Iowa Writers' Workshop

A The Dey House.
Dey House at the Writers' Workshop

The Program in Creative Writing, more commonly known as the Iowa Writers' Workshop, at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, is a much-celebrated[1] graduate-level creative writing program in the United States. Writer Lan Samantha Chang is its director. Graduates earn a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in English.


The program began in 1936 with the gathering of poets and fiction writers under the direction of Wilbur Schramm.

The workshop's second director from 1941–1965 was Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native Paul Engle. Under his tenure, the Writers’ Workshop became a national landmark. He successfully secured donations for the workshop from the business community for about 20 years, including locals such as Maytag and Quaker Oats, as well as U.S. Steel and Reader’s Digest.[2] Between 1953 and 1956, the Rockefeller Foundation donated $40,000. Henry Luce, the publisher of TIME and Life magazines, and Gardner Cowles, Jr. (1903–1985), who published Look magazine, provided publicity for the workshop's events.

From 1965–1969, the workshop had several different directors. John Leggett was the director from 1969–86 and attracted writers such as T.C. Boyle, Ethan Canin, Michael Cunningham, Gail Godwin, Denis Johnson, and Jane Smiley.[3]

From 1987 until his death in 2005, Frank Conroy directed the workshop and was Engle's longest lasting successor. Lan Samantha Chang is the director as of 2014.


The Program in Creative Writing, at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, is more commonly known as the Iowa Writers' Workshop[1] graduate-level creative writing program in the United States.

Graduates earn a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in English. Iowa has the oldest creative writing program in the country offering an MFA credential.[4]

Faculty and alumni

The workshop is staffed by three permanent and several visiting faculty.

Curriculum and courses

The program's curriculum requires students to take a small number of classes each semester, including the Graduate Fiction Workshop or Graduate Poetry Workshop itself, and one or two additional literature seminars. The modest requirements are intended to prepare the student for the realities of professional writing, where self-discipline is paramount. The graduate workshop courses meet weekly. Before each three-hour class, a small number of students submit material for critical reading by their peers. The class itself consists of a round-table discussion during which the students and the instructor discuss each piece. The specifics of how the class is conducted vary somewhat from teacher to teacher, and between poetry and fiction workshops. The ideal result is not only that authors come away with insights into the strengths and weaknesses of their own work, but that the class as a whole derives some insight, whether general or specific, about the process of writing.[4]


In 2003, the workshop received a National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It was the first medal awarded to a university and only the second given to an institution rather than an individual.[5]

Pulitzer Prizes won by graduates and faculty

As of 2010, Iowa Writers' Workshop alumni won 17 Pulitzer Prizes, as well as numerous National Book Awards and other literary honors. Six U.S. Poets Laureate have been graduates of the workshop, including the current U.S. Poet Laureate, Charles Wright. Faculty and graduates affiliated with the Iowa Writers' Workshop have won 28 Pulitzer Prizes, including 16 won by graduates since 1947, and graduates and faculty of the University of Iowa have won over 40.[6]




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  1. 1 2 Edward J. Delaney (August 2007). "Where Great Writers are Made". The Atlantic.
  2. Bennett, Eric (10 February 2014). "How Iowa Flattened Literature". MFA vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction. Faber and Faber and n+1. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  3. John McMurtrie (26 January 2015). "John Leggett, former director of Iowa Writers' Workshop, dies at 97". SF Chronicle. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  4. 1 2 Maureen Howard (May 25, 1986). "Can Writing Be Taught in Iowa?". The New York Times.
  5. "About the Workshop". University of Iowa Writer's Workshop.
  6. "Pulitzer Prizes Awarded to UI Faculty Members or Alumni". University of Iowa.

External links

Coordinates: 41°40′01″N 91°32′06″W / 41.667°N 91.535°W / 41.667; -91.535

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