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Iowa Writers' Workshop

A The Dey House.
Dey House at the Writers' Workshop

The Program in Creative Writing, more commonly known as the Iowa Writers' Workshop, at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, is a much-celebrated[1] graduate-level creative writing program in the United States. Writer Lan Samantha Chang is currently the director of the Workshop. Graduates earn a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in English.


  • History 1
  • Organization 2
    • Faculty and alumni 2.1
    • Curriculum and courses 2.2
    • Award 2.3
  • Pulitzer Prizes won by graduates and faculty 3
    • Fiction 3.1
    • Journalism 3.2
    • Poetry 3.3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


The program began in 1936, with the gathering of poets and fiction writers under the direction of Wilbur Schramm.

The workshop's second director from 1941–1965 was Cedar Rapids, Iowa native Paul Engle. Under his tenure, the Writers’ Workshop became a national landmark. He successfully secured donations for the workshop from the business community for about 20 years, including locals such as Maytag and Quaker Oats, as well as U.S. Steel and Reader’s Digest.[2] Between 1953 and 1956, the Rockefeller Foundation donated $40,000. Henry Luce, the publisher of TIME and Life magazines, and Gardner Cowles, Jr. (1903–1985), who published Look magazine, provided publicity for the workshop's events.

From 1965-1969, the workshop had several different directors. John Leggett was the director from 1969-86 and attracted writers such as T.C. Boyle, Ethan Canin, Michael Cunningham, Gail Godwin, Denis Johnson, and Jane Smiley.[3]

From 1987 until his death in 2005, Frank Conroy directed the workshop, and was Engle's longest lasting successor. Lan Samantha Chang is the director as of 2014.


The Program in Creative Writing, at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, is more commonly known as the Iowa Writers' Workshop[1] graduate-level creative writing program in the United States.

Graduates earn a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in English. Iowa has the oldest creative writing program in the country offering an MFA credential.[4]

Faculty and alumni

The workshop is staffed by three permanent and several visiting faculty.

Curriculum and courses

The program's curriculum requires students to take a small number of classes each semester, including the Graduate Fiction Workshop or Graduate Poetry Workshop itself, and one or two additional literature seminars. The modest requirements are intended to prepare the student for the realities of professional writing, where self-discipline is paramount. The graduate workshop courses meet weekly. Before each three-hour class, a small number of students submit material for critical reading by their peers. The class itself consists of a round-table discussion during which the students and the instructor discuss each piece. The specifics of how the class is conducted vary somewhat from teacher to teacher, and between poetry and fiction workshops. The ideal result is not only that authors come away with insights into the strengths and weaknesses of their own work, but that the class as a whole derives some insight, whether general or specific, about the process of writing.[4]


In 2003, the workshop received a National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It was the first medal awarded to a university and only the second given to an institution rather than an individual.[5]

Pulitzer Prizes won by graduates and faculty

As of 2010, Iowa Writers' Workshop alumni won 17 Pulitzer Prizes, as well as numerous National Book Awards and other literary honors. Six U.S. Poets Laureate have been graduates of the workshop, including the current U.S. Poet Laureate, Charles Wright. Faculty and graduates affiliated with the Iowa Writers' Workshop have won 28 Pulitzer Prizes, including 16 won by graduates since 1947, and graduates and faculty of the University of Iowa have won over 40.[6]




  • Karl Shapiro, 1945 Pulitzer for V-Letter and Other Poems, former faculty member.
  • Robert Lowell, 1947 Pulitzer for Lord Weary's Castle, 1974 Pulitzer for The Dolphin, former faculty member.
  • Robert Penn Warren, 1958 Pulitzer for Poems 1954-56, Now and Then, 1980 Pulitzer for Poems 1976-78, former faculty member.
  • W.D. Snodgrass, 1960 Pulitzer for Heart's Needle, BA, 1949; MA, 1951; MFA, 1953.
  • John Berryman, 1965 Pulitzer for 77 Dream Songs, former faculty member.
  • Anthony Hecht, 1968 Pulitzer for The Hard Hours, attended Workshop but did not graduate.
  • Donald Justice, 1980 Pulitzer for Selected Poems, alumnus and former faculty member.
  • Carolyn Kizer, 1985 Pulitzer for Yin, former faculty member.
  • Rita Dove, 1987 Pulitzer for Thomas and Beulah, MFA, 1977.
  • Mona Van Duyn, 1991 Pulitzer Prize for Near Changes, MA, English, 1943.
  • James Tate, 1992 Pulitzer for Selected Poems, MFA, 1967.
  • Louise Glück, 1993 Pulitzer for The Wild Iris, former faculty member.
  • Philip Levine, 1995 Pulitzer for The Simple Truth, MFA, 1957; former faculty member.
  • Jorie Graham, 1996 Pulitzer for The Dream of the Unified Field, MFA, English, 1978; former faculty member.
  • Charles Wright, 1998 Pulitzer for Black Zodiac, MFA, 1963.
  • Mark Strand, 1999 Pulitzer for Blizzard of One, MA, 1962; former faculty member.
  • Robert Hass, 2008 Pulitzer for Time and Materials, frequent visiting faculty member.
  • Philip Schultz, 2008 Pulitzer for Failure, MFA, English, 1971.


  1. ^ a b Edward J. Delaney (August 2007). "Where Great Writers are Made". The Atlantic. 
  2. ^ Bennett, Eric (10 February 2014). "How Iowa Flattened Literature". MFA vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction. Faber and Faber and n+1. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  3. ^ John McMurtrie (26 January 2015). "John Leggett, former director of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, dies at 97". SF Chronicle. Retrieved 31 January 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Maureen Howard (May 25, 1986). "Can Writing Be Taught in Iowa?". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ "About the Workshop". University of Iowa Writer's Workshop. 
  6. ^ "Pulitzer Prizes Awarded to UI Faculty Members or Alumni". University of Iowa. 

External links

  • University of Iowa Writers' Workshop official webpage accessed 15 June 2015
  • Tom Grimes (August 15, 2001). The Workshop: Seven Decades of the Iowa Writers Workshop. Hyperion.  
  • Robert Dana (1999). A community of writers. University of Iowa Press.  
  • Historic photos of the Iowa Writers' Workshop from the UI Archives 1950-1969 accessed 4 April 2014

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