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Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Department of English

Department of English

Graduate Programs

PhD in English—Creative Writing

The Creative Writing Program offers a challenging intellectual experience with most of the same requirements as the Literary Studies PhD. There are two principal differences:

  • The dissertation is a body of creative work with a short critical preface or afterword (more below).The coursework includes four workshops over a three-year period (with one of those workshops out of the writer's genre).
  • This is not a studio program. Workshops do not occur nearly as often they do in an MFA program. But everything students do during their coursework tends to interact with their writing.

The preface or afterword of the creative dissertation is a critical essay of approximately 25 pages, which may cover any subject reasonably connected to but not directly engaging the creative work of the candidate, such as a group of writings, a genre, a school of writers, a historical theme, theory, style or diction. This will be an exercise in publishable literary criticism or a more informal literary essay, which demonstrates the candidate's professional maturity.

An Environment for Writers

We offer an environment for writers who are also serious and cross-disciplinary readers. We believe writers are enriched by a heady diet of great literature in conjunction with philosophy, history, critical and aesthetic theory, anthropology, art history, and the history of science. We teach students to read constantly, think hard, but only rarely to self-consciously put that reading and thinking into their writing. Instead we believe it is the mind behind the work that is altered and will in turn eventually alter the writing.

The deadline for applications to the Creative Writing program is January 1.

More about the Creative Writing Program—Just for PhD Students

Poets and Writers recently ranked our program the top Creative Writing PhD in the country.  Read about it here.

DU's program in creative writing is one of the only writing programs in the country that focuses exclusively on doctoral study. All of the University of Denver's graduate students in Creative Writing are PhD students. We do not offer an MA in creative writing. We have never had an MFA.

At other creative writing doctoral programs, MFA and MA students generally outnumber creative writing PhD students in workshops. We pitch our workshops and other courses to the sophisticated levels of students who have done an MA or MFA in creative writing elsewhere.

The doctoral program in creative writing at the University of Denver resembles a pure mathematics or philosophy PhD. Our students do a good deal of hard critical reading and research, and some of them write and publish traditional literary critical works. But we also prepare them as writers, just as a philosophy program prepares philosophers, people who think and apply their historical knowledge to contemporary problems. Our PhD is a theoretical doctorate, an experience that builds creative thinking.

Education and Experimentation

At DU, two-thirds of the graduate students in the English Department are in creative writing. Creative writing, literature, and rhetoric and theory students all work closely together in courses and on other projects. We believe that the experience of writing is crucial to a profound appreciation of literature and theory.

We encourage students to regard genre in an open way, to experiment with hybrid genres, and to create new ones. We concentrate on writing first and categories later. We do workshops in cross-genre writing, travel writing, translation, book reviews, and prose poetry, as well as poetry and fiction.

The faculty regards the old workshop model as outmoded. All of our workshops integrate literature and writing, and we believe that all writing is creative writing. Incoming students are required to take their first fall workshop in the genre they applied to the program, but after that course, they can take any kind of workshop they wish (including translation, travel writing, hybrid writing, memoir, and nonfiction workshops, as well as poetry and fiction workshops).

Attracting Talented Writers

Our program has about twenty writers at any one time, and it offers an intimate writing community as well as a bracing academic experience. We are able to hand-pick students from a highly competitive pool of applicants, selecting six or seven strong and committed writers each year to become teaching fellows (we do not accept anyone without a teaching fellowship).

Ph.D. in English — Creative Writing

  • 90 hours of course credit (total) needed to graduate.
  • 48 hours of foundational coursework must be in formal 4.0 credit English Department Classes (excluding ENGL 4100, ENGL 4120, ENGL 5995, and non-ENGL courses [cognates]). The First-Year GTA Professional Development Sequence (see below) contributes to these 48 hours.
  • 5 courses (20 hours) distributed over three periods of literary study: before 1700; 1700–1900; and after 1900. Students must take at least one course in one period and at least two courses in the other two periods. In trans-historical courses, the approved emphasis for a student's work in the class may determine the appropriate time period designation toward satisfying this program's requirements.
  • Beyond the required periods of literary study, creative writing students must take three 4.0 credit English Department writing workshops –two in the genre of their specialization and one in another genre (12 credits total).
  • After completing 60 credits, including the 48 hours of foundational coursework, by the end of year two, PhD students take comprehensive examinations during Fall Quarter of their third year of study.
  • For the remaining credits (beyond the foundational 48) needed to graduate, doctoral students may take a combination of regular 4.0 classes, or tutorials, or cognates, or independent research hours. However, these limitations also apply: 8 hours maximum for cognates, 10 hours maximum for tutorials (ENGL 4100), and 32 hours maximum for
  • independent research (ENGL 5995).
  • No single course may satisfy more than one requirement.

Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) Professional Development Sequence

During Fall Quarter, all first-year Writing Center GTAs will take ENGL 4830 Section 1, Teaching and Writing Literature, as a 2.0 credit course. During Winter Quarter, all first-year ENGL GTAs and Writing Center GTAs will register for a 4.0 credit course on The Critical Imagination. All of the above first-year GTA credits will count toward the required 48 hours of foundational ENGL coursework within the total 90 hours of credits needed to graduate.

Further Graduate Information

Graduate Program Information

For more information, please contact Aja Murray, AHSS Student Services Coordinator, at aja.murray@du.edu or 303-871-2249.