IAIA - Institute of American Indian Arts

MFA in Creative Writing


AWP mfa ad 9-14 copy

The Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing
at the Institute of American Indian Arts


NOTE: The 2015 application deadline for priority consideration has passed. We will, however, continue to accept applications for the waitlist. 

What is a Low Residency MFA Program?

A Low Residency Master of Fine Arts program provides a professional degree in creative writing while allowing you to live at home and continue participating in work, family, and community.

Why at the Institute of American Indian Arts?

We are building on the success of our undergraduate Creative Writing program. Our Bachelor of Fine Arts and Associate of Fine Arts alumni have gone on to graduate from over a dozen graduate programs and have produced over two dozen published books of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and plays.

There are approximately fifty Low Residency MFA Programs in the U.S. The Institute of American Indian Arts’ program is modeled on the most successful of these, with one important difference: IAIA’s mission “to empower creativity and leadership in Native arts and cultures through higher education, lifelong learning, and outreach” means that the program and the literature we read carry a distinct Native American and First Nations emphasis. Over 75% of our faculty mentors are established Native American or First Nations authors. Our program is open to everyone, but the focus will remain aligned with our unique mission.

How does it work?

The IAIA low residency program begins with a weeklong residency on the campus in Santa Fe. Students and faculty mentors, together with visiting writers, agents, and editors, begin each semester by gathering for an intensive week of workshops, classes, lectures, readings, and individual conferences.

Sherwin BitsuiAt the end of the week, you are matched with a faculty mentor, who then works one-on-one with you for the sixteen  week semester. You will share your creative work and receive critiques electronically using Blackboard, a distance-learning platform. In addition, you will read and write analyses of craft elements in books from your chosen genre.

As Sherman Alexie has said, “One’s chances of survival increase with each book one reads.” So you will develop a reading program with your faculty mentor, with one out of four of those titles written by an indigenous North American author. You will write brief essays analyzing craft matters on at least eight books each semester as a jumping-off point for an exchange with your faculty mentor.

At the center of each semester’s work, though, is your own creative writing. You will produce four large “packets” of your own writing that are carefully read and critiqued by your faculty mentor. These critiques guide you in the revision process—and in the creation of new work.

The first and second semesters are devoted to your creative work. The third semester continues the creative work, but you also produce a 25 page essay on some aspect of the craft of writing. This is not a dry academic exercise, but another stream to feed your growing awareness and mastery of the craft of writing. During the fourth and final semester, you assemble and refine your creative thesis.

At the end of the program, you will participate in a May graduation residency, during which you will present your thesis and craft essay for approval. You will also present a craft talk, a thesis reading, and team-teach a workshop for students in IAIA’s undergraduate BFA program. For details about the coursework, see the degree plan here.

What is a faculty mentor?

A faculty mentor is a successful, published author, who brings years of experience reading and writing and teaching to bear on the students’ work. During the residency week on campus, the faculty mentor presents craft lectures, readings, classes, and workshops. He or she also attends all lectures and readings and participates in the developing conversation about writing in general and writing by indigenous North American writers in particular.

Then, during the 16 week semester, the faculty mentor works individually with up to five student writers.

IAIA faculty mentors are a dynamic group of writers who have won, among many other awards, Lannan Literary Awards, Whiting Awards, a National Book Award, a ScotiaBank Giller Prize, a PEN/Faulkner Award, a PEN/Hemingway Award, a PEN Open Book Award, a United States Artist Fellowship, and a Donald Hall Prize from the Associated Writing Programs.

Faculty mentors include Sherman Alexie, Sherwin Bitsui, Amanda Boyden, Joseph Boyden, Natalie Diaz, Melissa Febos, Santee Frazier, Sterlin Harjo, Geoff Harris, Joan Kane, Chip Livingston, Eden Robinson, Ken White, and Orlando White. For more information about the faculty mentors, go here.

What are the anticipated outcomes?

You will produce a full-length collection of poems or stories, a novel or novella, a book length creative nonfiction manuscript, or a feature screenplay. You will become, as the degree suggests, a master of your chosen art. You will also meet with editors, publishers, and producers and network with faculty mentors and visiting writers. You will get a foot in the publishing door and get some experience teaching others your craft. To see some work by current students, follow the links here.

How do I apply?

You can apply online or through the mail. The deadline for applications is January 31, 2014. For more information, see How to Apply here. The online application is available here.

How much does it cost?

The Institute of American Indian Arts’ Low Residency MFA program is among the most affordable MFA programs in the country. For a detailed accounting, visit the Tuition and Fees page here.

How do I get more information? 

To learn more about this graduate program, please contact: Jon Davis, Director at mfa@iaia.edu.

For More Information:

2015 Residency Calendar (Jan 3-10)

MFA Faculty

Degree Plan

Tuition and Fees

How to Appy

MFA On-line Application

News & Links 





Photo credits: Dawn by Jon Davis; Sherwin Bitsui by unidentified tourist; Melissa Febos by Clay Williams.