In the July issue of Atlantic Monthly, writer Edward J. Delaney recently named the Vermont College of Fine Arts of Union Institute & University (VCFA) Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program among the strongest low-residency MFA programs in the United States. The program shares its title with four other creative writing programs, including those at Bennington College, Pacific University, Antioch University, and Warren Wilson College.Delaney, author of The Drowning and Other Stories, visited 30 creative writing programs to interview faculty, students, and alumni. The ranking process did not come easily, he notes, as graduate-level creative writing programs have blossomed in the past few decades, growing from about 50 in the 1970s to nearly 300 programs in 2007. Delaney based his decisions upon whether or not programs demonstrated “strong reputations, strong teachers, a unique personality, or…innovation in the classroom.”
The VCFA Master of Fine Arts in Writing exhibited all those qualities and more. Established in 1981, the program was one of the first low-residency programs to offer writers the opportunity to earn an MFA degree through study with accomplished authors and teachers while keeping their commitments to communities, families, and careers. Delaney views the low-residency program as “a wonderful opportunity” for sage or beginning writers to “honor the writing that they otherwise do quietly after work or early in the morning.” In this way, writing becomes not only part of a student’s academic work, but part of his or her daily life.
Beyond the structure of the program or its innovation, Delaney notes that strong teachers are the most vital component to any successful writing program. Noted for its ability to attract nationally known scholars and practitioners, the VCFA writing program emphasizes that faculty balance teaching the craft of writing with their own artistic ventures. Their talents are continually recognized in the literary community with national honors, including the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, Pushcart Prizes, and a Pulitzer Prize nomination. According to Louise Crowley, administrative director of the VCFA Master of Fine Arts in Writing Program, “Excellence and total dedication of our faculty is a highlight of our program that makes it one of the best in the nation; we have managed to assemble the finest group of faculty you could find anywhere.”