The Nonfiction Writing Program has encouraged students to explore fresh perspectives on creative nonfiction for the past 40 years while also cultivating an appreciation for the rich history of the genre.
The Nonfiction Writing Program works to foster an environment that is both supportive and challenging in small, aesthetically varied courses like Forms of the Essay, Readings in Nonfiction, Radio Essays, Literary Journalism, Memoir, Travelogues, and A History of the Essay, sparking discussions and debates in a vibrant community.
Our students receive funding over the course of the program’s three years of study through fellowships, research assistantships, and positions as instructors of writing and literature. Additionally, they are qualified for an additional $50,000 in research grants each year to support their own writing endeavors.
Occasionally, our students take part in a series of faculty-led overseas writing workshops. Additionally, while on campus, they serve as judges for the annual Krause Essay Prize for creative essays and the Iowa Prize in Literary Nonfiction.
Students in the NWP work with a variety of literary organizations outside of the classroom, including the wildly popular Anthology and Speakeasy reading series for graduate students. They edit their own journal, The Essay Review, and assist in reading submissions for the national literary magazine The Iowa Review. Finally, they give back by serving as writing instructors at the Lloyd-Jones Institute for Outreach, where we provide free, intensive creative writing courses to people all over Iowa and beyond.
Slide through the gallery or click on the menu items to the left to find out more about the program, how to apply, and recent accomplishments of our students and graduates.
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Iowa Writers’ Workshop Acceptance Rate
In 2017, LitHub, a website devoted to writing culture, published numbers ascribed to a “University of Iowa representative” that would indicate about a 3.7% rate of acceptance.
That number seems generous, given data from the years 2013-2017, which places the acceptance rate even lower. It’s safe to assume that Iowa usually gets many applications, over a thousand each year, for 25 slots in Fiction and 25 slots in Poetry.
Iowa Writers’ Workshop Alumni
Flannery O’Connor, a master of short stories, may be the most celebrated MFA program graduate. She earned her degree in 1947 and was awarded the National Book Award in 1972. She might be the only Iowa graduate to appear on a US postage stamp.
Novelist, screenwriter, and award-winning author John Irving studied there from 1965 to 1967.
Michael Chabon’s first book, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, was adapted from his master’s thesis for the course.
Rita Dove and Joy Harjo, two United States Poet Laureates, received their diplomas in 1977 and 1978, respectively. Award-winning writers Andre Dubus and Raymond Carver, as well as poets James Tate, Robert Bly, and Charles Wright, all received MFAs.
Renowned novelists Denis Johnson and Gish Jen, experimental poets Antler and Barrett Watten, and the enigmatic Joy Williams attended. Williams received her diploma in 1965 and was awarded the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction in 2021.
Recent alumni like Alexander Chee continue to redefine genre and adopt new ways of delivering literature through media and technology. Chee was one of five program graduates to win Guggenheim fellowships in 2021.
How to Get Accepted to Iowa Writers’ Workshop
The short answer for how to get accepted to the Iowa Writers’ Conference: be insanely, irresistibly good at writing. Applicants should find the best parts of the best things they’ve ever written, and submit those.
The more nuanced response is that the Workshop requests two stories that are no longer than 80 pages for fiction applicants.
More work does not help an application. The best representation of a writer ready to hone their craft is provided by submitting the most effective passages, whether it be a chapter from a novel and a piece of microfiction, two short stories, or two distinct chapters from a novel in progress.
If a writer’s best work can be seen in a portion of their story, they should include that portion. Every page that is submitted should show a sense of urgency and dedication to the story.
When reading applicant submissions, admissions readers search for a unique, indescribable experience; applicants should make every effort to put themselves in the readers’ shoes through their manuscripts.
The poetry submission process parallels the fiction process. Readers look for energy, focus, and commitment to art.
A collection of 10–12 poems should only contain the pieces that best showcase the candidate. It is much preferable to have a manuscript that is slightly underwritten than to try to fill in gaps with subpar writing.
In both fiction and poetry, there are no established standards of style or genre; admissions officers aim to broaden the community’s horizons.
The Workshop readers stress that rather than polish or perfection, the work of successful candidates demonstrates vigor, originality, and promise. An effective portfolio submission to the program shows the applicant’s insatiable thirst for writing.
The statement of purpose in the application can reaffirm the urgency shown in the manuscript, highlighting the applicant’s disposition and commitment to finding their unique artistic voice. This part of the application won’t help a lackluster manuscript.
There are no prerequisites for creative writing, and GRE scores are not required. Transcripts, a CV, and three letters of recommendation complete the application package.
Who Are the Faculty at Iowa Writers’ Workshop?
Given the Workshop’s reputation and profile, the department draws writers from the highest levels of the fiction and poetry worlds, prize-winners and best-sellers. Alumni make up some of the faculty, though nearly any writer might be part of the Workshop for a time.
Ethan Canin, Jamel Brinkley, Charles D’Ambrosio, and Margot Livesey, award-winning fiction writers whose work can be found in prestigious magazines like The New Yorker and The Atlantic, are among the current resident faculty members.
Mark Levine, Elizabeth Willis, Tracie Morris, and James Galvin are poets who have received NEA and Guggenheim fellowships.
Kevin Brockmeier, Jenny Zhang, Charles Baxter, Allan Gurganus, Karen Russell, and D A. Powell, Z. Z. Packer and numerous other authors who are at the forefront of American literature Many visiting professors stay on campus for a semester; some stay for an entire academic year; and many come back for subsequent terms.
Visiting and resident faculty members teach in the summer and online workshops offered by the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. The Eleventh Hour podcast archives recordings of craft talks from writers who have lectured in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop Summer Festival lecture series.
Although the Iowa Writers’ Workshop is arguably the Harvard, Juilliard, and Mayo Clinic of writing, not every writer is a good fit for the program. Others simply don’t want to live in Iowa for two years and feel the environment is at odds with their writing, while others find the barren prairie of Iowa to be an oasis and the ideal place to create.
Many students do well with Iowa’s workshop, read-around-the-table model. This model dominates writing programs. Although many other MFA writing programs provide a variety of additional options.
Poets & Writers updates its comprehensive guide regularly, and writers’ resource Read the Workshop organizes lists based on the availability of funding, a crucial element for making an MFA program a sensible choice. For the widest vista, Associated Writing Programs’ searchable guide can take you to any of the over 300 writing programs in the United States.
Low-Residency MFAs can be the best of both worlds for writers who want a more comprehensive program than a summer workshop or conference but whose lives prevent them from moving to another region of the country. Since sending manuscripts to faculty mentors via snail mail, these programs have grown; thanks to online tools, they are now much more immediate and vibrant.
Low-Residency programs often feature excellent faculty, for the same reason they attract serious students: less time on campus means many people in the program have other life commitments. Warren Wilson College and Vermont College of Fine Arts have Low-Residency MFA programs dating back to the days of shipping paper manuscripts to your classmates.
From traditional, high-ranking programs like Columbia and Florida State, to Saint Mary’s College in California with its Writer in the World courses and craft components, every MFA in writing offers different teaching approaches. Climbing in the rankings are schools like North Carolina State and the small, selective program at the University of New Hampshire.
Many schools now offer technical writing, screenwriting, or nonfiction concentrations. Various genres, as well as new media and performance contexts, are permitted in some MFA programs.
Is Iowa Writers’ Workshop Worth It?
Alumni stories reveal two main advantages of attending the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. First, two full years of a residency at Iowa are set aside for actual writing. Students have access to formal and informal editing and critiques from faculty members and their peers because they write every day.
Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop offers its members access to a world of publisher interest and critical acclaim. Selection for the Iowa Writers’ Workshop conveys credibility. That feature can’t easily be quantified, but it’s very real.
Affording the Workshop might be as big an obstacle as the admissions process. In addition to tuition and fees, students will need to live in Iowa those two years. Tuition remission, teaching fellowships, and other aid can help make the program financially accessible.
Not every student will leave with a book contract and a major advance, though the stories of these successes inspire new candidates. Determining whether or not the program delivers value in a practical way depends on access to funding and on the student’s ability to convert those two years into a career post-graduation.
One more advantage remains, but it eludes definition even more than claims of credibility and craft. Writing is a form of art that falls under the category of solitary pursuits. With a few exceptions, writers almost always write in private, and readers typically read books alone.
Although almost all writers benefit from a community, no matter how small or specialized, the urge to write comes from a desire for human connection. Writing programs can offer that community, breaking the isolation for a few years or even a lifetime because the bonds made there last long after receiving a degree.
Fiction: Advice on Applying to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop
Are MFA programs hard to get into?
It’s hard to get into an MFA program. MFA programs prefer to accept applicants who have been out of school for some time, who have demonstrated their ability to write on their own time and who may even have a publication or two or have worked in the writing/literary community. “.
Is it hard to get into Iowa writers Workshop?
Less than 5% of applicants are typically accepted into The Workshop, which continues to be the most prestigious creative writing program in the nation and one of the most selective graduate programs of any kind.
How many people get into Iowa writers Workshop?
Each year, the program typically accepts up to 50 graduate students, with about 25 students each in the fiction and poetry programs. A class of poets and fiction writers is chosen by the Workshop faculty each year from a diverse and outstanding pool of applicants.
Is Iowa MFA fully funded?
Although the MFA program can be completed in three years, all accepted students are guaranteed full financial support for up to four years.