Students

Students from all quarters of Penn

Students come to our program from across the university, bringing a rich diversity of experiences and approaches to the craft of writing. Everyone benefits from this intellectual cross-pollination, whether you’re a creative writing major, a creative writing or journalistic writing minor, or a student enrolling in one of our courses as an elective. All of our workshops are open to students from  the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering, Wharton, and the School of Nursing, and many of our majors are immersed in fields as diverse as visual arts, communication, Africana studies, Asian American studies, gender, sexuality, and women’s studies, Jewish studies, Latin American and Latinx studies, political science, business, biological basis of behavior, engineering, and more.  

In addition to the rigorous curriculum offered by our faculty, the peer-dependent workshop model builds accountability and a sense of community that raises the level of inquiry and reflection and enhances the learning experience. Outside the classroom, the community of Kelly Writers House — which offers a wealth of public programming and projects, in addition to its ever-bountiful kitchen — represents a hub of artistic energy and is where our students meet and collaborate with writers, artists, and performers from across campus, across Philadelphia, around the world.

Where they are now

Students who take our workshops become better writers and readers, and take their skills with them into their post-Penn lives and into a variety of professional paths. Our students go on to publish their work at small and large presses; they launch careers at top publishing houses and news outlets; they embark on graduate study in writing and related fields; and they pursue an ongoing writing practice, no matter what their professional path. Many of our alumni are also active in the literary community at Kelly Writers House.

What recent grads have to say about the Creative Writing Program

I took Intro to Creative Writing in my sophomore fall. One half of taking a course in memoir writing is, well, writing—but the other half is memoir... life stories. I think it is an extraordinary experience to have in college—to have protected time to sit with my peers in class as we each attempt to articulate something of our twenty-ish years of life. It really drove home the idea that there is a story behind every person you meet at Penn (and beyond), and I think it has made me more understanding and open in my social interactions." — Sara Merican (C’20)

“I learned more about myself, both as a writer and person, in my ‘Narrative Nonfiction: The Art of Experience’ workshop than ever before. The workshop tasked me with experiencing something new of my choosing, and I challenged myself in ways I had hoped to for years. I am much more confident about my future career as a physician than I was a few months ago. No typical pre-med experience could have taught me these networking and self-reflective skills, and I recommend a workshop like this to a student in any discipline.” — Timothy Delaney (C’19)

“Community Writing was an exceptional course that not only exposed me to the theory behind education and workshops, but also put it in context through practice. During this course, I was privileged with the opportunity to  co-facilitate workshops for women in the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia and learn what it means to participate in community engagement responsibly. We learned about the specific challenges of our placements in the broader political context and explored how to bring writing to different communities based on that information. I took this class in my senior year at Penn and I can say without a doubt that the nuanced curriculum and class discussions inform how I continue to participate in writing communities post-graduation.” — Ayah El-Fahmawi (C’19)

“Creative Writing seminars at Penn have challenged me to write my way towards answers without needing to know that an end exists. (Perhaps none do, and that’s okay.) Each is a collective endeavor in which I’ve had the opportunity to refine my voice by listening to others’. Each seminar stretches you across lines of the university, this city, a world, to continually discover what the written or spoken word is capable of and admire those who make it sing along the way.” — Josh Kahn (C’19)

“Every writing workshop I’ve taken at Penn has taught me an invaluable lesson about writing. From fiction to poetry to journalism, I’ve learned about sentence structure, narrative arc, reportage, honesty, and creating ‘beautiful disasters’ that eventually transform into something more. Most importantly, the writing community at Penn has taught me about the importance of integrity in my writing, and that lesson I take with me every day. One of my professors once said, ‘reporting sets you free,’ and I see now how that is true not just for journalism.” — Sabrina Qiao (C’19)

“Not only has the creative writing department given me the opportunity to learn from some of the most well-known, well respected, and talented writers in their fields, but it has also shown me how kind, humble, and invested each of these professors are. The creative writing community has been the most nurturing and nourishing community I’ve encountered at Penn and I’m so lucky to call it such a big part of my college experience.” — Emily Schwartz (C’19)

“Deciding to come to this country for writing (and being lucky enough to be able to do so) was exhilarating in itself though it could not have predicted just how gratifying and reassuring it has been to meet, for the first time in my life, peers and mentors equally invested in doing this work. To first know that writing is a discipline, then go on to formally learn its rules — the feeling is like training to become a gymnast; a drawn out strengthening of each tiny muscle. To write one good sentence, you flex till you’re sore.” — Rebecca Tan (C’19)

“The creative writing workshops I attended were a gift both in and out of the classroom. The vulnerability, critical discussion, and sheer amount of personal expression I found in every workshop (whether poetry, nonfiction, or prose) made for the most engaging and humanizing courses I took at Penn, and created an unparalleled environment of reflection and growth. 10/10 would recommend.” — Blake London (C’18)

“My ENGL 135 course challenged me, and my writing, in ways I hadn’t been challenged before. The invigorating workshop experience took my writing to a higher level, and the emphasis on simply getting the words down on the page, then editing and editing until you couldn’t edit more, helped free me from some of my internal hangups. It was an excellent experience.” — Chaya Murali (CHOP Resident, ’18)

“My nonfiction workshop was one of the best classes I took at Penn. Not only did I grow tremendously as a writer, but I met a community of driven creatives who I keep in touch with even after graduation. Take these classes!” — Michelle Pereira (C’18)

“Reading and workshopping my classmates’ pieces taught me important lessons on both writing and life! I have realized the powerful effect that sharing a story can have on others, and I have grown to deeply appreciate the importance of storytelling and documentation. I recently moved to southern Mexico to work at a shelter that provides protection, humanitarian assistance, and legal assistance to Central American migrants and refugees. I plan to document the experience by writing weekly notes to family and friends through the TinyLetter platform and look forward to using the skills that I learned in my workshop!” — Abigail Zislis (C’18)

“I’ll never forget my creative writing workshop at Penn. Having a space so distinct from the usual academic environment — one of complete collaboration and freedom of expression — was like having a little haven during my week. It’s so rare to have a community like the one I found in that classroom, one in which you have a group of people from all sorts of backgrounds sharing some of the most intimate parts of their selves through writing. In this community I learned to be unafraid to get personal with my own thoughts and feelings, and unafraid to share these things with others. This will surely stay with me my whole life.” — Joshua Jordan (C’17)

“My nonfiction workshop taught me the power of succinct words. They can be used to capture the humble joy of every day, and the grief remembered in the sound of freshly cracked pepper.” — Mymai Yuan (C’17)

“I initially applied to Penn because of the creative writing program, and my undergraduate experience exceeded any expectations I had as a hopeful high school senior. The opportunities for writers extend far beyond the classroom here. During my time at Penn I made some of my best friends at the Kelly Writers House, passed a blissful week writing as the recipient of Lisa Smith’s and Buzz Bissinger’s residency, and spent my Friday afternoons facilitating writing workshops for local middle school students (just to name some of the highlights!). The faculty are not only brilliant but accessible — Karen Rile, Max Apple, and Lorene Cary’s generosity gave me necessary encouragement and insightful criticism as I wrote and revised my fiction. It’s thanks to them that I was able to apply to creative writing MFA programs during my senior year; their thoughtful recommendation letters and advice, as well as the portfolio of work I’d written in their classes, put me in an excellent position to apply to graduate school. I’m finishing my MFA now, and so grateful that my teachers at Penn not only showed me how to be a better writer, but set an example for how to be an engaged literary citizen. Writing can be frustrating, lonely, and damn difficult. I think of my mentors and fellow students at Penn when I need to remember how inspiring and joyful it can be.” — Alina Grabowski (C’16)

“I took five Creative Writing courses in my time at Penn; each one taught me big ideas, from the ability of writing to heal others to the importance of having a voice. These courses also taught me the importance of creative writing in the quotodian like using images to appreciate beauty in the world around us.” — Glorie Parris (C’16)

I graduated with a minor in creative writing (major in International Relations). During my senior year, the Writer’s House contacts and professional guidance were extremely useful. I went on to work for the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Rule of Law Center on judicial, security, and prison reform projects before creating a dual degree MA/JD program with Tufts University and the University of Miami in order to prepare for a career in post-conflict justice. This kind of legal work requires careful articulation to convey societal trauma, to build sustainable justice frameworks, and to write draft legislation and constitutions. Writing has set me apart from other candidates in every job and graduate application that I have undertaken, and has remained a cathartic endeavor. I am grateful for the training and camaraderie that the Writer’s House and the Creative Writing Program provided.” — Meredith Shea (C’13)

“Creative writing workshops at Penn were an oasis. They provided an opportunity to find my voice and connect with my classmates on a level deeper than the daily flickerings of college life.” — Simone Stolzoff (C’13)