Frequently Asked Questions about the MFA Program

Who are your program faculty?

Our award-winning faculty (Christopher Coake, David Anthony Durham, Steve Gehrke, Sarah (S.M.) Hulse, Ann Keniston, and Gailmarie Pahmeier) publish fiction and poetry nationally and internationally, across a range of genres and styles - but we are also accessible, committed to mentorship and the fostering of a program that supports and encourages its students.

Here are links to each faculty member's bio and contact information:

Every year, we also bring a number of readers, guest instructors, and short residency writers to the University, via our own resources and those of the Las Vegas-based Black Mountain Institute.

Guest instructors and short residency writers have included Saladin Ahmed, Gayle Brandeis, Manuel Gonzales, David Lee, Patricia Smith, Jared Stanley, Justin Torres, Srikanth Reddy, and Robert Wrigley. Visiting readers have included Lesley Nneka Arimah, Andrew Bourelle, Joseph Cassara, Chen Chen, Lisa Ko, Catherine Lacey, Lori Rader-Day, Danez Smith, David Treuer, and others.

What is Reno like?

Reno's weird and great. With a metro population of 425,000, the city sits at 4,300 feet above sea level on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, only miles the California border. We're two hours from Sacramento and four hours from San Francisco. The high desert climate in Reno is ideal - living here means crisp mornings, sunny and sometimes breezy days, clear and cool evenings, and starry nights. The seasons are distinct and rarely harsh. Reno offers nearly endless opportunity for outdoor adventure - Lake Tahoe and its ski resorts are only 40 minutes away, and 80% of Nevada consists of wild, public land-as well as the lifestyle and culture you'd expect from a large college town located in the city nearest to the Black Rock Desert and Burning Man.

(Also, we're located about 450 miles from Las Vegas.)

Reno's literary arts community in particular is vibrant, growing, and focused on charitable work, and the University's MFA program is a major part of it. We have participated in (and volunteered in helping run) Nevada Humanities' annual Literary Crawl every fall; we've also offered creative writing workshops at the Holland Project, a local youth-arts center. Our students have organized public readings to benefit local organizations and communities in need; these readings have been readily hosted at West Street Market, Sundance Books and Music (Reno's 30+-year-old independent bookstore), and at a number of local bars. Every summer the program administers and teachers the Youth Writing Program, which brings 30+ local high school students to our campus for a week of creative writing instruction and practice.

You say your program is friendly to writers of genre fiction. What does that mean, exactly? If I’m not a genre fiction writer, can I still apply?

We on the faculty value good, literary fiction regardless of subject matter. In other words, we don't care if a student is writing psychological-realist fiction set at a dinner table in contemporary Sacramento, or a space opera set on board a giant colony ship bound for uncharted space, or a YA novel set in revolutionary France. What we care about is whether these stories are told with a full command of all the tools of fiction writing, and whether those stories are trying in some way to innovate, even within the boundaries of a genre. We on the faculty write a wide range of material, and read even more widely; we're prepared to help a student work on just about any type of fiction, provided the student wants help, and is prepared to push their work into places it hasn't yet been.

We like to describe our ideal fiction workshop this way: imagine Alice Munro, Octavia Butler, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ted Chiang, Tobias Wolff, and Madeleine L'Engle as aspiring, unpublished writers, sitting at the same table, trading ideas and exchanging manuscripts.

What type of student funding is offered?

We are able to offer teaching assistantships to most of our incoming students on a competitive basis. At present, a teaching assistantship for MFAs provides a yearly stipend of $16,000, a waiver of 9 credits of tuition per semester, and health insurance.

Students who are not offered TAs can in many cases teach courses in the department or in Core Humanities on a Letter of Appointment (LOA); students on LOA are paid $3000.00 per course, and also are able to waive a credit's worth of tuition for every credit taught (up to a maximum of 12). Other opportunities (such as applying to work in the university Writing Center) are available to non-TA students as well. Students not on TA have successfully applied for TA lines that come available in later semesters/years, especially if they've established a good record of LOA teaching.

Are there opportunities for MFA students to work with magazines, presses, or other publications?

Our MFA program does not have an associated journal; rather, we have entered into a partnership with Reno-based Baobab Press (which is run by Sundance Books and Music downtown). We just finished working with Baobab on an anthology of short stories set in the American West; the press hopes in the future to work with students in our program on additional anthologies featuring poetry as well as fiction. University MFA students helped select works for the anthology, solicited work from established authors, and helped copyedit some of the stories for print. Our students will also be able to work with the University's Black Rock Press on upcoming letterpress projects in poetry.

MFA students are required to take ENG 710 during their pursuit of the degree. This class - Literary Editing and Publishing - allows students to speak with a number of publishing industry professionals (agents and editors) who visit the class or speak via Skype. Our students have also received elective credit for taking internships with the University of Nevada Press, which is housed on campus.

What is the composition of students of the MFA program?

Our program is small(ish); we will almost always have between 20-25 students pursuing the degree at any one time. We seek to have as diverse an MFA program as possible; several students of color have been admitted to the program, and many LGBTQ+ students as well.

MFA students share office space and take courses with the Ph.D. and M.A. candidates in English; we encourage MFAs to consider these students as part of their cohort, and vice versa.

What resources are there to support POC? LGBTQ+ folks? Students with disabilities?

The University maintains and supports a number of organizations for students of color and for LGBTQ+ students.

Find out more about support for students with disabilities at the Disability Resource Center.

How many applicants are accepted each year?

Between 6-10. Ideally each incoming class would be split equally between fiction writers and poets, but this is not always possible, depending on who accepts our offers. We tend to scale the size of each incoming class to the number of TA lines we hope to be able to offer to accepted students.

There’s a course in anthropology/psychology/education/another department that would help my writing. Can I take it?

Yes! Our program requires students to take an elective from another department before graduating. This course should be one that is helpful to the thesis the student is trying to write. (For instance, several of our students working on fantasy novels took courses from anthropology, which helped them with the nuances of worldbuilding.)

Can I do the GRI (Gender, Race, and Identity) certificate while in the program?

Absolutely, and many of our MFAs have. Find out more about the GRI certificate. GRI also offers a number of seminars that MFA students have chosen to use as an out-of-department elective.

What is the estimated cost (fees, books, etc.) for the first semester? What can I expect to pay in rent?

The University helps students estimate costs online.

Rent in Reno can fluctuate greatly depending on the state of the economy. The University does offer affordable graduate housing on campus, at Ponderosa Village.

We also make an effort to put incoming students in contact with English department graduate students who are looking for roommates.

What classes will I be expected to take the first semester/year?

We advise MFAs to do four "things" per semester; we define a "thing" as one class taken or one class taught. As almost all of our students teach a 1/2 load (i.e., teaching 1 class in fall, and 2 in spring), that leaves room for taking 3 classes each fall, and 2 each spring. (Some students take more, but this should only be done in consultation with a student's faculty advisor).

In a student's initial semester, their schedule will almost always be determined for them. Students who teach composition must take ENG 737: Teaching College Composition; incoming MFAs must also take ENG 711: Introduction to Graduate Study. In addition, students will be taking a workshop in their area of specialization (ENG 705 for fiction writers, and ENG 709 for poets). Students will have a greater choice of courses in their second and later semesters.

What will my teaching responsibilities be?

Students on TA or LOA will almost always be assigned courses in Core Writing (usually ENG 101 or ENG 102). In later semesters a student can request to teach in the Core Humanities program; some sections of ENG 205: Introduction to Creative Writing, are also available to MFAs yearly, on a competitive basis.

Read more about Core Writing classes.

Read more about Core Humanities classes.

What support is there for new instructors?

As mentioned above, our new teachers must take ENG 737 in their first semester; this course provides students with information and practice in designing and teaching the core writing classes. New teachers are also required to attend an orientation at the end of the summer before the first semester begins; this orientation helps new teachers prepare course syllabi. New teachers are also assigned mentors from among the experienced composition faculty; these mentors observe classes and offer helpful feedback.

What can I do with an MFA?

The MFA is a terminal degree; it qualifies holders to apply for many teaching jobs at colleges and universities. Not everyone seeking the degree wants such a position, however. People with MFAs work in publishing, in marketing and PR, in politics, in nonprofit and advocacy jobs, in law, and elsewhere.

We're a new(ish) program, but already we've seen our alums publish work widely in a variety of good journals. Recent alums have also secured agents, and one has found tenure-track employment.

Find out more of what University of Nevada, Reno MFAs have been up to.

Can I visit a class or speak to a current student or recent alum about their experience in the program?

Absolutely! Please contact the MFA Director (Christopher Coake, at cjcoake@unr.edu), and he'll be happy to put you in touch with students, faculty, and/or alums. Class visits can be arranged as well.