journal the Department of English publishes; and the chance to work with high school-aged writers at the annual, residential Young Writers’ Workshop.

In addition, the Department of English sponsors two annual literary festivals that are organized by creative writing students -- the well-established undergraduate-hosted Devil’s Kitchen Literary Festival, and the newer graduate student-hosted Little Grassy Festival.

“The students themselves started many of the improvements (over recent years),” Joseph said. “They started the Saluki Writers Project, which includes teaching creative writing to kids at local venues. They also started Writers on the Road, for which they invite students from other creative writing programs to come to Carbondale to read, and vice versa.”

Joseph added that the commitment in the Department of English to maintain a strong creative writing program is crucial to the program’s success.

“I am thrilled that ‘Poets and Writers’ has recognized the quality of our MFA program,” Michael R. Molino, chair of the English department, said. “Anyone who knows the work of our faculty and students would not be surprised to find SIUC’s program in the top ten very soon.”

To see the complete list of schools in the “Poets and Writers” list, go to www.pw.org/content/2010_mfa_rankings_top_fifty_0.