Canvas work

Creative writing classes see record demand

Increased competition and an earlier application timeline created frustration among students and faculty alike. Some advocated adding course offerings and changing the registration process.

Journalist and contributing editor

Yale Daily News

Creative writing at Yale is more popular – and more competitive – than ever.

The program, which is managed by the University’s English department, announced enrollment decisions for its Spring 2022 semester creative writing classes on November 22. In a message to student applicants, Creative Writing Director Richard Deming said the program had a “real record” number of applications – so much that faculty had five extra days to deliberate.

The News spoke to eight professors who teach creative writing classes in the spring. All eight said their courses received more applications than last year, although two noted that their course numbers were roughly on par with pre-pandemic years. Deming attributed the increased demand to a larger undergraduate population and the “growing pains” of an accelerated college-wide enrollment schedule.

“We were surprised – no one on campus has been able to anticipate the perfect storm of this unprecedented size of the student body as we shift enrollment across campus,” said Deming.

The creative writing program has also seen a steady increase in popularity since the program was made official eight years ago, he said, although this spring’s application cycle has always exceeded expectations.

Students, for their part, expressed their disappointment with the increased competition and the difficulty of enrolling in creative writing courses. All courses in the program require a written request which may include multiple writing samples. England’s Major Josh Atwater ’24 said he applied for three courses and was rejected from each until he was accepted into one of his waiting list.

“I was so frustrated when I didn’t take a writing class at first it would have meant another semester of struggling to devote time to improving my writing or developing a portfolio,” Atwater wrote to The News.

Four professors described difficulty processing requests earlier in the semester, in line with the new enrollment schedule that required the English department to receive course requests by November 11, almost a month earlier than in previous years and in the middle of mid-season. The April registration deadline for fall 2021 courses was also earlier than usual.

“I think the deadlines for writing classes are too early,” English teacher Anne Fadiman, who will be teaching “Writing about Oneself” next semester, wrote to News. “It is very difficult for students to apply during one of the busiest times of the year. How can we expect everyone to know in April what they want to study in September, especially in the creative fields? “

Theater studies professor Deborah Margolin, who teaches a drama writing seminar each fall, described the new registration process as a “double-shopping period” and said using Canvas and Course Search for repeatedly reviewing and approving candidates has proven to be “unbearably burdensome”.

Some of the pressure faculty face, however, can be attributed to the overall growth of the creative writing program.

Since Creative Writing was formalized as a program in 2013, demand has increased dramatically, both for the number of English majors focusing on creative writing and the interest of non-majors, Deming said. The program has tried to meet this demand by almost doubling its course offerings, adding a large number of new non-fiction speakers and, more recently, writing courses for television and theater. The program offers a total of 23 courses for the next semester.

According to lecturer Susan Choi ’90, who will teach two fiction writing courses, the demand has always exceeded the supply of creative writing courses, even when she was a student at Yale 30 years ago. Choi wrote to the News that she receives about four to five applications for each seat in her “Introduction to Fiction Writing” class and three to four applications for each seat in “Advanced Fiction Writing”. Recently, Choi had to create waiting lists of 15-18 people for his classes.

“My waiting lists have grown in recent years because the harder it is to get a course, the more each student registers for courses,” Choi wrote to The News, “So there can be a lot of shuffling. and it is nerve-racking for all people. “

However, Choi’s “Introduction to Fiction Writing” offered this spring received double the applicants than the normal four to five applicants per place. Instead, Choi said there were more than 10 applicants for every available seat in the class. In addition, “a number of students” applied to apply after the deadline, which was not possible with the already high number of applicants, according to Choi. So far, Choi wrote that only two people on the 20-person waiting list for the course have been able to register for the course.

The Creative Writing program has no official recommendations on how faculty should select students from their candidate pools, Deming said. Overall, however, he said the program strives to build communities in each workshop and rejections do not reflect a student’s weaknesses.

“The mistaken impression is that teachers only take the best,” Deming said. “What they’re trying to do is shape a community and be mindful of having a diverse set of students from diverse backgrounds and the voices that work best together.”

Four professors said they prioritize students by major and grade, while two others admitted students on a first-come, first-served basis.

Atwater said that – in their rejection letters to students – professors described “virtually no difference” between accepted and rejected applications, noting that all were generally exceptional.

“It’s really frustrating for people who take their writing very seriously,” Atwater wrote. “It’s almost easier to be dismissed for your own shortcomings than for a structural hurdle like excess demand. ”

Four professors, including Choi and English teacher Carl Zimmer, said the collaborative nature of their seminars makes it difficult for them to increase the number of places available. Instead, everyone pleaded for the University to add more classes.

Atwater agrees that the University should expand the offering of writing courses to include more core course sections, such as fiction and poetry writing seminars. While centralizing the application form would make the application process less laborious and more accessible, Atwater said he believed this would only “exacerbate the problem” of the high demand for creative writing courses and make them more accessible. ultimately less accessible to students.

The English department is located at Linsly-Chittenden Hall.


Isaac Yu writes about Yale faculty and academics. He is the production and design editor for News, runs the News Instagram page, and has previously covered transportation and urban planning in New Haven. Originally from Garland, Texas, he is a sophomore at Berkeley College majoring in urban studies.