Creative Writing & Barnard College

Known for the strength of its writing program, Barnard includes among its current faculty novelists Mary Gordon ’71, Hisham Matar and poet Saskia Hamilton.  Each semester, authors and literary scholars from around the world join the staff.  This year’s guests can be found on the Faculty List page.  One event each term in the department's reading series, Writers at Barnard, features poets and authors who are teaching in the department at the time.

Barnard's Tradition of Writers

As a small college, the number of influential writers coming out of Barnard is disproportionately large.  The New York Times describes the school as "something of a literary hatchery" (see Joseph Berger's "At Barnard, One Generation of Writers Nurtures the Next," 2007).  Notable literary alumnae include Zora Neale Hurston ’28, Francine du Plessix Gray ’52, June Jordan ’57, Erica Jong ’63, Ntozake Shange ’70, Jhumpa Lahiri ’89, who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2000 for her book of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies, and Edwidge Danticuat ’90.  In addition to Lahiri, six of Barnard’s alumnae in journalism have won or shared the Pulitzer Prize, including novelist and Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen ’74, who is currently chair of the Barnard Trustees; Natalie Angier ’78, author and science writer for The New York Times; Rose Marie Arce ’86 and Suzanne Bilello ’77, members of a Newsday team which shared the Pulitzer for spot news reporting in 1992; and Eileen McNamara ’74, who won the Pulitzer in 1997 for commentary in The Boston Globe; and Katherine Boo ’88 who was recognized for her work at The Washington Post for a series on abuse in District of Columbia group homes.  As draw inspiring and supportive as milieu, however, the design of Barnard's Program itself is designed is key.

The Creative Writing Program

The Department holds the firm belief that the best writing comes from familiarity and deep understanding of the larger body of English literature.  Creative Writing is not a separate major, but a Concentration within an English major, and majors can only take on the Concentration in their Senior year.  However, all students are welcome to enroll in Creative Writing courses, even those attending Columbia or who are not English majors.  Each instructor admits students purely on the basis of the writing samples submitted before the semester begins.

In any given semester, about half of Barnard's Creative Writing courses are taught by a perennial core of Department faculty members who are also actively-publishing writers.  The other half are led by established authors, poets, playwrights and journalists coming to Barnard as visiting artists, usually for a semester or two at a time. This balance gives students both consistency and exposure to a wide range what is current in these fields.

New York City makes Barnard very attractive to top writers invited to teach, be a guest speaker in a class or participate in readings. In addition to events sponsored by the English Department, writers from all over the globe are regularly presented by Barnard's International Artist Series or sometimes by one of the issue-focused Forums on campus.  Off campus, New York offers a rich spectrum of individual opportunities as well.  Students can experience the best in any of the arts, from traditional to cutting-edge, or intern for a publisher, literary agency or news organization.

Whether or not a student concentrated in Creative Writing or goes on to become a high-profile author, Barnard is proud of its proven record of fostering women who go on to successful careers as authors, poets, journalists, editors and related professions.

page last updated 8/8/14