Thursday, October 27, 2011

The University of Iowa will build upon its superior reputation in creative writing by establishing a new graduate degree in Spanish creative writing. The Board of Regents approved the Master of Fine Arts program today, and the UI will begin enrolling students to start in spring of 2012.

UI administrators say the program will cater to a rapidly growing Hispanic audience and will serve as a beacon for students who wish to pursue creative writing opportunities in their first language.

The United States is expected to surpass Mexico as the country with the most Spanish speakers by 2050, when Hispanics will comprise 29 percent of the population, according to projections from the Pew Hispanic Center. Iowa's Latino population increased by 52 percent between 2000 and 2008 and will make up 10.4 percent of its population by 2040, according to the Iowa Division of Latino Affairs.

"Spanish is not a foreign language anymore. It's a national language, and this program will help many bilingual writers express themselves creatively in both languages," says Mercedes Niño-Murcia, professor and chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS). "It will also further expose students, faculty, and the community to a wide array of creative individuals from around the world."

Offered through the Division of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures in CLAS, the MFA is one of only three in the nation; the others exist at the University of Texas–El Paso, and at New York University. UI officials say the new MFA program will stand out because of its connections to the university's renowned creative writing programs—the Iowa Writers' Workshop and the International Writing Program—and because of Iowa City's reputation as an international cultural center, recognized by its designation as a UNESCO City of Literature.

Also unique about the UI program is an outreach component. The two-year program involves 16 classes: courses in literary theory, and workshops in writing short stories, poetry, memoirs, nonfiction, detective narratives, graphic novels and comics, and scripts for film or theater. The engagement efforts will include activities to help local Hispanic adults and children tell their stories.

"We believe the writer is an important part of society," says Ana Merino, an associate professor of Spanish, and an accomplished poet and comics scholar who will direct and teach in the program. "The Hispanic tradition is that the writer is an intellectual who is linked with society through outreach. The writer establishes bridges with communities, not only with students."

The UI has offered Spanish creative writing courses at the undergraduate level for five years, and the courses have been incredibly popular, attracting more than 400 students in 20 sections annually. The graduate program will consist of 30 students at a time, with 15 graduating each year.

The core Spanish creative writing faculty includes Merino, along with Horacio Castellanos Moya, a writer and a journalist from El Salvador; Roberto Ampuero, a journalist and novelist who specializes in Latin American detective fiction; Luis Humberto Crosthwaite, whose fiction has garnered critical attention for his ability to express the complexities of living on the U.S./Mexico border; and Santiago Vaquera Vásquez, a writer who studies Chicano/a and Mexican literatures and cultures.

Oscar Hahn, a well-known Latin American poet and UI professor emeritus, and Tom Lewis, a current faculty member and former chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, envisioned the MFA. Officials in CLAS and the Graduate College were supportive of the degree, and approved the proposal.

The goal of the program is not only to produce well-trained writers, but also to prepare a cadre of educators who will train other writers to teach creative writing in Spanish. Graduates will be qualified to teach at community colleges and universities in the United States, as well as the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, where academic opportunities in the creative arts are more limited.

"I often speak of 'the theory of two houses,'" Merino says. "A person with two lovely homes—one in the city, and one at the beach—wouldn't give up either place if he didn't have to. Likewise, if an individual identifies with two cultures, he'd prefer to retain and celebrate both. This program will help bilingual writers do just that."

More on the program and bios of the faculty at: