Studying the MLitt in Creative Writing (Prose and Poetry)
Creative writing has thrived at St Andrews since Douglas Dunn set up the MLitt degree in 1993. Since then, many alumni have gone on to publish prize-winning literary fiction and poetry, in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, while staff have won a wide range of national and international awards and prizes.
The aim of the programme is to provide intensive critical and creative study in either poetry or prose (in a variety of forms) with an emphasis on the study of recent and contemporary writing, and to encourage the development of students' original work.
Applicants should be adept at academic study as well as their own writing, and will be taught by published poets and writers of fiction who are thoroughly familiar with all the problems, pressures and pleasures of writing.
Students may choose to convert their degree to the MFA and study for a second year (assuming that they have achieved satisfactory progress in the MLitt coursework).
Students undertake a compulsory module in Research Skills for Creative Writers, which emphasises their professional development as writers, and will contain practical advice on research, library resources, editing, publishing, agencies, literary journalism and making a living.
Student will also take core modules in either poetry or prose:
Poetry in St Andrews has a long and noble tradition, stretching back to the medieval Scots makars. Students will be encouraged to engage with this most subversive of literary forms, one which has long been central to the work of the School.
The diversity of teaching approaches reflects the School’s belief that poetry is a passionate art, one in which individualism should be especially prized: it should not be taught in a one-size-fits-all way.
In the core modules, resident poets teach the composition of poetry through:
- technical seminars
- group workshops where students learn to hone their critical and editorial skills
- one-to-one tutorials, which will encourage students to find ways of working that best suit their individual temperament and talent.
Teaching staff pride themselves on not always agreeing with each other, subscribing to the belief that good art does not necessarily mean critical consensus. However, all believe in an apprenticeship which acknowledges the central importance of reading, of the poet’s understanding of their own place within poetry’s long tradition, and of meticulous and energetic practice.
The School seeks to reflect the broad church of contemporary poetry from the traditional to the experimental, and has no ‘house style’.
Teaching staff believe that the academic and the creative are entirely compatible, and students are encouraged to take advantage of the research environment of the School and pursue any discipline or methodology they may find useful, from the literary-critical and the linguistic to the neuroscientific.
Teaching staff also see poetry as a public art. Poets are encouraged to ‘anticipate the condition of publication’, and see their work through the eyes of a reader – and indeed actively seek those readers out, through both publication and performance.
The prose writing strand of the MLitt in Creative Writing offers grounding and support in a range of prose composition skills, including:
- short stories
- journalistic and feature writing
- various forms of creative non-fiction, including life-writing-based explorations of place, history and the nature of art.
Teaching staff pride themselves in providing a research and writing climate that allows students to pursue their chosen branch of this rich craft – and their philosophical, political and artistic ideas – to the fullest.
In practice, the programme offers a disciplined framework for development without pushing students into forms, genres or methods of composition that feel unnatural. Most of all, a serious, professional, playful and generous critical environment is encouraged, in which students test ideas, first lines of dialogue, fresh intimations of character or drama with peers.
In Semester 2, students will continue with a second core module in their chosen genre, taking either poetry or prose, where the topics raised in Semester 1 will be explored in greater technical depth. Greater focus will be brought to bear on the creative and compositional approaches that will shape the student’s dissertation project.
The MLitt concludes with the submission of a dissertation, which takes the form of an extended piece of original writing. If their performance has been satisfactory in the taught component of the course, students will submit this creative dissertation over the summer; it will consist of either 15,000 words of prose or around 20 pages of poetry. One-to-one supervision will be also available during this period.