The Atlantic Magazine Ranks U.Va.'s Creative Writing Program Among Nation's Best

July 25, 2007 -- The University of Virginia’s Creative Writing Program is among the top 10 graduate writing programs in the country, according to The Atlantic, which cited the quality of the program’s alumni and faculty, its selectivity and its resources.

The ranking, authored by Roger Williams University professor Edward J. Delaney, appears in the magazine’s special fiction issue under the headline, “Where Great Writers Are Made.” The 10 schools were listed alphabetically.

The remaining nine: Boston University, the University of California at Irvine, Cornell University, Florida State University, the University of Iowa, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Michigan, New York University and the University of Texas’ Michener Center.

“I think what puts us in the top 10 is that we are very small, so the student-faculty contact is wildly wonderful,” said Sydney H. Blair, U.Va. associate professor of English and the Creative Writing Program’s director. “That, and the faculty, puts us in the top tier.”

Among the U.Va. program’s faculty: novelist Ann Beattie, former National Book Award winner John Casey, former Pulitzer Prize winner and past U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove, short story writer and playwright Deborah Eisenberg, poet Gregory Orr, fiction writer Christopher Tilghman, and former Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Charles Wright.

The program receives more than 500 applicants each year, from which it selects just five fiction writers and five poets. (It formerly took in seven fiction writers, but this year reduced the number to increase the stipends to the other entering students.) Students and faculty work closely throughout the two-year program, which results in a master of fine arts degree.

Another plus: second-year graduate students in the program are encouraged to teach fiction writing and poetry to undergraduate students, not just composition, Blair said.

The Atlantic article, noting that the number of graduate writing programs has increased from approximately 50 three decades ago to “perhaps 300” now, took into account four main factors — alumni, faculty, selectivity and funding — and rated U.Va. among the top five in each area.

In 2004, two alumni of U.Va.’s Creative Writing Program won Pulitzer Prizes. Edward P. Jones earned the fiction prize for his novel, “The Known World,” and Franz Wright took the poetry prize for his book, “Walking to Martha’s Vineyard.”

The Atlantic, first established in 1857 by a group of writers that included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., and James Russell Lowell, has a circulation of about 480,000 readers. Originally a literary showcase, since 2005 it has published works of fiction only in an annual special issue. Its 10 regular issues focus on in-depth examinations of political science and foreign affairs, as well as book reviews.