About the English Major in Creative Writing

Initial Courses | Admission | The Sequences | Writing Outside the Sequences |

Other Required Courses | Other Program Features |

Recommended Schedule for Prospective Writing Majors

The Creative Writing Major, Minor, and Sequence Only application for 2015-16 is now available.  Submission deadline is 3:00 p.m. April 23, 2015



All students interested in the Creative Writing Major must take two introductory writing courses, one in poetry (206) and one in either fiction (207) or creative nonfiction (208), before applying to the program. On the 200-level, no prior knowledge of the genre is required.

1.  No creative writing course may be taken pass/fail or audited.
2.  The School of Continuing Studies also offers courses under 206, 207 and 208. These do not count toward the English Major in Creative Writing.
3. Freshman may not register for 206 until the spring quarter of their first year. Seniors may not register for 206 until add / drop week.

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Admission to the next stage of the English Major or Sequence-based Minor in Creative Writing, the year-long 300-level advanced course sequences, is competitive. Admission is granted primarily on the basis of manscript quality and promise. An applicant may be admitted to study as a major, a minor, or a sequence-only student. No preference in admission is currently given to those who apply to the sequences, though there are later opportunities open only to majors, including participation in senior honors, one-on-one conferences with visiting writers-in-residence, and end-of-year senior readings.  Students may apply for admission to the sequence courses no earlier than the spring of their sophomore year.  Applications are available at the beginning of spring quarter online and in the Department of English office, University Hall 215.

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Theory and Practice of Poetry (393), Fiction (394), and Creative Nonfiction (395)

These sequences ask students to pursue a rigorous program that includes close reading of literary texts, explication and critical writing, imitation and modeling, and original creative work. Departing from Northwestern’s typical quarter system, the sequences are arranged in two consecutive semesters. They begin in the fall semester with specialized courses in the fundamental technical and rhetorical bases of each genre. Poetry students study the uses of metaphor and mode, and the theory of prosody (including both the major form of poetry in English-accentual-syllabic verse-and the minor forms, accentual, syllabic, and free verse). Fiction students consider the tenets of realism and its alternatives, and practice different approaches to style, characterization, structure, and point of view. Creative nonfiction students focus on essay forms, logical method, authorial tone, and techniques of discourse and description. In all genres, imitations and models of great writers are assigned. The second semester in each genre, with a second instructor, is devoted to intensive writing of a longer original work-a poem of at least 120 lines or an essay or novella of 50 to 70 pages.

4. Note that in the event further work in fiction, creative nonfiction or poetry is desired outside the year-long sequence, 206, 207, and 208 may be repeated up to two times for WCAS credit. Advanced one-quarter courses in creative writing (306, 307, and 308) are also offered for non-majors (see Writing Outside the Sequences below).

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Students not pursuing a creative writing minor through one of the year-long sequences now have a way to minor in writing that provides advanced training in a core genre as well as opening up the curriculum to the crossing of genres. There will be a variety of courses to choose from, including one-term core genre workshops on the advanced level offered by distinguished visitors both in the Center for the Writing Arts and by continuing appointments in the English Department such as fiction-writer Stuart Dybek, poet Ed Roberson, and the Blattner Visiting Professors in Fiction; a “creative” option for some literature courses taught by Creative Writing Faculty; and the option of stepping outside the core genre to explore a course that combines genres.

5. The courses run by the Center for the Writing Arts are by application only.  Check their website for application deadlines and courses offered. 

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In addition to the sequences, MAJOR students must take:

  • “The Situation of Writing” (392)

“The Situation of Writing,” which is typically offered in the winter quarter, investigates the writer’s relation to the culture, both currently and historically. The course addresses such questions as the relation of criticism to imaginative literature, the rise and fall of specific literary genres, the effect of the university on the production and consumption of literary works, the state of the publishing industry, and international literary contexts.

  • “Third-Genre Intro Course” (either 207 or 208, whichever has not been completed)

The "Third-Genre Intro" requirement ensures that writing majors will have had experience reading and writing in all three major non-dramatic modes of imaginative writing.

  • Six 300-level literature courses in the English Department.

These courses must be “pure literature”; that is, courses in which the bulk of the reading is literature and not criticism or theory.

  • Two non-literature courses related to one another, taught in other department(s).

These courses, in areas such as history, art, classics, and gender studies, broaden the student’s background for the study of literature. These must be approved by a creative writing advisor.

In addition to one of the sequences, MINOR students must take:

  • Two 300-level literature courses in the English Department.

These courses must be “pure literature”; that is, courses in which the bulk of the reading is literature and not criticism or theory.

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Contributing to the lively atmosphere for undergraduate writers at Northwestern are several publishing and academic initiatives including the student run and published PROMPT Literary Magazine. The University-wide Center for the Writing Arts also hosts visitors for entire terms. Writing by students at Northwestern is recognized by the award-winning student literary magazine, Helicon, and by the Department of English Annual Writing Competition, held in the spring.


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In the Freshman Year:
ENGLISH 210-1,2 English Literary Traditions     OR

ENGLISH 270-1,2 American Literary Traditions
(while not required, these are excellent background courses for writing students, and also serve as prerequisites for the English literature major)

In the Sophomore Year:
Fall, ENGLISH 206 Reading and Writing Poetry;
Winter, ENGLISH 207 Reading and Writing Fiction     OR

           ENGLISH 208 Reading & Writing Creative Nonfiction
Spring, application to the creative writing program



Upcoming Event

EMC Closing Reception
June 2, 20155:00 PM - 7:00 PM

March 30, 2015