The AWP Hallmarks of An Effective Undergraduate Program in Creative Writing at a Two-year College

Many community colleges now offer their students concentrations in creative writing, including certificate programs, Associate of Arts Degrees with an emphasis in Creative Writing, and Associate Degrees in Fine Arts. The Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) recognizes that two-year colleges have different strengths and missions, and AWP encourages variety in pedagogy. Among its member programs, however, AWP recognizes common elements of successful community college creative writing programs and classes.

These hallmarks represent a superior two-year program offering a concentration or a degree in creative writing. Many of the hallmarks resemble those of a strong four-year program, but with significant differences. Most two-year colleges have an open-admissions policy and serve a population that is more diverse—economically, socially, racially—and that includes more non-traditional students than average four-year programs.  In addition, community colleges attract students planning to transfer to four-year colleges, students pursuing a terminal Associates Degree, students wishing to take a discrete creative writing course, students taking creative writing for personal enrichment, and MFA applicants editing their portfolios. This diversity requires that individual community colleges have the flexibility to shift their goals as needed for their population.

Because some students may wish to transfer after earning their degrees, the articulation of programs with those of four-year institutions requires a core of general studies and a concentrated focus on literature courses. A wide range of study in literature is particularly crucial in a two-year program, which lays the foundation for further study at the undergraduate and graduate level by teaching reading skills that will enable students to benefit from literary models. In addition, two-year colleges serve many students who require remediation before they are ready for the rigors of literature and creative writing courses. An exemplary two-year program, therefore, should offer extracurricular workshops, clubs, or activities open to developmental students and should emphasize teaching the conventions of written English. Finally, two-year institutions, whether they are based in cities or rural areas, have the potential to become powerful cultural centers. A successful two-year program achieves all of this through various means: through instruction from accomplished writers who are gifted teachers; through a rigorous and diverse curriculum; and through the institution’s extracurricular activities, general assets, and infrastructure.

To help community colleges structure and focus their self-evaluations, long-range plans, or independent assessments of their programs, the AWP Board of Directors has established the following hallmarks.

Rigorous and Diverse Curriculum

  1. Philosophy. The program has an overarching set of values, beliefs, and pedagogy that reflect: (a) the best practices of creative writing programs; (b) an awareness of the needs of its students; and (c) an understanding of the currents of contemporary literature and culture. The program's philosophy is appropriate to its institution's mission and the goals of its strategic plan. The curriculum requires studies that employ this philosophy effectively.

  2. Broad Academic Preparation. Students take courses that provide a broad background in literature, the arts and sciences, and the fine arts.  Literature courses expose students to literary classics from various cultures. Writing classes provide instruction in conventional usage and grammar.

  3. A Tiered Course of Study. A system of prerequisites assures that degree-seeking students take courses in an appropriate order. Introductory creative writing courses clarify critical vocabulary and allow students to understand the elements of prosody or story-telling and develop a common language for discussing texts.  These initial courses are also more likely to require students to work in a variety of forms, styles, modes, and genres.  Intermediate courses are more likely to concentrate on a specific genre and to take the form of a writing workshop.

  4. Practice in More Than One Genre. Because too much specialization too soon is generally not in a beginning writer’s best interest, students in two-year writing programs typically are required to take courses in more than one genre. The best community college programs offer beginning and intermediate courses in at least two separate genres (fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, drama, or screenwriting).

  5. Small Classes. Introductory creative writing courses have class size restrictions of no greater than 20 students. Intermediate courses have class size restrictions of 12 – 15 students. (Optimum workshop class size: 12 students.)

  6. Consistent Course Offerings. Courses are listed in the school’s catalogue and offered regularly so that students may complete the program in a timely manner consistent with other programs at the school.

  7. Literary Models. Creative writing courses, including workshops, require craft texts and literary texts (anthologies, books by individual authors, literary periodicals) that offer appropriate models for student writing.  Courses also include anthologies or other primary works and critical texts.

Accomplished Faculty

  1. Accomplished Writers Who Teach Well. The core faculty is composed of writers who have MFA or Master’s Degrees with a concentration in creative writing and whose work has been published by nationally known, professional journals and presses that are respected by other writers, editors, and publishers.

  2. Stability in Core Faculty. Permanent faculty members—full-time, tenure-track, or tenured—teach a majority of the creative writing courses. 

  3. Diverse Faculty. Faculty members provide depth and expertise in at least two genres as well as a range of aesthetic points of view related to literary, ethnic, cultural, or other influences. The core faculty includes one or more individual members per genre with expertise and a publication history primarily in that genre.

  4. College and Community Service. Faculty members are committed teachers who can teach to a diverse student population, including first-generation college students with little or no exposure to the arts. Faculty members routinely make themselves available to students outside of class and are active in extracurricular activities at the college: bringing local and/or nationally known writers onto campus, serving as advisors to student literary magazines, and taking part in the curricular development of new creative writing courses. They also participate in national, regional, and local organizations and activities related to teaching, literature, and the arts. The criteria for promotion, assignment of classes, and tenure of creative writing faculty focuses on publication of creative work, contributions to the college and greater literary community, and/or demonstrated ability as teachers of creative writing.

  5. Accomplished Visiting Writers. Distinguished visiting writers or adjunct faculty include writers whose credentials equal or surpass the members of the program’s core faculty. Visiting writers will offer public readings as well as workshops in a wide variety of styles, genres, and backgrounds. Readings by visiting authors, faculty, and students should supplement and enrich the creative writing courses offered at the college/university.

Support for Students

  1. Extracurricular Activities. Two-year college students are encouraged to develop their own extracurricular activities, such as clubs, reading series, and magazines.  These projects are funded through the college. Many community colleges also form partnerships with area schools and arts organizations to help fund extracurricular activities and to promote existing literary activities in the community to their students.

  2. A Student Literary Magazine. Where resources allow, students should have the opportunity to edit their own literary magazine with a faculty advisor who guides but does not censor their editorial process.

  3. Remedial Student Involvement. Serving students who lack appropriate academic skills is part of the mission of most community colleges. A creative writing program, therefore, should support students who are interested in creative writing but who are still completing pre-college level English courses by encouraging them to participate in extracurricular activities and to submit work to contests and literary magazines; students enrolled in the creative writing program may serve as their peer mentors.

  4. Service Learning and Vocational Opportunities. Students participate in programs that promote and celebrate literature, writing, and reading in their communities.  When possible, internship and service learning opportunities are available for creative writing students in a variety of writing, editing, and publishing professions.

  5. Strong Recruitment of the Best Students. Financial aid for creative writing students is comparable to the support for students in other departments. Both the institution and the program work in consort to enroll qualified students of different backgrounds, social classes, and races.

  6. A High Student Success Rate. A significant number of students continue their studies in four-year and graduate programs or become active in literary communities and organizations. When appropriate, faculty members help students learn about publishing options.

Administrative Support

  1. Strong Leadership. The AFA Program Director (tenured or tenure – track) provides strong leadership in planning, budgeting, and staffing, advocating the needs of the program to the administration. The director maintains a productive relationship not only with the department that sponsors the program but also with the institution and local community in general.  The Program Director will be given course release time for this work.

  2. Community Connections. The program creates an open atmosphere that invites discussion, collaboration, and diverse cultural and ethnic contributions. Recruitment of students and faculty establishes a strong connection to and reflection of community.

  3. Strong Administrative Support. The administration demonstrates a strong commitment to the program, including but not limited to support for financial resources, salaries, clerical and administrative assistance to the director, and release time for faculty to pursue creative projects. Hiring committees and administrators acknowledge the MFA as an appropriate degree for teaching creative writing, rhetoric, and composition courses. 

  4. Participation in Professional Networks. The program maintains membership in AWP and other appropriate local, regional, and national associations to ensure that its faculty and students have access to timely information relevant to contemporary letters and opportunities in creative writing.

  5. Diligent Quality Control. The Program Director makes sure that students have the opportunity to evaluate their faculty, and the Program Director facilitates regular internal and external evaluations of the program’s effectiveness.

Other Complementary Assets and Infrastructure

  1. Good Infrastructure. Classrooms, offices, and other spaces are adequate to conduct workshops, conferences and readings.

  2. Accessible to All Students. The program provides access to students who might otherwise be unable to pursue their creative writing in a supportive academic environment.

  3. Community Partnerships. The program fosters relationships with its surrounding community, providing students and faculty opportunities to participate in festivals and workshops, forming partnerships with local arts organizations, and doing outreach to other area schools, including secondary schools.

  4. A Good College Library. Faculty and students have access to a good library with extensive holdings in contemporary literature and an adequate budget for adding new titles to those holdings, including new periodicals.

  5. A Computer Lab. Internet access and computer labs contribute to research and training in computer skills, desktop publishing, and Web page design.   Computer labs are open at least 12 hours a day.

  6. Literary Competitions. Students participate in literary competitions, including the national Intro Awards competitions and the AWP Program Director’s Prizes for Undergraduate Literary Magazines.

— The AWP Board of Directors