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The Helen Zell Writers' Program is a fully-funded MFA Program. 

In the first year, all MFA students accepted into the program are offered a full tuition waiver and a stipend of $16,000, as well as $6,000 in summer funding. The total first year package equals $22,000. Applicants may also be considered, where appropriate, for Rackham Merit Fellowships, which offer, together with Department of English funding, a stipend and summer-funding package equalling $22,000.

Second year support includes a complete tuition waiver, stipend (currently for 2013–2014, $18,600), and health care benefits through a Graduate Student Instructorship. GSIs teach one undergraduate course per semester, usually a section each of English125 (Introduction to College Writing) and English223 (Introduction to Creative Writing). GSI training and mentoring for English125 is administered by the English Department Writing Program (EDWP)

Additionally, various fellowships and prizes are awarded each year to MFA students. Specific opportunities are described below.

Professional Development Funding

Civitas Fellowships

Civitas Fellowships are awarded to a small number of MFA students after an application process. Participating graduate students will be expected to work an average of 10 hours a week for 30 weeks for InsideOut Detroit (travel time and preparation time included). The work may include team-teaching creative writing classes in the Detroit Public Schools, helping the writers at InsideOut with their classroom work in the Detroit schools, helping the administrators at InsideOut prepare annual literary magazines and readings by the students in Detroit, and helping with the production of the literary magazines in the Detroit schools. Civitas Fellowships are the result of efforts made by InsideOut Detroit, the MFA Program in Creative Writing, the Office of the Provost, and the Dean of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts.

Summer Internships

Students with a summer internship in education, arts administration, or publishing may apply for supplemental funding between the first and second years of the program. In the past, MFA students have interned at FSG, Small Press Distribution, 826michigan, Another Chicago Magazine, The Poetry Foundation, Time Asia, Canarium Books, Tupelo Press, Copper Canyon Press, Mid-Atlantic Review, and Michigan Quarterly Review, among other organizations.

Thesis Research/Travel Grant

MFA students can apply for a Thesis Grant to help support travel necessary to complete research for their thesis. There are two times during the academic year when students may apply for the Thesis Grant, October (to be used over the winter break or spring break), and March (to be used over the summer break after the first year in the program).

Vermont Studio Center

We have established two summer fellowship opportunities for one month at the Vermont Studio Center for poets between the first and second years of the MFA program.



The Hopwood Awards

Each year Hopwood Awards are given in several categories, including novel, drama, screenplay, nonfiction, short fiction, and poetry. Go to the Hopwood Program home page to learn more about the Hopwood Awards, donor Avery Hopwood, and the Hopwood Program's annual lectures and guest readers.


The Henfield Prize in Fiction

The $10,000 Henfield Prize in Fiction, developed by Joseph F. McCrindle, Editor and Publisher of the Transatlantic Review, is to be awarded to a continuing or graduating student in the Helen Zell Writers' Program. The contest will be judged by a writer of national prominence who does not teach in the program.


The Farrar Memorial Playwriting Grant

Although we do not offer a concentration in playwriting, thanks to the generosity of the Wilma L. Farrar estate, the program is often able to offer funding to a student or students who are working on playwriting and stagecraft in addition to their specific genre.


The Frederick Busch Prize in Fiction

Established to commemorate the work and teaching of Frederick Busch, who passed away while serving as the Zell Distinguished Visiting Professor in 2006, this $2,000 prize is intended to support the work of a promising fiction writer in the midst of graduate study in the Helen Zell Writers' Program. The entries will be judged by local judges who do not teach in the program.


The Tyson Award in Fiction

The contest for the $2,000 Tyson Award in Fiction is open to all continuing graduate students in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan. The contest will be judged by a faculty member in the Department of English who does not teach in the Helen Zell Writers' Program.

Post MFA Fellowships

The Helen Zell Writers' Program is able to offer all qualifying graduates of our program one year of post-MFA funding.

Post-MFA year support will total $28,000 per fellow. Health insurance is not included, and we strongly encourage fellows to purchase it with part of the stipend. Fellows are not allowed to teach at the University of Michigan, or any other college, during the term of the fellowship. They are also not allowed to accept full-time employment at the University of Michigan, and are expected not to work full-time elsewhere. This year is meant to be time to write.

To qualify for a post-MFA fellowship, an MFA student must:

Year 1

  • Pass the MFA Reading Exam.

Year 2

  • Successfully complete all requirements for graduation by May 15 of the year of the expected degree, as well as after receiving the degree.
  • Submit a thesis (a minimum of 125 pages of prose or 45 pages of poetry). A thesis that meets the requirements for the post-MFA fellowship will be found to demonstrate:
    • A clear coherence, such that a significant portion of its contents can be seen to be plainly of a piece, indicating the feasibility of a project that might use the thesis as a basis for a completed work
    • Substantial sustained recent investment on the part of the author, such that the thesis is composed entirely or largely of work completed or substantially revised since the author’s admission to the program
    • Substantial quality
  • Submit a thesis statement (500–1000 words). The thesis statement will describe:
    • How the thesis might be used as the foundation for a book of poetry or prose to be completed, at least in the form of a revised draft, by the end of the fellowship year
    • How the candidate has demonstrated maturity, collegiality, and the potential for active and positive participation in the MFA community or the Ann Arbor or Michigan literary community
    • How the candidate might contribute to either of those communities during the fellowship year
  • At the completion of the thesis workshop semester, each candidate must meet with both of his or her two thesis advisors, together or separately, to discuss the candidate’s thesis and thesis statement. The advisors then decide together, on the basis of the thesis, the thesis statement, and the advisors’ knowledge of the candidate:
    • Whether the thesis meets the necessary requirements
    • Whether the candidate has demonstrated maturity, collegiality, and the potential for active and positive participation in the MFA community or the Ann Arbor or Michigan literary community, including having met the standards set forward in the HZWP Good-Standing Policy
    • Whether the candidate is eligible for a Zell Postgraduate Fellowship

Year 3

  • All post-MFA Fellows are expected to give a short presentation on their work and to participate in a group reading during the fellowship year. While the post-MFA fellowships are postgraduate awards, Fellows are also expected under the terms of the fellowship to maintain active involvement with the MFA community. Fellows may maintain their involvement with the MFA community in many ways. They may be invited to give introductions for or host roundtables with visiting authors, or to organize and facilitate MFA community discussions of career and craft issues. Fellows are encouraged to suggest ways of being actively involved.
  • As the fellowship is expressly established to support writers in a crucial period of their postgraduate life, and to provide valuable time and encouragement, no Zell Postgraduate Fellow may hold a paid position in the English department during the fellowship term. We further discourage Fellows, in the strongest possible terms, from seeking other employment during the term of the fellowship.  
  • In addition, and pursuant to the expectation of community involvement, Fellows must reside in Ann Arbor or the Ann Arbor area during the fellowship year. A good-faith understanding of what it means to "reside" in Ann Arbor or environs will allow for reasonable periods of time spent traveling for personal or for research purposes. In the extreme case of a Fellow simply failing to maintain Ann Arbor or environs as the place of his or her principal residence, the fellowship can be terminated at the discretion of the Director. A Fellow wishing to terminate his or her fellowship may do so at any time by written request.
  • At the end of the year, Fellows will submit a manuscript comprised of work written during the fellowship year. This manuscript will be archived.  

Along with offering our students time to write, and a community of talented peers and experienced mentors in which to do so, the Helen Zell Writers' Program has always emphasized academic preparation, pedagogical training, and professionalization through service. The post-MFA fellowships not only gives our students the time they need to write their first books, but helps them prepare to succeed as professional writers.