The Creative Writing Scene at Grinnell

Grinnell has a vibrant creative writing scene. There are many published writers on campus--faculty, staff, and students. There are also a number of published writers living in town. The College regularly brings in prominent authors to give workshops and readings, especially through Writers@Grinnell. Among these prominent authors have been recipients of major awards: Nobel Prizes, Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards, and MacArthur Fellowships. Grinnell's proximity to Iowa City, site of the prestigious University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, makes it an easy stop on the reading train, as authors with newly published books often arrange a mini Iowa circuit. (Our location also allows Grinnellians to zip into Iowa City to catch a famous writer who, for whatever reason, can't make it to Grinnell.) In addition to the many professional readings--some six or seven a semester--there are all sorts of student readings and open-mike sessions. Each semester culminates with a formal reading from the Grinnell Review, the College's undergraduate creative writing journal. Students are eligible for annual prizes in fiction and poetry; these prizes come with monetary awards and are announced at the spring Grinnell Review reading.


Creative Writing Courses

Writing Classes

Grinnell's Creative Writing Curriculum

Grinnell has neither a creative writing major nor a creative writing track. The English department believes that creative writing ought to be fully integrated into the formal study of literature. Simply put, there is no admirable writing without exhaustive reading. That said, we offer numerous creative writing courses--as many, if not more, than those schools with creative writing majors and/or tracks. We offer both introductory courses and seminars in fiction and poetry writing. We also offer six-week short courses in these genres, courses taught by prominent faculty from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Imagine spending six Fridays with Robert Hass, former Poet Laureate of the United States. Students from Grinnell have had this opportunity. In addition to introductory courses, seminars, and short courses, exceptional students may set up a MAP (Mentored Advanced Project) with a Grinnell faculty member in which they pursue a creative project--a novel, say, or a collection of poems. These MAPs often become the basis for the student's MFA portfolio. Occasionally, the College offers non-fiction classes--writing about jazz, for example, or writing about place.

Courses in Poetry

The Craft of Poetry (ENG 206) 4 credits.
Instruction in the techniques and process of verse writing. Readings may include published poems and essays on the art of poetry. Prerequisites: English 120. BARLOW, SAVARESE. Taught every semester.

Writing Seminar: Poetry (ENG 386) 4 credits.
Advanced workshop for students with a strong background in verse writing. Prerequisites: English 206 and permission of instructor. BARLOW, SAVARESE. Taught every other semester.

Special Topic: Advanced Poetry Seminar (ENG 295) 1 or 2 Credits.
Advanced workshop for students who have taken at least one creative-writing course at Grinnell. Prerequisites: English 205 or 206. Six week short course. KUUSISTO

Courses in Fiction

The Craft of Fiction (ENG 205 ) 4 credits.
Instruction in the techniques and process of fiction writing, with emphasis on the short story. Readings may include published short stories and essays on the art of fiction. Students may also be asked to write in forms related to fiction (journal, autobiography, prose poem). Prerequisites: English 120. HO, DOMINI. Taught every semester.

Writing Seminar: Fiction (ENG 385) 4 credits.
Advanced workshop for students with a strong background in fiction writing. Prerequisites: English 205 and permission of instructor. HO. Taught every other semester.

Special Topic: Craft of Non-Fiction (ENG 295) 4 Credits.
Advanced workshop for students who have taken at least one creative-writing course at Grinnell. Prerequisites: English 205 or 206. DOMINI.

Special Topic: Advanced Fiction Seminar(ENG 295) 1 or 2 Credits.
Advanced workshop for students who have taken at least one creative-writing course at Grinnell. Prerequisites: English 205 or 206. Six-week short course taught by visiting professor.

Other Writing Courses Previously Taught:

Special Topic: Writing the Land (ENV 295) 1 Credit.
Advanced workshop to discuss and improve the student writers' works of fiction and non-fiction. Local field trips will be part of the experience. Prerequisite: Sophomore standing.

Special Topic: Criticism and Writing for Public Media (HUM 395-01) 1 Credit.
Advanced workshop for serious nonfiction writers who want to pursue writing as a profession. Focus on the mechanics of writing for newspapers and magazines, career issues, and the function and value of good criticism. Prerequisites: Declared English or Music major and completion of 200-level course work in English or music.

Distinguished Authors at Grinnell

Each year, usually in the spring, a distinguished author gives a reading and conducts a workshop or roundtable with students, thanks to funding by a generous anonymous donor. Distinguished authors have included W.S. Merwin, Marilynne Robinson, John Edgar Wideman, Ana Castillo, Adrienne Rich, Edward P. Jones, Natasha Trethewey and Mark Doty.

2013-2014: Tracy K. Smith - Born in Massachusetts, earned her BA from Harvard University and an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University. From 1997 to 1999 she held a Stegner fellowship at Stanford University. Smith is the author of three books of poetry: The Body's Question (2003), which won the Cave Canem prize for the best first book by an African-American poet; Duende (2007), winner of the James Laughlin Award and the Essense Literary Award; and Life on Mars (2011), which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.


 2012-2013: Natasha Trethewey is the 19th United States Poet Laureate [2012-2013]. In his citation, Librarian of Congress James Billington wrote "Her poems dig beneath the surface of history - personal or communal, from childhood or from a century ago-to explore the human struggles that we all face." She is the author of Thrall [2012], Native Guard [Houghton Mifflin], for which she won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, Bellocq's Ophelia [Graywolf, 2002], which was named a Notable Book for 2003 by the American Library Association, and Domestic Work [Graywolf, 2000]. She is also the author of Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast [University of Georgia Press]. A memoir is forthcoming in 2013.


2011-2012: Mark Doty is the author of several collections of poetry, most recently Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems (HarperCollins, 2008), which received the National Book Award; School of the Arts (2005);Source (2002); and Sweet Machine (1998). Other collections include Atlantis (1995), which received the Ambassador Book Award, the Bingham Poetry Prize, and a Lambda Literary Award; My Alexandria (1993), which was chosen by Philip Levine for the National Poetry Series and which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and Britain's T. S. Eliot Prize, and was also a National Book Award finalist; Bethlehem in Broad Daylight(1991); and Turtle, Swan (1987). He has also published several memoirs including Heaven's Coast (1996), which received the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction,Firebird (1999), Still Life with Oysters and Lemon: On Objects and Intimacy (2000), and Dog Years(HarperCollins, 2007).

Doty has received fellowships from the Guggenheim, Ingram Merrill, Rockefeller, and Whiting foundations, and from the National Endowment for the Arts. He was elected an American Academy Chancellor in 2011. He has taught at the University of Houston and is currently serving as a Distinguished Writer at Rutgers University.


2010-2011: Dorothy Allison’s first book of poetry, The Women who Hate Me, was published in 1983. Her first short story collection, Trash (1988), won two Lambda Literary Awards and the ALA Prize for Lesbian and Gay Writing. Her first novel, Bastard Out of Carolina (1992), was a finalist for the 1992 National Book Award, won the Ferro Grumley prize, became a best seller, and was turned into an award-winning movie by actress/director Anjelica Huston. Her second novel, Cavedweller (1998), was a NY Times Notable Book of the Year, a finalist for the Lillian Smith prize, and an ALA prize winner. It was also turned into a film directed by Lisa Cholendenko (The Kids are Alright). Allison was recently a writer-in-residence at Davidson College, and is currently working on a new novel She, Who.


2009-2010: Award-winning short-story writer and novelist Edward P. Jones read in JRC 101 on April 8, 2010. Jones has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and the Lannan Literary Award. He was also the recipient of a 2004 MacArthur Fellowship. His first collection of stories, Lost in the City, won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award. His second collection,All Aunt Hagar’s Children, was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. His Pulitzer-winning novel, The Known World, is set in pre-Civil War Virginia, and it was for this work that Jones was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.


2008-2009: Renowned feminist author Adrienne Rich read from her poetry at Herrick Chapel on September 25, 2008. Rich is the author of many works of poetry and prose, including Diving into the WreckThe Dream of a Common LanguageThe School Among the RuinsOf Women Born: Motherhood as Experience and InstitutionWhat Is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics, and Arts of the Possible: Essays and Conversations. Among her many awards and honors are the Yale Younger Poets Award, the National Book Critic's Circle Award, the Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and a MacArthur Fellowship.


2007-2008: Chicana novelist Ana Castillo read from her novel The Guardians on April 10, 2008. A celebrated poet, novelist, short story writer, and essayist, Castillo's many awards include the American Book Award for The Mixquiahuala Letters, The Carl Sandburg Award, the Independent Publisher Storyteller of the Year Award, and fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts in fiction and poetry.


2006-2007: John Edgar Wideman read at Grinnell College on April 30, 2007. Wideman grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, where many of his works of fiction are set. He is known for his works in several genres: novels, short stories, non-fiction, and memoirs. His works include (among others) Brothers and Keepers (nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award), the memoir Fatheralong (finalist for the National Book Award), and the novels Sent for You Yesterdayand Philadelphia Fire (both of which won the International PEN/Faulkner Award). His awards include a Rhodes Scholarship, the American Book Award for Fiction, the Lannan Literary Fellowship for Fiction, and a MacArthur fellowship.


2005-2006: Marilynne Robinson visited Grinnell's campus in the spring of 2006. Robinson is best known for her novels:Housekeeping (which won a Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for best first novel and was included in both The New York Times Books of the Century and the UK Guardian Observer's list of the 100 greatest novels of all time), Gilead (which received a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction), and the more recent Home. Robinson has also published nonfiction: Mother Country: Britain, the Welfare State, and Nuclear Pollution and The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought. Robinson teaches at the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa.


2004-2005: W. S. Merwin came to campus in the spring of 2005. Merwin is a poet, translator, and environmental activist who lives on the island of Maui. His first book, A Mask for Janus, was selected for the Yale Younger Poets series, and his collection The Carrier of Ladders was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Migration: Selected Poems 1951-2001 won the National Book Award and the Ambassador Book Award and was named as one of the 100 Notable Books of the Year by the New York Times. In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, Merwin has been awarded the Tanning Prize, the Bollingen Prize, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and a Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award.

Faculty Writers at Grinnell

English Department Faculty

George Barlow is a poet who earned a B.A. in English from California State University, Hayward, an M.A. in American Studies and an M.F.A. in Poetry, both from the University of Iowa. He specializes in African-American literature, poetry, and teaches Craft of Poetry and the Poetry Seminar most semesters. George is the recipient of a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, a Ford Foundation Fellowship, and a Graduate Opportunity Fellowship from the University of Iowa. He is now a member of the Board of Directors of Humanities Iowa. He has published two volumes of poetry, Gabriel from Broadside Press, and Gumbo from Doubleday, and is co-editor with Grady Hillman and Maude Meehan of About Time III: An Anthology of California Prison Writing. George has poems appearing in numerous anthologies, including The Oxford Anthology of African American Poetry, The Anthology of American Sports Poems, The Garden Thrives: Twentieth-Century African-American Poetry, Trouble the Water: 250 Years of African-American Poetry, Voices on the Landscape: Contemporary Iowa Poets, African American Literature, In Search of Color Everywhere, Color: A Sampling of Contemporary African -American Writing, Every Shut Eye Ain't Asleep: An Anthology of Poetry by African Americans Since 1945, The Jazz Poetry Anthology, The Best of Intro, New American Poets of the 80s, Giant Talk: Voices of the Third World, Eating the Menu, A Galaxy of Black Writing, and Celebrations: A New Anthology of Black American Poetry. He has published poems in many journals, including The Black Scholar, Caliban 2, River Styx, The Iowa Review, Antaeus, Callaloo, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Nimrod, The American Poetry Review, Yardbird Reader, Big Moon, Obsidian, A Fine Excess: Fifty Years of the Beloit Poetry Review, and most recently, Seneca Review: The Lyric Body. He has had work accepted by, an online literary magazine, and Iowa City's 2006 Poetry in Public Project, through which his poem "Neptune" was printed on posters and displayed in downtown kiosks, on City buses, and in other public places.

Ralph James Savarese is the author of Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption (Other Press 2007), which Newsweek called a “real life love story and a passionate manifesto for the rights of people with neurological disabilities.” It won the Independent Publishers Gold Medal in the category of health/medicine/nutrition, and a chapter was selected as a “notable essay” in the Best American Essays series of 2004. The book was featured on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” (twice), ABC’s Nightly News with Charles Gibson,” and NPR’s “Diane Rehm Show.” He is also the co-editor of Papa PhD: Men in the Academy Write about Fatherhood (Rutgers University Press 2010) and of a special issue of Seneca Review entitled “The Lyrical Body” (2010).

His poems, creative nonfiction, and translations have appeared in American Disasters, American Poetry Review, ACM (Another Chicago Magazine), Autism Perspectives, Beloit Poetry Journal, Cream City Review, Edge City Review, Flyway, For New Orleans and Other Poems, Graham House Review, Fourth Genre, Gravity Draws You In, Modern Poetry In Translation, New England Review, the New York Times, Papa PhD: Men in the Academy Write About Fatherhood, Ploughshares, Poet Lore, Poetry International, Poetry Motel, The Poker, Potpourri, Rattle, Segue, Seneca Review, Sewanee Review, Southern Humanities Review, Southern Poetry Review, Southwest Review, and Stone Canoe. His reviews and opinion pieces have appeared in American Book Review, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Austin American Statesman, the Baltimore Sun, the Cincinnati Post, the Dallas Morning News, the Des Moines Register, the Gainesville Sun, the Houston Chronicle, the Huffington Post, the LA Times, the Louisville Courier Journal, and the Tallahassee Democrat.

He’s currently working on a novel entitled Republican Fathers and a book of poems entitled The World Is a Fine Place. He teaches American literature, creative writing, and disability studies at Grinnell. He also directs the college’s reading series, Writers@Grinnell.

Saadi Simawe is a fiction writer, poet, critic, editor and translator who has a B.A. from Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska. He also earned both an M.A. in African-American studies and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Iowa. He teaches English and African-American literatures. He also offers independent projects on comparative literature and Middle Eastern literature. He has published translations and fiction as well as articles on African-American, Middle Eastern, and comparative literature. Recently, his novel Out of the Lamp, was released by Al-Rafid, an Arabic language publisher in Britain. He has also recently published a scholarly work, edited for Garland, entitled Black Orpheus: Music in African American Fiction from the Harlem Renaissance to Toni Morrison.


Paula V. Smith holds a B.A. from Swarthmore College and M.A., M.F.A., and Ph.D. degrees from Cornell University. Her work has been published in numerous literary journals, including poetry in Flyway Literary Review and Red Cedar Review and short fiction in The North American Review and Bellevue Literary Review. Paula V. Smith has contributed to creative projects shared with photographers, composers, and visual artists, as well as fellow writers. In 1996 she collaborated with Mary Swander, Edward Hirsch, Ray Young Bear, and other poets on the text for “Broken Ground,” a choral-orchestral piece composed by Jonathan Chenette. This commissioned work was performed by the Des Moines Symphony and Grinnell Singers to celebrate Iowa's Sesquicentennial. In April 2010 Paula V. Smith's novel, "The Painter's Muse," appeared in Italian translation under the title Il Silenzio della Musa, followed by Spanish and Dutch translations in fall 2010 and spring 2011. Recent news is that the Spanish translation sold close to 4000 copies in the first few months after its publication, and the Italian publisher is now marketing the novel as an e-book. The manuscript in English remains available to an interested U.S. or British publisher. While working slowly on a second novel, Paula Smith has completed her third year as Grinnell College’s Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College.

Other Writers among the Faculty and Staff

David G. Campbell, Professor of Biology and Henry R. Luce Professor in Nations and the Global Environment at Grinnell College, is a scientist, teacher and author. He began his professional life in the West Indies, as Director of the Bahamas National Trust for the Conservation of Wildlife and as a consultant for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, in Switzerland. After earning a Ph.D. from The Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, Campbell joined the scientific staff of the New York Botanical Garden, spending eight years in the field in the Brazilian Amazon, conducting research on the biogeography of trees and the ethnobotany of the forest people. In 1987 Campbell joined the sixth Brazilian expedition to Antarctica, studying the life cycles of the invertebrate parasites of crustaceans, fish and seals. He may be the only biologist to have research sites in those antitheses of diversity, the Amazon and Antarctica. After coming to Grinnell College in 1991, Campbell and his students began a long-term research project in Belize on the Maya forest and its people. Campbell considers fieldwork to be an integral part of his teaching, and has taken hundreds of Grinnell students and alums to the New and Old World tropics.

The author numerous professional papers, Campbell is also a writer of literary nonfiction. He is author of four books in this genre: The Ephemeral Islands (1977), a natural history of the Bahama Islands, The Crystal Desert (1993), a reminiscence on three summers in Antarctica (selected as one of the notable books of 1993 by the New York Times Book Review), Islands in Space and Time (1996), an exploration of ten wilderness areas from Palau to Paraguay, and Land of Ghosts (2005), a personal essay on Amazonian diversity, biotic as well as human. Campbell has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Burroughs Medal, the PEN Martha Albrand Award for Nonfiction, the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship Award and the Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction. His current literary projects are The Feral Forest, an exploration of the co-evolution of Maya biophilia and language in Belize, and Cosmic Beachcombing, a personal essay on exploration and discovery set in the cosmodromes of Baikonur, Kazakhstan and Cape Canaveral, Florida.

J. Harley McIlrath is a fiction writer who, as the Assistant Manager of the College Bookstore and the Pioneer Bookshop, runs the stores' trade and textbook sections. Harley has a B.A. in English and Philosophy, and a M.A. in English, all from the University of Northern Iowa. His work has appeared in Aethlon, the Briar Cliff Review, the Cream City Review, NightSun, the North American Review, Seneca Review, Short Story, and the Wapsipinicon Almanac. Harley has written reviews for the Literary Magazine Review, and served for a long while as Editorial Assistant to Robley Wilson at the North American Review. His short fiction collection, Possum Trot, was published in 2010.

Kesho Scott is a fiction writer, memoirist, essayist and cultural critic with a B.A. in Sociology from Wayne State University, an M.A. in Sociology from the University of Detroit, and a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa. Her book Tight Spaces, a collection of autobiographical stories she co-authored with Cherry Muhanji and Egyirba High, won the American Book Award in 1988, has been translated into Italian and Arabic, and has gone into several printings. She has also written The Habit of Surviving: Black Women Strategies for Life (Rutgers University Press, 1991) and Twenty Years of Unlearning Racism: which is due out in 2007. She is also at work on two other works: Autobiographical story of Scott's political and personal memoir of life and love in Ghana in the 1970s and Biographical Stories of African-American Men's Habit of Survival, 2008. Kesho has also lectured and toured extensively across the country and abroad, and has made appearances on the Oprah Winfrey and Sonya Live shows, as well as C-Span. She is past Chair and Associate Professor in Grinnell's American Studies department. Scott won a State Department Fulbright to Ethiopia in 2001-2002.

The Grinnell Review

The Grinnell Review is the college's mainstream journal of art and literature. In addition to publishing once a semester, The Review sponsors periodic van runs to Iowa City for fiction and poetry readings sponsored there by the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop and Prairie Lights bookstore.

We have uploaded the fortieth volume of the Review :

Short Courses

Teachers of Recent Short Courses

These writers have taught and will be teaching short courses in creative writing at Grinnell:

Spring 2014, poet Richard Kenney, Guggenheim and Macarthur fellow.

Fall 2013, Jeff Porter; Radio Days: New Media Writing and the Art of Sound.

Fall 2012, Jeff Porter; Radio Days: New Media Writing and the Art of Sound, Saugata Bhaduri; From Theory to Post-Theory and Sam Tanenhaus; The Writer in the World.

Spring 2013, Gandhi: Yogi, Hero or Activist?; Dobe/Kapila.

Spring 2012, advanced fiction: novelist Kevin Brockmeier, winner of the O. Henry Award and National Endowment for the Arts fellow.

Fall 2011, non-fiction writer Jeff Porter.

Spring 2011, poet Richard Kenney, Guggenheim and Macarthur fellow.

Spring 2010, novelist Paul Harding, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Fall 2008, poet and non-fiction writer Steve Kuusisto.

Spring 2008, poet and non-fiction writer Steve Kuusisto.

Fall 2007, poet Tessa Rumsey, winner of the Barnard Women Poets Prize.

Spring 2007, poet Marvin Bell, Guggenheim and National Endowments for the Arts fellow.

Spring 2006, poet Emily Wilson, National Endowment for the Arts Fellow.

Fall 2005, novelist Kevin Brockmeier.

Spring 2005, novelist James Hynes.

Spring 2004, poets Robert Hass, Macarthur fellow and co-winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and Brenda Hillman, Guggenheim and National Endowments for the Arts fellow.

Spring 2003, poet Cole Swensen.

Fall 2002, novelist Chris Offutt, Guggenheim fellow.