Vanderbilt’s MFA Program in Creative Writing has ranked among the top nine programs in the country in a survey conducted by Poets & Writers magazine and reported in the September/October 2013 issue of the magazine.
“We are pleased to see our relatively young program, which only graduated its first class in 2007, now ranks among the top nine programs in popularity,” said fiction writer Lorraine Lopez, who serves as director of the program. “Moreover, for the third successive year Vanderbilt ranks first in the nation for selectivity. The ratio of applicants to accepted students continues to be more than 10 to one. In 2013, as in every year since the program began, we admitted only six, three in poetry and three in fiction.”
Vanderbilt’s two-year program not only fully funds its MFA students (with an annual stipend of $24,000, full tuition, and health benefits), but, as the Poets and Writers index notes, the program’s class size is “extra small” compared to other creative writing programs across the nation. In fact, Vanderbilt ranked fifth for its faculty-to-student ratio.“If you are accepted into this program, you are going to get attention,” poet Mark Jarman, and founding director of the program, noted.
“We give our students teaching experience but their teaching load is light,” said Mark Schoenfield, chair of the Department of English. “That’s a real plus for young writers who want to gain experience teaching poetry or fiction but not at the expense of their own writing time.” First-year students work in the Writing Studio where they tutor undergraduates who need special help with writing; second-year students each teach a beginning undergraduate course in their genre.
“This wonderful program honors and extends Vanderbilt’s lustrous history in creative writing,” said Carolyn Dever, dean of the College of Arts and Science and professor of English. “I’m proud that we continue to attract some of the nation’s most promising young writers and believe that of all the factors that draw these students, certainly none is more important than the distinction of the talented writers on our faculty.”
Vanderbilt’s prize-winning creative writing faculty includes fiction writers Tony Earley, Lorrie Moore, Lorraine Lopez and Nancy Reisman; poets Mark Jarman, Kate Daniels, Rick Hilles, Beth Bachman and Sandy Solomon; and nonfiction writer Peter Guralnick. It offers study in two genres only: fiction and poetry.
The magazine also evaluates cost of living in the programs’ host communities. Nashville’s cost of living is low, 11 percent less than the national average, which gives graduate student stipends more purchasing power than in other parts of the country. Nashville ranks 5 among “the top 10 cities with the lowest cost of living” in large part because of the cost of its housing. Students can rent nice apartments within walking distance of campus at affordable prices.
Poets and Writers bases its 2014 rankings on seven categories: popularity, selectivity, funding, student-faculty ratio, fellowship placement, job placement, and location. It bases its popularity figures on programs to which surveyed students most applied during the 2012-2013 admissions cycle.
Vanderbilt’s Creative Writing Program has attracted favorable attention since its inception in 2005, and certainly since Poets and Writers has been evaluating creative writing programs. In the magazine’s 2013 index, Vanderbilt’s MFA program ranked 10th in popularity. In the two previous years–in the 2011 and 2012 index–Poets & Writers, Vanderbilt ranked 14th in the nation. The magazine was using a slightly different ranking system then–taking into account eight criteria, including size, duration, cost of living, teaching load and curriculum focus. Stipends available to Vanderbilt MFA students have since increased substantially.
Even in 2009, the first year Poets & Writers compiled this list (only four years after the program’s inception and only a year and a half after it had granted degrees to its first graduating class), Vanderbilt’s Creative Writing program already ranked 18th, among the very best in the country.
“As soon as I arrived in Nashville, the members of the MFA faculty were calling me to invite me out to coffee, to take me out to lunch,” said Matt Baker, a recent MFA graduate in fiction who has gone on to win a Fulbright Fellowship. “At any program in the country you can study under talented, published professors, but at Vanderbilt they’re also genuinely interested in the lives of their students. That’s something the Poets & Writers rankings don’t even take into account. Take that into consideration, and I think our program is at least top five.”