MOUNT VERNON, Iowa – COVID-19 isn’t stopping Cornell College’s first graduate program from kicking off online at the end of December. The program features emerging writers who will inspire students and the community.

Cornell’s M.F.A in creative writing is a low-residency program, designed for writers who want to continue to work while earning their master’s degree. The program will also provide many opportunities for the surrounding community to get involved with events featuring award-winning visiting faculty members.

The faculty includes writers who push boundaries and work in multiple genres and fields. Lily Hoang (“A Bestiary”) and Steven Dunn (“Water and Power”), for example, both write genre-bending hybrid works that combine memoir, fiction, essays, and poetry. Curtis Bauer (“American Selfie”) is a poet and also a translator whose recent translation of Jeanette Clarion’s Image of Absence won the International Latino Book Award for Best Nonfiction Book Translation from Spanish to English. Shena McAuliffe (“The Good Echo”) has recently published both a novel and a collection of lyric essays.  

Cornell M.F.A. Faculty Director Glenn Freeman says he is excited by the way these writers will challenge students to open their work to new possibilities. 

“The faculty members have diverse styles and approaches to writing and teaching. Because of this, students will have the opportunity to work with a variety of writing approaches throughout the program, which will be rigorous but supportive,” Freeman said. “Between the faculty we have and the visitors we’re bringing in, every residency will provide an eclectic experience.”

Guest artists for the first M.F.A. residency include Amaud Jamaul Johnson (“Imperial Liquor”), Rachel Swearingen (“How to Walk on Water”), Patrick Rosal (“Brooklyn Antediluvian”), Jay Baron Nicorvo (“The Standard Grand”), and Thisbe Nissen (“Our Lady of the Prairie”). They will hold public Zoom readings and talks with the community along with specialized Zoom events for students of the program. 

The pandemic is preventing students from moving to campus for their first of five residencies throughout the two-year program, but the visiting faculty writers are excited to get started online. Freeman says Cornell’s M.F.A. is unique because it offers concentrations that most low-residency programs don’t have. While some students will work on a traditional creative thesis during the second half of the M.F.A., others may develop projects that focus entirely on future career goals.

“If someone is interested in teaching, they can do a project, a semester’s work, on teaching creative writing. If they are interested in publishing, they can do a project or an internship in publishing,” Freeman said. “They can build their program around their career interests.”

The M.F.A. program kicks off on Dec. 30 with an online reading by Steven Dunn and Lily Hoang.

Because the first residency of the program will happen online, organizers are working on plans to build in social events like Zoom happy hours and student-led discussions to create a supportive artistic community. 

Students can request more information about the program at The program accepts applications on a rolling basis for admission in either the fall or spring residency of each year.

Residency Dates:

  • Dec. 30, 2020–Jan. 7, 2021 (online)
  • July 1–9, 2021
  • Dec. 30, 2021–Jan. 7, 2022
  • July 1–9, 2022
  • Dec. 30, 2022–Jan. 7, 2023

The launch of the M.F.A. program is supported through generous donations made by Michael Conklin ՚69, a former Chicago Tribune writer, and his wife Honorary Alumna Diane Conklin; Margaret “Peg” Sellen Dana ՚73, retired AVP of Operations at ACT in Iowa City and the widow of Professor Emeritus of English Robert P. Dana, a two-term poet laureate of Iowa; and Mary Geisinger Nakayama ՚65, a writer of children’s literature. 

Cornell originally planned to start this program in the summer of 2020. Due to the pandemic, the first residency was canceled.