Skip to Content

Program Overview

Thank you for your interest in the Helen Zell Writers' Program. Our Master in Fine Arts faculty is comprised of a dedicated group of poets and fiction writers who have won awards ranging from Guggenheim to MacArthur Fellowships, and who have—collectively—written, translated, and edited more than fifty books. Each year, we draw ten poets and twelve fiction writers from an applicant pool of roughly 1,000. These students spend two years taking craft classes and workshops, attending readings, and meeting individually with faculty members. At the end of their second year, our students submit their MFA theses. Following their successful theses defenses, they are then granted a third-year residency to be spent in Ann Arbor, writing and engaging in the community service work of their choice.

The acclaimed Zell Visiting Writers' Series brings more than a dozen poets and fiction writers to campus every year, both to read and meet with students. Recent visitors include Alice McDermott, Louise Glück, Angela Flournoy, Mary Ruefle, Charles Baxter, Edward Hirsch, Justin Torres, Marianne Boruch, Kazuo Ishiguro, Ross Gay, and Alison Bechdel. Our students also participate in reading series themselves, and are able to apply for the University of Michigan Hopwood Awards. Named for their benefactor Avery Hopwood, a preeminent playwright of the Jazz Age, the Hopwood Awards collectively offer more than $250,000 in prize money every year to Michigan graduate and undergraduate writers.

Our alumni have gone on to accomplish remarkable things, garnering—in recent years—the National Book Award, The Yale Younger Poets Award, the Whiting Award, the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award, the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize, the Lambda Literary Award, and many other honors. Their work has appeared in acclaimed venues such as The New Yorker, and been anthologized in collections such as The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Poetry. Their books have also been published by some of the most celebrated imprints and presses in the country, including Scribner, Riverhead, Viking, and the University of Chicago Press.

All of this said, we do not measure the achievements of our program simply by what we collectively produce as artists, or garner in terms of recognition. Rather, we like to think of our endeavor as a communal effort to push back against the darkness of intolerance and injustice—to give voice to those experiences and perspectives that might otherwise be silenced, and to embody and value those practices that speak to the importance of empathy and compassion in the world. We as faculty members ask our MFA students, just as we ask ourselves, to become involved in literacy, literary, and artistic outreach programs both in Southeastern Michigan (particularly Ann Arbor and Detroit) and elsewhere. We are committed both to forging a sense of community within our program, and to connecting this community to the larger world that surrounds us.

Thank you for your interest, and good luck with your own writing!

Sincerely,

Douglas Trevor
Director, Helen Zell Writers' Program
University of Michigan