Aspiring authors of children’s lit (YA, middle grade, and picture books) have far fewer choices when it comes to graduate work than their counterparts in the fiction, nonfiction, and poetry genres. In addition to Simmons College, which is the big player in the field of children's writing M.F.A.s, here are quick looks at a few of the other top choices.
Vermont College of Fine Arts
Vermont College of Fine Arts was the first college in the country to offer an M.F.A. in writing for children and young adults. The program was founded in 1997, and has since graduated New York Times–bestselling authors, National Book Award finalists, and Newbery and Caldecott medal winners. The two-year low-residency program combines 10-day intensive residencies on campus with six-month semesters of self-directed study, during which students work closely with a faculty mentor on a project of their own design. The faculty to student ratio is 5:1, and perhaps because the program is low-residency, VCFA has a diverse and impressive list of writers on staff—including M.T. Anderson and Matt de la Peña. In addition to merit—and need-based scholarships, VCFA offers a number of additional awards to help supplement tuition fees.
The New School
Writing for children is one of four concentrations offered by the New School’s M.F.A. program. Unlike many of the programs profiled here, the New School’s is a two-year full-time residency program that requires students to live and study in New York City. Students must complete 36 credits to graduate; courses are composed of literature seminars, writing workshops, and the Writer’s Life Colloquium, which requires students to engage with New York City’s vibrant literary community. The New School’s writing program also runs a first-rate reading series, orchestrates networking opportunities, and has an extensive web of successful alumni. Recent publications from alumni of the writing for children M.F.A. include Corey Ann Haydu’s Life by Committee, and David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing.
Unlike the Hollins University M.F.A. program for writers of adult literature, the M.A. and M.F.A. programs in children’s/young adult literature are summer-based. “Our summer structure is particularly designed to accommodate students who have full-time jobs and cannot take a year or two off to complete a degree,” says Amanda Cockrell, the program director. “It also lets us draw faculty from institutions all over the country to teach for us, as well as working writers who could not commit to a longer program.” Graduate students complete this unique course of study over three to five summers, during which they spend a month on the Hollins campus in Roanoke, Va., attending lectures by visiting writers like Alison Lurie and Nancy Willard. In addition to the M.F.A. in children’s literature, Hollins also offers a certificate in children’s book illustration.
Like many M.F.A. programs in writing for children and young adults, Spalding’s is two years and low-residency, featuring the signature 10-day on-campus intensives. But Spalding offers the option of traveling not just to Louisville, Ky., to study craft with first-rate writers of children’s lit and the program cohort—but to cities abroad, including Athens, Rome, and Paris. Admission is competitive, and Spalding has consistently been ranked as a top 10 low-residency program by Poets & Writers—to sweeten the deal, students can also enjoy visiting lectures by such luminaries as Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) and Naomi Shihab Nye.
Pine Manor College
Pine Manor College launched the Solstice Low-Residency M.F.A. in Creative Writing in 2006; writing for children and young adults was one of the four concentrations originally offered, along with poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Founding director Meg Kearney, who writes poetry as well as literature for children and teens, says that she couldn’t imagine starting an M.F.A. program that doesn’t offer a focus on young people’s literature. The program involves five 10-day residencies spread across two years of study, and cross-genre work is encouraged. The children’s and YA track is the second most popular genre at Pine Manor, after fiction. Kearney describes it as “sub-cross-genre,” meaning that students in the children’s lit track can work on picture books and middle-grade fiction, for example, and that a workshop might be composed of students working on projects targeted toward different age groups.
Graduate students enrolled in Hamline’s two-year low-residency M.F.A. in writing for children and young adults visit the St. Paul, Minn., campus twice a year for 11-day intensives, combining that work with snail mail and email correspondence with faculty and peers throughout the rest of the year. The curriculum offers a holistic approach to the writing of children’s and YA literature, including coursework on the business of publishing, the writing process, and the writer’s life, as well as elements of craft and form, and the history of writing for children. Residencies are structured around topics like setting, plot, and theme/vision, and students are encouraged to pursue their specific interests during their individualized study away from campus. Faculty includes standouts like Gene Luen Yang and Liza Ketchum; alumni have been published by a mix of small and large publishing houses.
For more on the topic of M.F.A. Programs in Writing for Children, see these two stories:Children’s Lit, in Theory and Practice: M.F.A. Update Fall 2014Earning My Writing for Children M.F.A. at Simmons: M.F.A. Update Fall 2014