On Creative Writing as a MAPH


The MAPH website has a lot of useful information about the Creative Writing Option, including a list of requirements and video discussions with CRWR faculty. However, I know I had a lot of questions about the Option—and creative writing at UChicago in general—around this time last year, so I’ve tried to compile a list of useful information for those of you considering doing some creative writing this year (whether or not you do the track):

What the Option does (for you)

If you want to do a creative thesis and plan on taking workshops in addition to academic courses, the Creative Writing Option is something to consider. You don’t need to be in it to complete a thesis in creative writing (more on that below), but it does add some structure to your year. For example, the Winter thesis workshop you must take as part of the Option provides a setting outside of your precept group for other writers to look out your work closely. It also allows you to work closely with a faculty member who may end up advising your thesis. Other workshops also help with this, of course, but this one is specifically thesis-oriented. Furthermore, being in the Option guarantees you a space in the upper level CRWR workshops. You still have to apply for the workshops, but, if you are accepted, your spot is secure.

writer cat

MAPH writers are always the best dressed and most hirsute students in every workshop.

You can still apply for the Option if you have not. If you know that you want to do it, send Sarah a sample of your writing (no more than ten pages) that showcases your skill and style. *You do not need  to be in the Option to apply for workshops.*

That’s right: you can do a creative thesis without being in the Creative Writing Option.

If you want to take all of your courses in Art History, but want your thesis to be a collection of poetry, that can happen. All creative theses must include a critical component, but there are no other specific requirements. Any project that is not an academic paper is designated as a creative thesis, meaning that past students have done everything from video projects to dance to policy proposals.

Getting into classes

Even if you are outside the Option, there is always space reserved in workshops for MAPH students. So if you show up for the first day of Beginning Creative Nonfiction and it is so crammed that you’re sitting on the windowsill, make sure you mention that you are a MAPH student to the instructor. It will probably help you.

            ***You must apply for intermediate and advanced CRWR courses. Applications for Fall 2013 are due September 16 (before the quarter starts).***

If you are interested in an advanced course but are afraid that you won’t get in, go ahead and apply—just make sure that you also apply for an intermediate-level workshop or consider signing up for a beginning class just in case. The differences between an advanced and beginning-level workshop generally appear in structure (e.g. a beginning course may have more outside reading where an advanced course only workshops student work), but all of the courses are quite demanding.

carson mccullers

Carson McCullers was only 23 when The Heart is a Lonely Hunter was published. That’s probably why she looks so happy in this picture.

Yes, there will be many undergraduates in your workshops.

And they will be smart and dedicated. And you will probably learn a lot from them.

Okay, so what is a “critical component,” exactly?

The critical component of a creative thesis can take many forms. Many people write academic papers related to their creative projects, but people have also gone in other directions by writing book reviews or think pieces.

Yes, it sounds…kind of like you have to write two theses. But it is not something to stress about at the moment. For me, writing my critical component meant formally engaging with texts and problems that were already informing my stories, a process that I think ultimately strengthened my thesis and allowed me to look at my own work critically. Try to think about the critical component as a useful supplement that lets you flex your analytic muscles rather than as a pesky requirement—you’ll have more fun that way.

You have time to figure out the specific thesis stuff; most thesis planning begins in late Fall. There will be a panel for people considering doing a creative thesis at some point, and you will get lots of emails about this event. Around thesis time, the librarians will prove invaluable resources for developing a bibliography for both your critical and creative component. Maren also has a very helpful set of examples of past creative theses and is happy to discuss them with you. Additionally, I am always ready to talk/email about my own experience last year.


Taft House: home of noisy radiators and Creative Writing.


For now, if you are considering the Option:

  • Plan on taking a workshop in the Fall. Check out the classes and faculty.
  • Focus on getting your application in for workshops. Again, they are due September 16.
  • Creative Writing is hosting an Open House on Thursday, October 3 at 5 pm in Taft House (the spooky, romantic brick building next to the Logan Center). It will feature faculty readings, refreshments, and socializing.
  • Sign up for the Creative Writing email list to make sure you are getting relevant emails/invites to events on campus.



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