Since its inception in 2001, the Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing at The University of Mississippi has yielded an impressive list of achievements. For starters, it was recognized by Atlantic Monthly magazine as one of five “Up-and-Coming Programs” in the nation in early 2007. The honor ranked the program with those at Brooklyn College, Ohio State University, Rutgers University at Newark and the University of Wisconsin.
Students have published work in journals such as Crazyhorse, The Oxford American, Epoch, The Sun, Glimmer Train and others. They’ve had work anthologized in The Best American Poetry, broadcast on National Public Radio and turned into short films. For five years straight, students have been published in Best New American Voices and each summer receive fellowships to conferences such as the Sewanee Writers Conference. They also have won the Association of Writing Programs Intro Award for Nonfiction and several national poetry awards.
“Each time our students or the program is recognized, it is verification of what we’ve already suspected—that our program is doing everything right,” said Beth Ann Fennelly, associate professor of English and program director. “We’re wildly proud of our students’ successes, and the notice our program has received is particularly remarkable in that it is relatively young.”
Fennelly attributed the program’s success to staying small and selective, attracting the best students and retaining good faculty. Thus far, 50 students have graduated with MFA degrees in creative writing. Besides Fennelly, faculty members include fiction writers John Brandon, Tom Franklin, Gary Short and Jack Pendarvis and poet Ann Fisher-Wirth. Barry Hannah, who died in March, was the first director of the program and a Pulitzer Prize nominee. Each faculty member has received numerous prestigious awards and nominations including the Pushcart Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship and the inaugural United States Artist Fellowship.
In addition to UM faculty, the MFA program and the Department of English bring distinguished authors to campus regularly through the generosity of award-winning fiction writer and UM alumnus John Grisham and his wife, Renée. The Grishams established and continue to fund the Visiting Writer Series and the Writer-in-Residence program. A Summer Poet in Residence program, now in its fourth year, is funded by the College of Liberal Arts and the Office of Outreach.
Anna Baker of Napa Valley, Calif., and James Everett of Jackson were the first two Grisham MFA Fellows to graduate in 2006. Awarded biannually by UM’s English department, recipients of the highly competitive honor receive a $60,000 stipend and tuition remission over three years.
“The Grisham Fellow was too good an offer to pass up,” said Baker, who earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Montana. “Receiving this [fellowship] will always be one of my proudest moments.”
“The English faculty at Ole Miss is tremendous,” said Everett, who was a Patricia Cornwell Scholar in Creative Writing at Davidson College in North Carolina. “After graduation, I taught online classes at the university and continued working at Square Books. Ultimately I’d like to teach English at the university level or go on to earn my Ph.D.”
While appreciating the achievements of the past decade, Fennelly said the program is far from resting on its laurels.
“Our program has expanded to include writing about the environment, spearheaded by Ann Fisher-Wirth,” Fennelly said. “In coming years, we hope to include screenwriting among our offerings.”
For more information about UM’s Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing, visit https://www.olemiss.edu/depts/english.mfa/ or call Beth Ann Fennelly at 662-915-7914.