History

Writers have felt at home at Purdue since as far back as 1928, when the English Department sponsored its first Literary Awards Ceremony. Over the years we've hosted William Carlos Williams, Sherwood Anderson, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Robert Frost, Saul Bellow, Gwendolyn Brooks, John Ashbery, Adrienne Rich, Grace Paley, Derek Walcott, Louise Erdrich, Tony Kushner, Maxine Hong Kingston, Sherman Alexie, Michael Chabon, Rita Dove, and many others among the past century's finest writers.

During the fifties and sixties visiting writers in residence included celebrated poet May Swenson and the poets and translators Barriss Mills and Felix Stefanile. Around this time, William Gass also taught at Purdue, publishing his first novel, Omensetter's Luck, while he was living in the little town of Brookston, Indiana a few miles north of campus. Brookston is the thinly disguised "town of B--," the setting of Gass's classic short story "In the Heart of the Heart of the Country," where, he writes:

in the spring the lawns are green, the forsythia is singing, and even the railroad that guts the town has straight bright rails which hum when the train is coming, and the train itself has a welcome horning sound.... Down the back streets the asphalt crumbles to gravel. There's Westbrooks, with the geraniums, Horsefall's, Mott's. The sidewalk shatters. Gravel dust rises like breath behind the wagons. And I am in retirement from love.

During the seventies and eighties a distinguished series of visiting writers in residence came to Purdue to teach alongside writer-scholars Neil Myers and William J. Stuckey. It was Meyers and Stuckey who worked tirelessly along with Sandy Goldstein to develop and found a graduate creative writing program in the academic year of 1986-87.

In the fall of 1987 Marianne Boruch arrived in West Lafayette to set up and direct the new graduate program. That same year Patricia Henley came on as a visiting writer, and two years later Patricia was hired into a full-time position in fiction. To supplement the faculty, particularly in those early years, the program would often bring in visiting writers for a semester or year. These writers included Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Susan Neville, George Lamming, Maurice Manning, Li-Young Lee, Richard Cecil, Elizabeth Iness-Brown, Charles Wyatt and Quan Barry. Among the full time faculty who taught here for a time since 1987 were the novelist Chuck Wachtel and the poet Tom Andrews.

In 1997 our two year MA morphed into the three-year MFA program that we enjoy now. Today we offer all of our twenty-four students full tuition waivers, generous stipends, and excellent mentoring in a small, friendly program situated within a large, dynamic university. Students complete workshops and classes in the first two years and dedicate their third year to the thesis: a novel or book-length collection of poetry or fiction. Our full-time faculty includes poets Marianne Boruch and Donald Platt, and fiction writers Roxane Gay, Brian Leung and Sharon Solwitz. We have a faculty to student ratio 1 to 3.5, and we were recently cited by Poets & Writers Magazine as one of the best and best-funded programs in the country.

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