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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, a stipend of $30,054 (currently for '22-'23), as well as $6,000 in summer funding, and health care benefits. Applicants may also be considered, where appropriate, for Rackham Merit Fellowships.

Second year support includes a complete tuition waiver, stipend (currently for 2022-2023, $24,944), and health care benefits through a Graduate Student Instructorship. GSIs teach one undergraduate course per semester, usually a section each of English 125 (Introduction to College Writing) and English 223 (Introduction to Creative Writing). GSI training and mentoring for English 125 and 223 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.


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

Starting for the Fall 2022 cohort, the Helen Zell Writers' Program will be able to offer six qualifying graduates of our program a one year of post-MFA funding.

The intent and the understanding is that the Post-MFA Zell Fellowship will cover all living expenses and health coverage. 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 employment at the University of Michigan, and are expected not to work 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

Complete an application to be considered for the post-MFA fellowship. (details will be provided during the 2nd year)

Year 3

  • 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.
  • Each Fellow completes a four-hour-per-week community service project called a "Zell project."
  • As the fellowship is expressly established to support writers in a crucial period of their postgraduate life, and to provide valuable time and encouragement, Zell Postgraduate Fellows may not hold a paid position during the fellowship term. 
  • 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. 
  • At the end of the year, Fellows submit a report on their "Zell project" as well as 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.