English Major in Writing (Creative Writing)

THE CREATIVE WRITING PROGRAM (The English Major in Writing), an undergraduate concentration within the English Department at Northwestern University, teaches the writing of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, as well as courses that cross genres. By asking students to examine poems and prose works with the eye of a writer, and by encouraging students to apprentice themselves, as energetically as possible, to the best literary models, the Creative Writing Faculty hope to help promising artists in their craft, as well as to educate the discerning readers of the future. Some features of this unique and rigorous undergraduate program include the intensive writing course-sequence, the honors seminar and tutorial, the cross-genre minor, and the visiting writers festival in the spring.

All students interested in the 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. Admission to the next stage, 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 major, though there are later opportunities only open to majors including participation in senior honors, one-on-one conferences with visiting writers-in-residence and end-of-year senior readings.

1 No 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 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.
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 Outisde the Sequences above).


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/ novella of 50 to 70 pages.


Students not pursuing a creative writing minor through one of the year-long sequences will now have a new 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 new 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.


In addition to the sequences, MAJOR students must take “The Situation of Writing” (392), which investigates the writer’s relation to the culture, both currently and historically, AND a “Third-Genre Intro Course,” either 207 or 208, whichever has not been completed prior to admission to the major. “The Situation of Writing,” which is typically offered in the fall quarter, 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. 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. MAJORS and MINORS must take six and two, respectively, 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. MAJORS must also take 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 the major advisor.


Contributing to the lively atmosphere for undergraduate writers at Northwestern are several publishing and academic initiatives including the student run and published PROMT 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.

The Department of English also houses the Regan Library, open to writing majors and minors. Located on the 2nd floor of University Hall, the Regan Library offers books, literary periodicals and magazines focused on the craft of writing, as well as postings about summer writing institutes, graduate school programs and calls for submissions to writing competitions and literary magazines.     


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 (early May), application to the Program, then conference with new faculty advisor.



Students may apply for admission to the Writing Major through the English Office, University Hall 215, in the spring of each year.

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