Didn’t get into a creative writing course? You’re not alone
The English department received 1,029 applications for its spring creative writing courses, with the expectation that just over a third would be admitted.
Tenzin Jorden, Photography Editor
Admission for Yale creative writing courses remains exceptionally competitive, even as the English department says it will take steps to make its offering more accessible.
The department has seen record interest in recent semesters, leading to widespread student dismay. According to registrar Erica Sayers, the department received 1,029 applications this fall for the 13 spring creative writing courses that require them.
The department expects that roughly a third will be ultimately admitted.
Professor Richard Deming, the director of the creative writing program, told the News that the department has increased its class offerings and is currently working on hiring more faculty. In particular, he said, they are conducting a national search for a fiction writer who can “be on campus” throughout the academic year.
“We are actively trying to address the need,” Deming said. “We want to be able to give people that chance to learn the art. If they really want to, our job is to help facilitate that.”
In the meantime, students are fighting for limited seats in legacy courses that have long ranked on “must-take” class lists. Creative writing courses, with the exception of “Daily Themes,” are held in a seminar format and are typically capped at 12 students. The introductory courses, “Introduction to Creative Writing” and “Reading Fiction for Craft,” are open to all undergraduates and require no prerequisites or application.
To register for intermediate and advanced courses, however, students have to complete application forms and often submit writing samples.
This year, the department added two new courses, neither of which required an application. Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, a Pulitzer prize-winning essayist, and Tyehimba Jess, a Pulitzer prize-winning poet, will be joining Yale this spring to teach “Writing Outsiderness and Interiority” and “Diggin’ in the Historical Crates: Breathing Poetry into the Archives” respectively. These courses, along with the introductory courses, admit students on a first-come-first-served basis.
Because this year’s registration process is staggered by class year, enrollment for “Writing Outsiderness and Interiority” was filled on Nov. 14, the first day of registration for seniors.
Two out of the five professors that teach courses that require an application told the News that they received more than 100 applications and all of them received over 70.
Professor Anne Fadiman, who teaches “Writing about Oneself” in the spring, wrote to the News that she received 109 applications — an increase from 97 last fall. According to Fadiman, the preregistration deadline is “way too early” which can be “a burden for many students.”
Professor Derek Green, whose course, “Writing the Television Drama,” expects between 80 and 100 applications each year, agreed that although early registration has not affected the quality of the applications, the process itself is a “distraction” given that it occurs mid-November when students have to study for midterm exams or write papers for their current classes.
All seven professors, including Green, said that they read the applications thoroughly and sought to create a group of students with a variety of backgrounds and interests.
Professor Amity Gaige, who is teaching two spring courses, “Introduction to Writing Fiction” and “Advanced Fiction Writing,” compared the review of applications to a “Venn diagram of all sorts of considerations.”
While Gaige gives priority to students majoring in English who are pursuing the writing concentration, her goal is to create a class that is both culturally and intellectually diverse. Gaige added that she also appreciates when a student takes “an extra step” when they apply, whether it be a well-researched writing sample or a note from a professor that has previously taught them.
Unlike Gaige, professor Jake Halpern ’97, who will teach “Young Adult Writing” in the spring, told the News that he does not give preference to any group of students and does not require writing samples in his application in an attempt to even the playing field.
“I found early on and what happens for me, at least when I took writing samples, is that students who took other writing classes just submitted a very polished piece of work they created in the previous writing class and used that to then gain access to the next rate class,” Halpern said. “And so what happens is you’re just creating a system where the students who take one writing class end up taking all of them and it makes it harder for students that have never taken a class.”
Instead, an application for Halpern’s course only asks for a student’s name, email, major and a few lines about who they are and what they might want him to know. He added that this allows him to create a class that has a “range of eclectic interests,” rather than just pre-professional writers.
Chidima Anekwe ’24 told the News that requiring writing samples in applications can be a “frustrating barrier” for students who are “looking for instructional spaces to begin assembling a writing portfolio in the first place.”
“As a result, students without considerable creative writing experience become essentially barred from or at least highly discouraged from applying to these courses, creating a strange and souring paradox: you need to get into the creative writing classes to learn how to produce work good enough to get you into the creative writing classes,” Anekwe wrote to the News.
Both Deming and Fadiman, however, acknowledged that moving the registration deadline to a later point in time is not an easy task since the decisions made by faculty influence how students schedule their other classes and determine staffing for lecture classes.
Deming, Green and Halpern all said that the University has added many course offerings over the years.
Halpern said that when he was a student at Yale, there were only a couple of fiction classes. Likewise, Green emphasized that until recently, the University did not have courses ranging from humor writing to young adult writing and screenwriting.
Deming also noted that, due to an increase in demand, his course “Introduction to Creative Writing” is offered for the first time both in the fall and the spring.
All seven professors, however, agreed that more classes should be added and more faculty should be hired to meet future demand.
According to Yale Course Search, the number of creative writing classes per year has increased from 35 to 44 since the 2016-2017 academic year. During the same period, the undergraduate population has increased by almost 1,200 students.
According to Fadiman, increasing class size would not solve the problem, since writing requires “intimacy.”
Due to the notorious selectivity of the courses, students tend to apply for multiple creative writing courses, at times even more than five. According to professor Ryan Wepler, who is teaching “Writing Humor,” this is not necessarily a negative, since it means that application numbers are “inflated.”
Wepler added that a number of students always end up dropping out of his course, sometimes even before the semester begins, whether it be as a result of scheduling conflicts or change of preferences. Professor Adam Sexton, who is teaching “Reading Fiction for Craft” both in the fall and the spring, echoed Wepler’s ideas, stating that such a practice is not uncommon, and so those who are waitlisted have higher chances of being accepted if they decide to keep their spot.
Despite the competitive nature of these courses, Gaige encouraged students to continue applying for classes and writing in their own time.
“The same system was in place when I was an undergraduate at Brown,” Gaige said. “I was rejected from a fiction writing workshop in my sophomore year, and I remember the abject disappointment of that. That was a long time ago … and I guess things haven’t changed that much.”
Gaige told the News that students should not get discouraged if they were not accepted to the creative writing course they wanted to take. Instead she recommended looking into courses from other departments that allow one to exercise their creative writing skills. She also suggested that students could join creative writing groups or run one themselves.
Ultimately, Deming praised the English faculty, stating that its dedication to teaching and bringing students into the “conversation” contributes to the popularity of these classes.
“People want to create the possibilities for their voice and be part of the conversation,” Deming said.
Applications for creative writing courses were due Nov. 4.