Skip to contentSkip to navigation


MFA Program in Creative Writing

Located in the heart of California, the Fresno State MFA Program is home to The Normal School literary magazine, the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry book contest, and lots of Fresno writers.

The Creative Writing Program enjoys a long history of literary excellence at Fresno State, dating to the late 1950s. Our Master of Fine Arts program was founded in 1995, and it features advanced training in the study of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction.

About the Program

We combine studio and academic approaches in a substantial 54-unit degree program, providing students with critical workshop experience and a solid background in literature. We feel the best education for the artist includes learning the history and traditions of the discipline, training in the theoretical and formal approaches to the profession, and practicing the craft of writing with extensive peer and faculty critique.

Our small and intensive writing workshops are taught by acclaimed poets and prose writers, who work closely with individual writers. Students are required to give a thesis defense reading of their own work at the end of their program. We expect a lot of our students, and we try to give them all the help they need to accomplish it. Financial assistance is available to qualified students, and most funding and job opportunities are competitive.

The soul of the Creative Writing Program is its award-winning faculty, whose writing and commitment to teaching drive the program's ability to attract the best students from across the nation and beyond. Our faculty are actively publishing, including books with small presses, university presses, and major publishing houses. They foster the growth of a vital community of writers, through a variety of experiences that help the emerging writer embark on a successful writing life.

Student Opportunities

Our program offers multiple opportunities for students to get actively and professionally involved in literary publishing, and we offer many opportunities for students to participate in all aspects of literary events programming.

Students are encouraged to enroll in our Practicum in Literary Arts course, where they serve on the editorial staff of our nationally distributed literary magazine, The Normal School. They can also enroll in our Literary Editing and Publishing course, where they serve as editorial staff for the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry, our national poetry book contest co-sponsored by Anhinga Press. Our students also make up the editorial board of our university's literary journal, The San Joaquin Review, which was established by our English Department in 1963.

Our program brings prominent visiting writers of all kinds to campus each year through dozens of events, which include readings, craft talks, workshop visits, and more. These events include the annual Young Writers' Conference, where our students serve as organizers, workshop leaders, and editors of the conference's youth journal, Spectrum. It also includes the decades-old Fresno Poets' Association reading series, which features both poets and prose writers. Many also take part in events and projects organized by our student groups, such as the Chicanx Writers and Artists Association, the San Joaquin Literary Association, and others.

Literary Community

Our university has enjoyed a thriving graduate Creative Writing Program for more than forty years. The M.A. option was directed for many years by the late poet Philip Levine, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. poet laureate, and later by poet C.G. Hanzlicek, who supervised the program’s transition from M.A. to MFA in 1996.

Alumni from the program’s earlier days include such distinguished writers as Sherley Anne Williams, Luis Omar Salinas, David St. John, Larry Levis, Roberta Spear, Lawson Fusao Inada, Kathy Fagan, Gary Soto, Ernesto Trejo, and many more.

The rich literary culture in California’s Central Valley is well known because Fresno was the home of William Saroyan, and it was the home of Philip Levine until his death in 2015. A wide variety of literary events happen regularly at coffeehouses, bookstores, and art galleries around town, and several excellent anthologies have focused exclusively on the work of this region's writers, many of whom are former or current students and faculty of the program.

What our MFA students seem to appreciate the most is the supportive atmosphere of Fresno. This is a place where writers meet the friends and the literary community they will have for a lifetime. Soul Vang, a recent MFA graduate in poetry, says about his experience here: “We were a family. The writing workshops were places we could open up and share ourselves without fear of unjust criticism, rejection, or pettiness. My poetry was born in this loving and creative environment.”