Online | Open-Genre | Independent Study

Independent Study: Preparing Your MFA Application

Are you thinking about getting an MFA in creative writing? Start here, with a self-guided course in four parts by National Book Award longlisted poet and MFA program faculty and director Lillian-Yvonne Bertram.

This course is designed to help you prepare a strong and solid MFA application, regardless of genre. The information in this course comes from my own experience as an MFA applicant, as a writer, as MFA program faculty, and as an MFA program director. In many ways, this course represents the steps I wish applicants would take and the things I want them to consider before applying to the program I work in. This course is ideal for all kinds of students—whether you’re coming directly from undergrad or if you’ve been out of school for a while and are transitioning careers.

Applying for an MFA program is both a creative and practical exercise: you are defining your creative needs, desires, and goals, and positioning yourself to better achieve those goals. At the end of the course you’ll have an MFA application as well as a solid foundation of materials for other applications, like residencies and fellowships. All application types require a clear understanding of what you’re applying for and why. Going through this course will help you develop the habits of mind to prepare for a variety of application scenarios. Even if you decide not to apply for an MFA, you will be able to build on the themes and knowledge developed in this course to organize yourself in the future.

Following the preface week, this course is divided into 4 weeks of materials and activities. After each week you will be more organized and your application packet will be more complete. Here’s what you can expect:

Week 1: Preface

Week 2: Finding and choosing programs to apply to

Week 3: Drafting the personal statement

Week 4: Preparing the writing sample, resume, and list of recommenders

Week 5: Pulling it all together and hitting submit

Lillian-Yvonne Bertram

Lillian-Yvonne Bertram is the author of Travesty Generator (Noemi Press), a book of computational poetry that received the Poetry Society of America’s 2020 Anna Rabinowitz prize for interdisciplinary work. Their other poetry books include How Narrow My Escapes (DIAGRAM/New Michigan), Personal Science (Tupelo), a slice from the cake made of air (Red Hen Press), and But a Storm is Blowing From Paradise (Red Hen Press). They are the current director of the MFA program at UMass Boston.


"In the wake of a racist microaggression, two people of color might look at each other and say, 'That was random'—ironically meaning it was anything but. By the same token, the poems of Lillian-Yvonne Bertram’s TRAVESTY GENERATOR use computational processes to demonstrate that randomness offers no escape from the patterns that grief and outrage form in black lives. Composed with (and sometimes of) permutation programming code and algorithms, these poems run relentless procedures on the language of black death and black survival. Bertram’s poetic 'output' will confuse and frustrate you, then mesmerize and haunt you—feelings generated by the poetry, as by the very terms of black life in this country."

Evie Shockley author of SEMIAUTOMATIC

"Combining digital tools and prestidigital artistry, Lillian-Yvonne Bertram’s TRAVESTY GENERATOR powerfully breaks and remakes contemporary poetry’s 'small machine of words.' Timely in its sociopolitical critique and visionary in its formal inventiveness, Bertram’s collection offers a guide to a poetics of the new Afro/future."

John Keene author of COUNTERNARRATIVES

"TRAVESTY GENERATOR is so carefully crafted and considered from a standpoint of musicality. Where some would consider the voice as the sole instrument, Lillian-Yvonne Bertram understands language as the true vehicle for instrumentation. These poems sprawl generously, drift a reader seamlessly between percussive urgency and gentle harmonies. The words cascade until entire symphonies are created. What a joy, to see a book this brave and unafraid of its own many possibilities."

Hanif Abdurraqib author of THEY CAN'T KILL US UNTIL THEY KILL US

“I am astonished by Lillian Yvonne Bertram’s trailblazing poetry in TRAVESTY GENERATOR. Bertram uses open-source coding to generate haunting inquiring elegies to Trayvon Martin, and Eric Garner, and Emmett Till. By framing [their] 'counter-narratives' of black lives in code and social media optimization, Bertram brilliantly conveys how black experience becomes codified, homogenized, and branded for capitalist dissemination. Code, written by white men, is part of the hardwired system of white supremacy, where structural violence begets itself. But Bertram hacks into it. [They] re-engineer language by synthesizing the lyric and coding script, taking the baton from Harryette Mullen and the Oulipians and dashing with it to late 21st century black futurity. TRAVESTY GENERATOR is genius.”