Throughout their careers, successful nonfiction writers negotiate the continuum between writing about the self and writing about the world. On one hand is the memoir and the personal essay; on the other, biography, history, literary journalism. Most writers place themselves somewhere in the middle, and their positioning changes from project to project. For each project, the method of investigating the self and the world may vary, from the traditional essay or feature piece to an experimental form such as the lyric essay or collage.
The Nonfiction MFA at George Mason University is a three-year Program that combines a strong foundation in the study of the field and the writer’s craft with writing workshops and one-on-one meetings with a faculty member. Over the past decade we have consistently been ranked as one of the top programs in the nation, and we’re the only nonfiction MFA in the Washington DC metro area to offer such a wide range of financial assistance (in the form of fellowships and teaching assistantships) to our students. Each year we bring in four visiting writers to campus to run workshops and give readings; recent and upcoming visitors include Mary Gordon, Peter Trachtenberbg, Jennifer Percy, Lucas Mann, David Shields, and Leslie Jamison. Our aim is to help writers choose the topic, the focus, and the method of investigation for each project at hand and also for their future body of work.
All entering students take “Forms of Nonfiction,” a class that offers intensive practice in the various forms of nonfiction—from literary journalism to personal narrative—and the formal elements of all nonfiction writing. Another required class is “Research for Narrative Writing,” which guides students through the process of shaping a story through research: how to find information and more importantly, how to use that information to define and propel the story. Students subsequently select courses from a curriculum that is designed to balance a focus on form and craft with individual choices: workshops, literature courses, and craft or special topics seminars that combine reading and writing, such as “More than Autobiography (the art of the memoir),” “the Art of the (traditional) Personal Essay,” “On-line Writing,” “The Experimental Essay,” and “The Continuum of the Personal.” The final step in the Nonfiction MFA is the thesis project, a collection of essays, a memoir, or a researched story, on which students work closely with their faculty adviser.
With each essay, story, or book, a nonfiction writer enters an on-going conversation with other writers in the field, past and present. A sense of community is an integral part of nonfiction writing at Mason. Our program places a premium on inter-student communication and engagement, and we also emphasize the importance of our relationship with the surrounding artistic community. Faculty and students attend literary events together, host visiting writers, and give readings of their work at locally run salons throughout the metro area.
In the end, the goal of the nonfiction program at Mason is to provide our students with the best possible path toward artistic and professional success.