The department of English and Comparative Literature’s Creative Writing program is – and has long been – among the best in the country. For almost fifty years, thousands of students have come through the program pursuing a minor in Creative Writing. The minor is still available to any and all, but beginning in Fall 2018, we’re happy and proud to be able to also offer the opportunity to pursue a major in English and Comparative Literature (ECL) with a concentration in Creative Writing.
The Creative Writing concentration will have at least five potential tracks: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, musical writing, or, lastly, a combination of all them – probably the most popular track of all.
Choose a Track
The short story has long been the mainstay of American fiction. Our greatest writers have produced some of their greatest work in this genre: from Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allan Poe, to Flannery O’Conner, John Cheever, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Tobias Wolff, George Saunders, and Lorrie Moore. Part of the short story’s power and potential resides in its ability to be so many different things. It’s a literary chameleon, taking on whatever shape the writer cares to – or dares to – bring to it. Its ideal length allows the young writer – and the old writer, for that matter – to learn the elements of storytelling, and then, once skills are acquired, it provides a manageable space in which to experiment and refine.
Fiction workshops at UNC begin with an introductory class, in which the student learns how to use tools and tactics for creating a fictional world. These include clarity of language, plot, character, setting, and how to create conflict and drama that is not predictable, sentimental or dry. In the intermediate and advanced levels, the classes become smaller, and more challenging. A senior pursuing a major concentration or a minor in Creative Writing may apply for the year-long Honors Seminar, during the course of which a short book of approximately 25,000 words is written. Enrollment in any classes beyond the introductory level require instructor and/or program director permission.
In all of our classes we are engaged in what is known as the workshop method. A student’s work is shared with the class; it’s discussed, admired, and diagnosed, re-worked, re-written, re-imagined. What we do in our classes is no different from what every writer does all of her writing life. In other words, there’s a lot of work, some heartache, periodic joy. It can even be fun.
There comes a point when writers create something so good that it surprises everybody, themselves most of all. This is called, variously, inspiration, talent, or the product of a student’s hard work under the direction of wonderful teachers. It may be the product of all these things, but this is something that happens every semester, in all of our classes. Although some would argue that it’s the opposable thumb, moral agency, or the ability to manufacture plastic that makes us human, we believe it’s storytelling; that’s our secret sauce. It’s a craft that, as we learn it, makes us human in ways we never would have imagined possible.
“I too, dislike it,” Marianne Moore begins her poem, “Poetry”: “however . . . if you demand, on the one hand, / the raw material of poetry in / all its rawness and / that which is on the other hand /genuine, you are interested in poetry.” That’s the paradoxical pleasure and mystery of this radically rigorous, deeply joyful, and endlessly shifting genre. The possibility of using words in original ways, as we do our best to get to the heart of the matter, is what brings us to poetry: the personal and the political, the private and the public, the local and the universal merge into a distilled vision of our specific world that, perhaps, has the possibility to change the world at large, a line at a time.
Our classes are laboratories, part workshop and part literature discussion. A rigorous study of poetics informs the intensely collaborative workshop environment where we look at each other’s poems with a keen eye to technical mastery and emotional depth. A poetry workshop—where we focus on the work written by classmates, commenting as helpfully as possible—is a community. We praise and question and always push each other to find the edge of our ability, then move beyond it. Since everyone has likely written a poem at some point, it’s not surprising our classes are filled with students from every part of the university. Curiosity, passion, a love for image and language, an ear for rhythm and movement, and a dedication to hard work bridge the gap between every major. We are as proud of our poets who end up in medical school as we are of those who get into the finest MFA programs in the country, every year.
Whether you end up taking the entire poetry track (Intro, Intermediate, Advanced, and the two-semester senior Honors class) and spend your last year at Carolina writing a full-length book of poems, or take Intro and then keep exploring through Stylistics or other Creative Writing classes, the act of composing and revising poems, and workshopping them together, is a commitment to your voice and your vision, as—in this undergraduates-only program—you discover what you really need to write, and do, and be.
fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, or musical writing courses
This track will focus on the writing and analysis of song lyrics, collaborative songwriting (composer & lyricist teams), musical compositions, plays (with particular emphasis on scripting plays for music, musical revues, and book-musical uses) – in short, an emphasis on songs, music, and scripts intended for various sorts of concert, musical, and theatrical performances.
choose 5 from:
ENGL 490 (in relevant topic)
Memoirs. Travelogues. Lyric Essays. Literary Journalism. Food Writing. Nature Writing. Testimonios. Whether you are conducting an internal excavation or an external investigation, creative nonfiction is your genre.
In this track, we’ll start with an exploration of our own world: our childhoods and our families; our fans and our enemies; our lovers and our friends; our quirks, our fears, our desires. Next, we’ll investigate other worlds. Like roller derbies. Bail bond agencies. Halfway houses, carnivals, funeral parlors. Then we’ll create new worlds by reinterpreting the ordinary as extraordinary—through graphics, lyricism, mosaics, and objects lost and found. Along the way, we’ll read scintillating works that take risks both in content and in form, and then we’ll strive, strive, strive to do the same. In workshop, we will ask: Where is the pulse of this essay? How can it beat louder—or deeper? Should the story follow a classic rise-fall arc or be a fractured narrative with a scrambled chronology? And as we progress through the track, we will discuss ways of feeding ourselves as artists, both figuratively and literally. We will share our motivations and strategize on sustainable ways of funding our practice. For our ultimate goal is to build a community of life-long readers with whom we can continue trading work far after our Greenlaw Hall departure.
So join us. Together, we will be pilgrims wandering the wilderness of memory. Arbiters of the dynamic Fourth Genre. We will elevate life into art. We will write words that matter.
Choose 2 from:
Any courses in ENGL and/or CMPL (excluding first-year seminars)
Among these 10 required courses: no more than 2 can be outside ENGL/CMPL
Contact the Concentration Coordinator: Prof. Stephanie Griest – firstname.lastname@example.org
Mary Pope Osborne
Author of children’s books, including the Magic Tree Series, Class 1971
“Long ago, in a poetry class in the English department at UNC, I gained the confidence to put thoughts and images on a page and share them with others. In that class, I began my love affair with the English language, with the magic and mystery of words. Since then, I’ve published over a hundred children’s books.”