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The Creative Writing Major

English Course Listings
English Course Listing

The Creative Writing Major is an undergraduate concentration within the English Department at Northwestern University and one of the first and finest undergraduate Creative Writing programs in the country. Its reputation is based on the accomplishments of its graduates, the generosity of its accomplished professors, and a pedagogy that creates a fruitful symbiosis between close reading and inventive writing. Award-winning authors teach poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction, as well as courses that cross genres, guiding students to examine literary works as writers and encouraging them to study the best literary models. Professors and students work in a close-knit community as they write their own stories, novellas, poems and essays within the living tradition of literature.

Most Creative Writing Majors begin taking creative writing courses in their sophomore year and complete the yearlong “sequence” of study during their junior year, and some have the opportunity to complete an additional honors project before graduation (see Recommended Schedule for Prospective Writing Majors below). Students also learn from prominent visiting writers at our annual Festival of Writing in the Spring.  Recent graduates of the program include MacArthur “Genius” Award Winner Karen Russell; Veronica Roth, whose bestselling novel “Divergent” was first drafted while she was a student; poet Peter Kline; and award-winning essayist Angela Mears.

Current Creative Writing faculty include Chris AbaniBrian Bouldrey, John Bresland, Averill Curdy, Sheila Donohue, Reginald Gibbons, Juan Martinez, Shauna Seliy, Charif ShanahanNatasha Trethewey, Daisy Hernándezand Rachel Jamison Webster.

The Creative Writing program also offers two minors; the Sequence-based Minor and, for those not pursuing one of the year-long sequences, the non-application based Cross-genre Minor in Creative Writing.

See past and upcoming Creative Writing events.

Undergraduate publication opportunities

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Recommended Schedule for Prospective Writing Majors

Courses for Prospective Creative Writing Majors, in a recommended order.

*Denotes courses that are REQUIRED for the Creative Writing Major

ENG 202-Introduction to Creative Writing

(can be taken in Fall quarter of Freshman year. This provides an introduction to all three genres and prepares you for our other CW courses.)

ENG 210-1,2 - English Literary Traditions     
ENG 270-1,2 - American Literary Traditions

(While not required for creative writing, these are excellent background courses for writing students, and also serve as prerequisites for the English literature major.)

*ENG 206 - Reading and Writing Poetry

*ENG 207 - Reading and Writing Fiction   

*ENG 208 - Reading & Writing Creative Nonfiction

(You may take 206, 207, or 208 in any order.  You should have taken or be enrolled in any one of these when you're applying.)

Students may apply to the Creative Writing Program in the Spring of your Sophomore Year or in the Spring of your Junior Year.

Click here to apply. Applications close April 29th, 2024 at 11:59pm. 

Some students fulfill their requirements--of 206, 207 and 208--well before the time of application to the program. If that happens, we recommend that you stay in writing practice and continue building your portfolio by taking one of our 300-level writing courses, English 306, 307, 308, or 309. Please see Juan Martinez, Director of Creative Writing, for further suggestions and help with course planning.

Initial Required Courses

All students interested in the Creative Writing Major must take one introductory course--poetry (ENG 206), fiction (207), or creative nonfiction (208)--and at least be enrolled in another before applying to the major. Students can only apply to the major in any genre for which they've completed (or are enrolled) in its 200-level component; you can only apply for poetry after having taken or enrolling in ENG 206, for fiction after ENG 207, for creative nonfiction after ENG 208.

At the 200-level, no prior knowledge of a genre is required to enroll.


  1. No English Department creative writing course may be audited or taken pass/fail.
  2. School of Professional Studies courses offered under the titles ENG 206, 207 and 208 do not count toward any course of study within the Creative Writing program.

Admission to the Program

Admission to the next stage of the Creative Writing Major or the Sequence-based Minor in Creative Writing, the year-long 300-level advanced course sequences, is competitive. Admission to the program is granted primarily on the basis of manuscript quality and the student’s promise. An applicant may be admitted to study as a major, a minor, or a sequence-only student.

For fiction and nonfiction applications, your writing sample should be 7-15 pages.

For poetry applications, your writing sample should be 4-5 poems.

No preference in admission is currently given to those who apply to the sequences, though there are later opportunities open only to Creative Writing Majors, including participation in senior honors, one-on-one conferences with visiting writers-in-residence, and the winter senior readings series.  Students may apply for admission to the sequence courses no earlier than the spring of their sophomore year.   

Click here to apply. Applications close April 29th, 2024 at 11:59pm.

The Sequences

Theory and Practice of Poetry (ENG 393), Fiction (394), and Creative Nonfiction (395):

These year-long sequences of courses ask students to pursue a rigorous program that includes explication and critical writing, imitation and modeling, close reading of literary texts, and the creation of original creative work. The sequences are arranged in three consecutive quarters.

They begin in the fall with specialized courses in the fundamental technical and rhetorical bases of each genre. Poetry students study the uses of metaphor and mode, and the theory of prosody (including both the major form of poetry in English-accentual-syllabic verse-and the minor forms, accentual, syllabic, and free verse). Fiction students consider the tenets of realism and its alternatives, and practice different approaches to style, characterization, structure, and point of view. Creative nonfiction students focus on essay forms, logical method, authorial tone, and techniques of discourse and description. In all genres, imitations and models of great writers are assigned.

The second half of the sequence in each genre is devoted to intensive writing of a longer original work-a poem of at least 120 lines or an essay or novella of 25 to 35 pages.

Note that in the event further work in fiction, creative nonfiction or poetry is desired outside the year-long sequence, ENG 206, 207, and 208 may be repeated up to two times for WCAS credit. Advanced one-quarter courses in creative writing (ENG 306, 307, 308, 309) are also offered for non-majors.

The application is available here. Applications will close on April 29th at 11:59pm.

Other Required Courses for MAJOR Students

In addition to the sequences, creative writing majors must take:

ENG 392 - The Situation of Writing

“The Situation of Writing,” which is typically offered in the winter quarter, investigates the writer’s relation to the culture, both currently and historically. The course addresses such questions as the relation of criticism to imaginative literature, the rise and fall of specific literary genres, the effect of the university on the production and consumption of literary works, the state of the publishing industry, and international literary contexts.

The “Third-Genre Intro” Course 

English 207 or 208, whichever introductory course was not completed before application to the sequences. This requirement ensures that writing majors will have had experience reading and writing in all three major non-dramatic modes of imaginative writing.

Six 300-level literature classes

These courses must be “pure literature”; that is, courses in which the bulk of the reading is literature and not criticism or theory. They must be selected from English Department offerings ONLY:

  • Two on material written prior to 1830
  • Two on material written after 1830
  • Two from either period

Two non-literature courses related to one another, taught in other department(s).

These courses, in areas such as history, art, classics, and gender studies, broaden the student’s background for the study of literature. These must be approved by a creative writing advisor.

Other Required Courses for Sequence-Based MINOR students

In addition to the sequences, creative writing sequence-based minors must take:

Two 300-level literature classes

These courses must be “pure literature”; that is, courses in which the bulk of the reading is literature and not criticism or theory. They must be selected from English Department offerings ONLY:

  • One on material written prior to 1830
  • One on material written after 1830

The Cross-genre Minor in Creative Writing

Students not pursuing a creative writing minor through one of the year-long sequences have a way to minor in writing that provides advanced training in a core genre as well as opening up the curriculum to the crossing of genres.

There will be a variety of courses to choose from, as well as one-term core genre workshops at the advanced level offered by faculty in the English Department.

Other Program Features

The Annual Writers Festival gives students the chance to learn from and interact with guest Writers-in-Residence for a three-day celebration of master classes, public readings, and a panel discussion on craft. The festival is situated within the larger Evanston Literary Festival, which hosts a number of literary events throughout the city.

Writing by students at Northwestern is recognized by the award-winning student literary magazine, Helicon, and by the Department of English Annual Writing Competition, held in the spring.

Creative Writing Alumni Testimonials

“The first story I wrote at Northwestern had all these crazy car accidents and things.  I learned how to quiet down, how to write clearly and how to construct stories that were subtle and not so heavy-handed.  And I loved hanging with the other writers in the program.  You can't write a book without getting feedback, because you're too close to the work.”

-- Veronica Roth, author of the bestselling Divergent series

“I still believe our program at Northwestern is as good as any graduate program in the country. It was nice to have the opportunity when I was 19 to spend so much time reading and writing with these other writers. There was such a serious sense of purpose. That’s a testament to Brian and Sheila and the rest of the faculty. They really could create a community.”
--Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and winner of a MacArthur Genius Award.

“As a Creative Nonfiction student in the Creative Writing program, I was pushed hard -- by my professors and fellow writers -- to find my voice. Not just my voice as a writer, but as a person and advocate of my life and experiences. More than anything else, I learned that I am still learning. I am still finding that voice, and always will be. I learned that this fact is okay, it is right, it is what makes me write.”  
--Danielle Littman, 2013 graduate.

"We're not just educating people for professional tracks; we're educating them for their lives."
--Professor Mary Kinzie, Founder of the Creative Writing Program and award-winning poet.