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Creative Writing Mfa Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students (Revised & Updated) [Paperback]

by Tom Kealey
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 15, 2008 082642886X 978-0826428868 Revised and Updated Edition
Revised and Updated!

The Creative Writing MFA Handbook guides prospective graduate students through the difficult process of researching, applying to, and choosing graduate schools in creative writing. The handbook includes profiles of fifty creative writing programs, guidance through the application process, advice from current professors and students including George Saunders, Aimee Bender, Tracy K. Smith, and Geoffrey Wolff, and the most comprehensive listings of graduate writing programs in and outside the United States. The handbook also includes special sections about Low-Residency writing programs, Ph.D. programs, publishing in literary journals, and workshop and teaching advice. In a remarkably concise, user-friendly fashion, The Creative Writing MFA Handbook answers as many questions as possible, and is packed with information, advice, and experience. This second edition updates and builds upon the first edition, which was published in 2005 to great acclaim and contains a vastly expanded ranking of current creative writing programs.

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Creative Writing Mfa Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students (Revised & Updated) + The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students + Portable MFA in Creative Writing
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Editorial Reviews


"When Walt Whitman, a real fan of know-how, said, "To have great poets, there must be great audiences too," he was looking the world in the face: artists and audiences have merged, and one of the first stops on their way to school is the MFA Handbook: it shows the huge range of aesthetic choices open to any young writer who wants to try to become a better writer, a better reader." - Tom Sleigh, Director of the Hunter College MFA

Mention —Book News, February 2009

Mention –Book News, February 2009

About the Author

Tom Kealey graduated from the MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Massachusetts in 2001, and afterwards he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in fiction at Stanford University. He currently teaches at Stanford. He has been in many, many writing workshops, both as a student and as a teacher. At the University of Massachusetts he was the recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award. You can read more about Kealey on his blog:

Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic; Revised and Updated Edition edition (November 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 082642886X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826428868
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #338,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tom Kealey is the author of the Flannery O'Connor Award winning THIEVES I'VE KNOWN, as well as THE CREATIVE WRITING MFA HANDBOOK. His stories have appeared in Best American Nonrequired Reading, Glimmer Train, Story Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, and the San Francisco Chronicle. His nonfiction has appeared in Poets and Writers and The Writer. He received his MFA in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he received the Distinguished Teaching Award. Tom has taught creative writing at Stanford University since 2003.

More about Tom Kealey at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Definitely worth the money, but not great December 11, 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What I liked about this book: It surveys more programs than Amy Holman's "Insider's Guide..." book, it's concise, it deals majorly with funding (which some people did not appreciate on the reviews, but I'm guessing they're the ones to whom money is not an issue) and it gives some good general advice on the application process.

What I did not like about this book: In his reviews Kealey makes such comments as "easily a top ten school" or "top five program", etc., but does not give clear guidelines as to why. Neither does he give a listing of schools by Top 5, Top 10, etc.. He's entirely too glib and subjective in some of his reviews (I know it's ironic, but a guide to Creative Writing MFA programs should NOT be a creative writing project but a more 'to-the-point' reference work) and the interviews he includes are usually self indulgent and easily skippable stuff with any good advice being entirely generic.

Still, it's one of the two best books on the subject (the other being the Amy Holman book that this is sold in tandem with) and has enough good information (and enough unique from Holman) that in the absence of better guides I recommend its purchase to anybody considering MFA programs.

If Mr. Kealey or Ms. Holman reads this I strongly urge them to revise their works into a more straightforward guide that includes more detailed narrative descriptions of individual programs. The ideal book would also have charts of ranking (along with explanations of the rankings) and cross-reference programs by residency status, length of program (they range from 1 to 3 years, that is a very important consideration), financial aide (one of the strengths of this book), concentration of the program (i.e. "what's a good program for creative non-fiction?" or "good for fiction writers, poet's not so much") and other criteria.
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46 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a note from the author July 2, 2006
I'm the author of the MFA Handbook, and I feel the need to respond to some of the recent reviews posted here. (and I'm sorry this means I have to give my own book *stars*. I would've rather left it unrated, but the Amazon page would not allow that).

First of all, I've put the book out into the world, and I have to take what criticisms come with that. I definitely do. I don't have an "agenda" with the book, but rather I want it to be a roadmap for potential students in the MFA world. As I say in the book: I'm the bus driver. I'm giving a tour of the MFA city. It's important that students use this tour, their own research, and their own criteria in choosing the programs that fit them best. The MFA Handbook is intended to help reduce the stress and confusion inherent in the application process.

It's true that I've made funding an important issue in the book. I don't think it's wise for writers to drop $35,000 a year on a program when there are other options out there. Part of being a writer is living within your means until (and hopefully when) the work begins to pay for itself. An MFA should be, to my mind, two to three years when a writer can focus primarily on her or his work, and not on the bills arriving in the mail. I'm not saying that funding is the only thing. I'm saying it's an important thing.

There is the implication in some of these reviews that the MFA Handbook has led students away from top programs like UC-Irvine, Iowa, and Johns Hopkins, and this is not true. I've given those program all very positive, and hopefully balanced, reviews in the book.

As far as the research in the book goes, I interviewed more than forty professors, program directors, and students.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Resource June 3, 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you only buy one book to research MFA programs, this is it.

I came into this process completely ignorant, and Tom Kealey has brought me up-to-speed in a matter of hours. As a prospective student of a low-residency program, I was impressed with the amount of information he includes for both these and traditional schools.

This book is well-stocked with Q&As and interviews of professors and graduates--truly an insider's guide. Kealey also describes in detail the application process, giving tips on letters of recommendation, personal statements, and so on. But his book doesn't stop there; it also includes a chapter on what to expect once you're in the program--workshops, teaching, public readings, and more.

This book is concise and straight forward, and extremely well-organized. I highly recommend it!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easily the best resource of its kind May 3, 2006
This book is indispensable for anyone considering a writing MFA program. Kealey covers everything that a prospective student should consider: reasons to get an MFA, criteria for choosing programs, how to prepare a strong application (including suggestions for manuscript selection), etc. There's even advice on getting the most out of whatever program you attend, and on your post-MFA options. The treatment of all of this is extremely lucid, and Kealey's tone is casual and easy to read. Most importantly, his descriptions of various residency programs are very thoughtful, with useful information (such as funding levels and program size) that you won't find compiled elsewhere. To the degree that he ranks programs (which isn't complete; he simply mentions on a few schools' profiles that he considers them "top five," "top ten," etc.) his criteria are explicit and clear.

As for the author: Kealey's qualifications are impressive (UMass MFA, Stegner Fellowship, a current teaching position at Stanford), and his dedication even more so -- he runs a blog at, where he is willing to answer any question not addressed by the book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great
Excellent book! A must have for anyone considering a MFA. Wishing there was a little more information regarding applications and the process, but the breakdown of schools is worth... Read more
Published 8 days ago by NIc
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for Prospective MFA Applicants
This is a great book, but I can't imagine it'll be as up to date in a few years, so a new edition would be worthwhile.
Published 4 months ago by Phillip Mandel
4.0 out of 5 stars Helped a lot
Bought this book because I decided to apply to MFA programs with only sixty days left before applications were due. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Meghan Drummond
4.0 out of 5 stars Want too know where to go next?
If you're a serious writer looking for an MFA programme anywhere in the world, this is the book for you.
Published 16 months ago by just mercedes
5.0 out of 5 stars Great
It's a great book. Perfect for organizing your thoughts and advancing in the process of getting your written sample done.
Published 18 months ago by Juan Pablo Gonzalez
4.0 out of 5 stars Wish I'd had this years ago
I wish this guide had existed earlier, but I had a good experience in my MFA program anyway, and that's important to note since they're getting widely trashed. Read more
Published on August 12, 2010 by Lev Raphael
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Resource
Best Guide To Steer and Encourage Your MFA in Writing Application Process. Sound and solid advice and content.
Published on July 26, 2010 by burnetsa
5.0 out of 5 stars So helpful!
I wish I had purchased this book BEFORE I sent in my applications! I greatly appreciated the tier & funding rankings provided by Seth Abramson. Read more
Published on January 24, 2009 by Lia Edo
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Have
Anyone going through the creative writing MFA process must buy this book. I bought it for my daughter who was already into the process and wished I had purchased it earlier. Read more
Published on December 30, 2008 by S. Langhoff
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough and Fun Guide for MFA prospectives
I especially love the section on low-residency MFA's. The chapters are well-organized in easy-to-read Q and A format. Read more
Published on December 20, 2008 by Sarah
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