About the MFA Program

Learn About:

Overview: Writing and Consciousness
Overview: Creative Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Arts
Other MFA Program Details


“If writing is thinking and discovery and selection and order and meaning,
it is also awe and reverence and mystery and magic.”

--  Toni Morrison, The Site of Memory

The writers in the MFA in Writing and Consciousness program--a supportive community of faculty and students--encourage and challenge each other to create beautiful, powerful work that changes lives. We offer a unique multigenre, multidiscipline approach, and a strong focus on diverse, international, contemporary literary models. The curriculum combines intellectual rigor with playful curiosity and the willingness to take risks and experiment in workshop, art, and craft courses. We do not believe that literary artists exist in a vacuum or must separate from the culture to create; rather, we hold the view that art provides a profound method for engaging self and culture and can transform the individual and world.

The writers in the program are deeply motivated individuals with rich life experiences and the conviction that writing is both an art and a calling. They learn to celebrate the diversity of each other's choices and gifts, to give supportive feedback aimed at illuminating and strengthening each other's work, and to claim their particular literary lineages. Some also choose to work across disciplines, and collaborate with the artists in Creative Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Arts MFA program.

Students have a range of choices in establishing their individual programs and areas of study. Students read substantially, write critical and creative work, and complete a creative project in the genre of their choice: fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, text/image, or mixed-genre work. Students work closely with our faculty of active writers, both in small courses and one on one (in person and online).Visiting writers lead workshops and are invited to present at our guest artist series, Saturday Night @ CIIS, so that our students' journeys are enriched by multiple perspectives.

The heart of the program--the MFA Workshop and MFA Project--gives students a chance to focus on their own work while learning from the work of their peers.  Coursework focusing on genre and then specific craft elements (that may cross genres), exposes students to the essential techniques and current practices in a variety of types of writing, while allowing them to develop dexterity and proficiency in various literary forms.

We also have a notable professional-development curriculum, with second-year courses in Editing and Publishing, The Art and Craft of Teaching Writing, and The Artist in the World. Courses in arts administration, community arts work, and teaching offered in the MFA in Creative Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Arts are also open to students in the MFA in Writing and Consciousness.


The MFA in Creative Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Arts is part of the Department of Writing, Consciousness and Creative Inquiry. We welcome artists trained or practicing in single or multiple disciplines ready to do the following:

Place their own art work at the center of a creative inquiry, which allows them to claim an arts heritage and reflect on the interrelationship between personal values and aesthetic choices

Explore how artists can collaborate with and feed each other across disciplines

Experiment with inter-arts and cross-disciplinary approaches to art-making

Learn to contextualize their art and investigate how it can reflect or aid social change by transgressing or breaking through personal and cultural barriers

Acquire additional skills and add a credential to expand their job options or open up new professional opportunities

For further exploration, check out What is Creative Inquiry? by Kris Brandenburger, MFA faculty member.


Tuition and Enrollment
This full time, 48-unit program is completed in two years.  We admit students in the fall semester only.  Please visit the Financial Aid Department's tuition page for updated program costs per unit.  To find out more about scholarships for MFA students, contact Jana Krezo, the program's Admissions Counselor at 415-575-6246 or jkrezo@ciis.edu.  The MFA program also offers a limited number of teaching and research assistantships to students during their second year.  To find our more, contact MFA program coordinator Theresa Newman at 415-575-6264 or tnewman@ciis.edu.

Intensive Weekend Format and Schedule
Our MFA programs meet on an intensive weekend schedule, and students are in residence six times a semester-in general, Saturday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Some students will have elective courses that meet Friday evenings (usually 6:15 to 9:15 p.m.).

Students complete 75% of coursework during weekend residencies and the other 25% through online conferences (via Caucus) and/or individual meetings with advisors/mentors. For more information, see below. Hybrid and online electives will be available for some courses.

Saturday Nights @ CIIS
On Saturday evenings, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., students attend "Saturday Night @ CIIS," a guest artist series open to the entire community. These lively Saturday night events include panel discussions on sustaining a life as an artist, salon talks on artistic collaborations, and readings and performances by local and visiting guest artists, MFA alumni/ae, and MFA faculty. Students experience the diverse range of professional artists in the Bay area and beyond, and learn firsthand how these artists live and work. See our faculty page for our Saturday Night Presenters.

Supplemental Online Work
Before the first weekend and between weekend meetings, students participate in Caucus, the online conference used at CIIS, Online activities may include: reading and responding to other students' writings or artwork, preparing critical reflections as a follow up to weekend experience, participating in small group conversations or preparing for group projects, or responding to discussion items posted by instructors.

Working with Mentors and Faculty Advisors
Every semester, students meet with mentors (visiting or CIIS faculty). These meetings will be in person, via phone call, and/or via Caucus. In the first year, Writing and Consciousness students have individual meetings with workshop leaders and Creative Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Arts faculty oversee the work that students do with outside mentors. These guest artist mentors document their work with students by preparing a narrative assessment at the end of the semester. During the second year, all MFA students have a WCC faculty advisor for their MFA project and an outside mentor/advisor. Students work with the same faculty advisor and mentor/advisor for both terms.