College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

UM Creative Writing Program Ranked Among Nation’s Top 10

Award-winning authors, talented students, unique opportunities key elements in latest recognition

OCTOBER 13, 2016 BY EDWIN SMITH

Acclaimed author Kiese Laymon is one of the newest hires in the MFA in Creative Writing Program. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Acclaimed author Kiese Laymon is one of the newest hires in the MFA in Creative Writing Program. Photo by Thomas Graning/Communications

Less than a decade ago, the University of Mississippi was ranked as one of five “Up-and-Coming” Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing programs by The Atlantic magazine.

Apparently, the program is reaching its full potential, with UM recently being named a “Top 10 University for Aspiring Writers” by CollegeMagazine.com.

“I am extremely happy for our English department, MFA program and our current and former students,” said Derrick Harriell, assistant professor of English and MFA program director. “A lot of this foundation was laid well before I arrived here four years ago in Barry Hannah’s vision for the program, Beth Ann Fennelly’s dedication as our long-standing director and the full support of Ivo Kamps, our extremely supportive chair.”

At No. 6, the university is ahead of such prestigious rival institutions as the University of Virginia, Emory University, the University of Chicago and New York University. Ranked ahead of UM are Wesleyan University, the University of Washington, Johns Hopkins University, Princeton University and the University of Iowa.

“Ole Miss boasts of notable alumni John Grisham and William Faulkner and tries to re-create the literary geniuses their programs housed in the past,” wrote CollegeMagazine.com author Isabella Senzamici. “The Creative Writing program admits only a small amount of students so each student receives optimal attention. Their student publication, The Yalobusha Review, an online journal that breaks the traditional norms of mainstream media, is considered one of the best student publications in the nation.”

UM students transform their passion for writing into a catalyst for social change, Senzamici wrote

They teach community writing workshops, read at retirement homes and judge writing contests to help budding writers understand the value and impact of their words. Ole Miss equips students with the Oxford Conference for the Book, a program that puts writers and students in contact with an author they admire or helps market their writing collections.”

Kamps said he was excited to read the College Magazine piece because it confirms the upward trajectory of the university’s writing program.

Renowned poet Melissa Ginsburg is also a new faculty member in the program.

Renowned poet Melissa Ginsburg is also a new faculty member in the program.

“We have an extraordinary group of creative writers on the faculty, and our students know it,” he said. “Our entire faculty is dedicated to the success of the students. The recent addition of Kiese Laymon and Melissa Ginsburg only confirms that.”

While numbers and rankings aren’t everything, it does mean a lot for UM as a fairly young program, Hariell said.

“To be mentioned in the same breath as long-established programs is something we can hang our hat on,” he said. “Additionally, we can share this information with prospective students in hopes to continue improving our recruitment efforts.”

The latest news comes as verification that UM’s program is doing everything right, Fennelly said.

“For many years, we’ve believed that what has been happening in our classrooms, with our students, is very, very special,” said the award-winning poet, professor of English and Mississippi poet laureate. “But of course, it’s nice to have the confirmation! All I know is, our mojo is working. And this year, I’m happy knowing in his (Harriell’s) hands, our program will grow even stronger.”

Poets and fiction writing students in the MFA program were also ecstatic to learn about the ranking.

“I’m not at all surprised to find Mississippi ranked so highly, but I’m absolutely thrilled by it, mostly because it’s a recognition of how hard our faculty and staff work to make this an incredible place to be educated as a writer, and of all the remarkable and exciting work my colleagues are doing,” said Molly Brown, a third-year poet from Amherst, Virginia.

“From the moment I arrived in Oxford, this place, and these people, have been on my team in every conceivable way. My colleagues and my teachers have made me want to be better and do better work every day.”

Fellow student Matt Kessler agreed.

“I knew I would receive a great writing education, but I didn’t realize just how much I’d also learn about literature and about how to teach,” said Kessler, a third-year fiction writer from Chicago. “That’s what I’m excited about: the quality of the writing that my classmates and teachers have shared with me.”

Since the Ole Miss program was launched in 2000, it has stayed small and selective, attracted outstanding students, retained its exceptional faculty and been supported financially by generous benefactors such as John and Renee Grisham.

For several years, students in the program have garnered inclusion in “Best New American Voices,” an anthology of the best of fiction workshops across the country. Other student recognition includes the Association of Writing Programs Intro Award for Non-Fiction, the Iron Horse Discovery Award for Poetry, the Best American Poetry award and publication in a number of national magazines.

Locally, the MFA program was also awarded a Graduate Schools Diversity Award a couple of years ago.

For more information about the UM Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, visit http://mfaenglish.olemiss.edu/.