Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing
The information on this page pertains to the on-campus Full-Residency MFA program. If you are looking for information about our online Low-Residency MFA program, please visit the program homepage here.
Chatham University's groundbreaking MFA focusing on nature, travel writing and social outreach is the premier graduate program for nurturing students interested in place-based writing and innovative community programs. But we are also unique in other ways: no other MFA program in the United States offers the possibility of concentrations in travel writing, teaching, publishing, or nature writing in addition to a primary genre focus (poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction or children’s writing), and no other MFA program offers the ability to have a dual-genre focus (in poetry and nonfiction, or children’s writing and fiction, for example). We are also the only MFA program in the United States to offer both an on-the-ground full residency program and a low-residency program as well as the ability to easily move between the two programs.
Our alumni have gone on to publish and teach; many are also pioneers and leaders in arts programs that work to foster diversity and social justice. Our program continues to be inspired by the work of Chatham alumna, Rachel Carson, a creative writer whose work demonstrates both lyricism and social conscience. The Words Without Walls program, in which MFA students go into the Allegheny County Jail to teach inmates creative writing, is only one of several social outreach programs developed and run by Chatham MFA students that offer transformative experiences for both students and an underserved population. At Chatham, we will teach you craft, but we will also teach you heart. At Chatham, community service is not just something you do outside of your graduate program, it’s built into the core of the program.
Students are given lots of time to write at Chatham: they take twelve hours of literary craft courses (workshops that focus on style, form and literary traditions) and nine hours of advanced writing workshops in addition to one field seminar, which is a traveling writing workshop. And those travelling field seminars are very popular with our students, since Chatham foots a significant portion of the bill for the trip. Each year, our faculty lead seminars that offer students the opportunity to travel to the United States and other parts of the world to generate creative work about the experience. Past and upcoming field seminars include trips to Louisiana, Maine, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Israel, New Zealand, Germany, Greece, India, Turkey, and Vietnam.
Students also have the opportunity to work on The Fourth River, Chatham's national literary journal, under the guidance of experienced publishing professionals, or create their own small press in Independent Literary Publishing, taught by Autumn House Press founder and editor, Mike Simms. Since 2009, Chatham students have organized and run Word Circus, a monthly MFA reading series held at a gallery in the city’s Penn Arts Corridor.
Chatham also hosts the Bridges Festival, which features speakers, panels, and allows students to participate in small-group workshops with writing professionals. Students often participate by introducing and interviewing visiting authors. Recent Bridges guests include Philip Lopate, Barbara Hurd, Dinty W. Moore, and literary agent Jenni Ferrari-Adler. Chatham’s MFA program also hosts the Melanie Brown Lecture Series—writers brought to the campus to interact with students include Debra Marquart, Stewart O’Nan, Ann Pancake, and Lan Samantha Chang.
Chatham University is situated minutes from the urban heart of Pittsburgh, a city that has transformed from a polluted steel town into a vibrant, thriving major city. Pittsburgh is home to several literary events, including the Drue Heinz Lecture Series, which has recently featured writers such as Jonathan Franzen, Ann Patchett, and Yann Martel.
Located on a beautiful arboretum that offers rich opportunities for reflection and meditation, Chatham is a fantastic place to write. Filled with beautiful parks, nestled between three rivers, and surrounded by natural and cultural areas as varied as the Appalachian Trail, the Allegheny National Forest, the Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch countryside, and a bit of the coast of Lake Erie, Pittsburgh offers many opportunities for writers.
Assistantships, Fellowships, Work Programs
We are proud to announce funding and teaching opportunities, including teaching fellowships, the Margaret Lehr Whitford Fellowship, the Rachel Carson Fellowship, and The Fourth River Fellowship. We also offer a Graduate Associate (graduate work study) position for the Words Without Walls program, and there are many other Graduate Associate positions available university-wide that include teaching ESL, working in the writing center, assisting at our B&B, the Gatehouse, or at our university bookstore.
For a more in-depth look at our faculty, students, and opportunities that make our program special, please download our annual newsletter.
The Summer Community of Writers, a ten-day intensive residency in Pittsburgh, is required of all low residency MFA students. The residency is composed of genre-specific craft sessions, workshops, lectures, readings and one-on-one conferences with mentors. More information about the upcoming residency will be posted soon. Past and current featured writers are listed below.