The Writing Program

A writer writes. There is simply no other way to learn, though it cannot be done without the help of inspired teachers and a community of fellow writers. That is what draws students to Pratt’s writing program. Designed so that students begin taking core courses from the first day of classes, the writing program is for those who have made a commitment to the literary arts and are ready to get down to work. 

This four-year undergraduate program leads to a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Writing and takes full advantage of two remarkable features of local life: the hothouse work ethic of Pratt’s other studio programs, and New York City. Located in the literary capital of the North America (and arguably of the world), Pratt attracts highly accomplished novelists, poets and journalists who are keen to share their knowledge with talented, hard-working aspirants.

The heart and soul of the curriculum are the writing studios. Alternating between group critiques and discussions of a wide array of exemplary literary works, students concentrate on producing fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and hybrid forms that combine these and other modes. In the first year, the focus is on poetry, both traditional and avant-garde, and short fiction, with special attention given to narrative structure and technique. In the second year, the orientation remains essentially the same—poetry and fiction—but the conceptual boundaries of these forms are tested and expanded, with an introduction to genre-bending and the writers who have defined it. In the third year, students focus on a chosen form of poetry or narrative, and junior-year studios are accordingly both rigorous and open, concerned to nurture and challenge students’ emerging voices. The fourth-year studios are devoted solely to the composition and revision of senior theses, book-length manuscripts of original work, whether narrative, poetry or a hybrid form. The theses include a critical introduction in which students describe the arc of their development, explain how and why certain writers have influenced them, and briefly set forth what they hope to achieve in their theses.

The program also addresses the “left-brain” dimensions of writing: grammar, word choice, enrichment of vocabulary, clarity of expression and logic. This emphasis runs throughout the curriculum but is given particular attention in “Word, Usage, Style I & II,” which is taken in the freshman year. Here, in the process of composing and revising short essays, students not only learn to recognize and improve grammar and usage but also begin to acquire the mature, writerly cast of mind that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

In the sophomore year, students begin taking small Special Topics classes with such titles as “Creating Character,” “Genre-Bending,” “Blogging,” “How to Write a Book Proposal,” “Experimental Fiction,” “Getting Personal: the Narrative Essay,” “The Future of Publishing,” “Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle: a Poetry Revisions Seminar,” “The Book as Unit of Composition,” “Narrative Psychology,” “Writing for Podcasts and Radio,” and “Screenplay Writing.”

One of the more signature features of the program is Writer’s Forum, a course in which distinguished visitors—novelists, poets, filmmakers, songwriters, literary agents and editors—come to campus every other Wednesday to give talks or readings. In addition to having lively exchanges with this array of professionals, students write the introductions to each visitor’s presentation.

Since there is no such thing as a writer who is not also a sophisticated and voracious reader, the theory and practice of reading are integral to the curriculum. Courses devoted to making writing majors strong literary and cultural-critical readers range from “Critical Thinking & Writing I & II,” taken in the freshman year along with “World Literature I & II.” Thereafter, students are either required or strongly encouraged to enroll in such courses as “Perspective on U.S. Literature,” and “Whitman, Dickinson & Co.”

In order to ensure that writing majors explore the rich courses available in the Institute, a minimum of nine elective course credits must be taken in the Schools of Art, Design or Architecture.

In the junior year, after carefully honing résumés and learning something about the art of the interview in “Workplace 100,” internships give students invaluable experience and job opportunities at places that range from Ugly Duckling Presse and St. Mark’s Poetry Project to Saturday Night Live, MTV, NBC, Condé Nast, and PBS.

Finally, each year is given a special inflection when the writing program hosts a writer-in-residence, attracting some of the best and most accomplished in the nation. They include National Book Award winner Francine Prose, Eileen Myles, David Gates, Amy Hempel, Sam Lipsyte, Mary Gaitskill, Nick Flynn, Susannah Moore, Jen Hoffman, Tracie Morris, and Cole Swensen.