Chatham University

Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing

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.

Chatham's Creative Writing MFA program stands out with opportunities that can be found nowhere else. 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 country 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 creativity 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, community service is not just something you do outside of your graduate program, it's built into the core of the program.


Every year MFA students travel with faculty to a different country as a part of our innovative creative writing field seminars. Recent trips have included Vietnam, Iceland, Turkey, Ecuador, Brazil, England, Germany, and Costa Rica. We have also done recent national trips to New Orleans and Canada, and we offer a Pittsburgh field seminar for those who are interested in deeply exploring our local community. Students who wish to receive a concentration in Travel Writing go on one field seminar, design an independent travel seminar, and take the Travel Writing course. Program tuition goes toward these trips, making them affordable for most students. More importantly, the trips are transformative for our students, whose writing becomes sharper and more nuanced when in an unfamiliar environment.

Travel Photos

Travel Chatter

"As I work towards finishing my PhD in literature and cultural studies, I know my time at Chatham, and especially the faculty's focus on place-based, holistic writing, has prepared me well for a future in literary writing and academia."

- D. Gilson, MFA '12

Social Justice

What's in the mind of an inmate? Rage? Regret? Yes. But most of all, hope. Chatham graduate students know that because right now they're teaching inmates creative writing as part of our award-winning program Words Without Walls, a transformative partnership between Chatham University's Creative Writing MFA program and Allegheny County Jail. As a student in the MFA program at Chatham you have the opportunity to teach in this program, and to obtain a concentration that focuses on teaching creative writing in alternative spaces by taking three of our teaching pedagogy classes and teaching a semester in the jail.

Words Without Walls

words without Walls

Words Without Walls is a creative educational partnership between graduate students from the MFA in Creative Writing program at Chatham University and Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh. Learn more.

All The Rage

Words Without Walls Photos



Rachel Carson is our most distinguished alum, and in her honor we have built a concentration in Nature Writing. Students may choose from a plethora of literature courses focusing on the natural world including Ecofeminism, Wildness and Literature, Nature and Culture, Writing About Food, as well as a Nature Writing course. Students interested in nature projects have the opportunity to work at Chatham's Eden Hall Campus and serve on The Fourth River, our national journal devoted to nature and place-based writing.

Nature Chatter

"The MFA program exposed me to such a rich variety of possibilities... My rather simplistic environmental rants became infused with place, voice, scent, taste, history, language, and story."

- Gina Olszowski, MFA '12

Eden Hall Campus

Chatham's Eden Hall Campus is more than a 388-acre plot of land: it's the world's first campus built from the ground up on the principles of sustainability and the embodiment of a commitment Chatham makes everyday to support sustainability and environmental education. Learn more.


Students interested in a concentration in publishing can take The Fourth River practicum, where they have the opportunity to work as an Assistant Editor for our national literary journal, or our Independent Literary Publishing course, where students will get hands-on experience creating and running their own literary press. Finally, there are many opportunities for publishing internships in the Pittsburgh area, with a number of our students earning internships for Autumn House Press, Creative Nonfiction, and Pittsburgh Quarterly.

The Fourth River

The Fourth River

Indie Press Fest Photos

Publishing Chatter

"In general, writing workshops involve practice and discussion, but the publishing class was also methodical and informative: students learned about contracts, incorporation, working with authors, editing and layout, and marketing — all essential tools, for editors and writers alike."

- Robert Isenberg, MFA '11


We have a vibrant, supportive community of students and faculty. A hallmark of Chatham's program is its Summer Community of Writers (SCW), a ten-day, six-credit course that brings together low- and full-residency MFA students, community members, and acclaimed national writers for an intense and exciting learning experience. SCW takes place on our Shadyside campus with daily workshops, dynamic craft lectures, faculty and student readings, and field trips to local points of interest that many mention as one of the highlights of their Chatham MFA degree.

MFA Newsletter: Summer Edition

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MFACW Community Videos

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Summer Community of Writers