In order to become fully realized artists it is essential for students to amass not just a wealth of writing experience, but also a breadth of reading experience. A writer acquainted with the full diversity of texts available in the world is able to make informed artistic decisions about his or her own work. A deep knowledge of literature expands the boundaries of the artist’s aesthetic universe, making room for new possibilities.
The comprehensive reading list represents a wide amount of literature ranging in style from the traditional to the experimental, the classic to the contemporary. Occasionally some texts from the comprehensive reading list may be taught in the student’s regular courses, but most will not. The M.F.A. Program expects its students to be self-motivated, perceptive readers; completing the close reading and analysis of these texts is ultimately the invidual student’s responsibility.
The comprehensive examination is administered on the Saturday ending the fourth full week of classes in the spring semester. Students are expected to take the exam in their fourth semester of full-time study in the program (i.e. usually in their second year). During this all-day written exam, the student is asked to respond to a variety of questions pertaining to form, structure, and other issues important to writers. This exam tests the student’s ability to articulate an in-depth understanding of various techniques and styles as well as his or her own personal aesthetic principles.
The comprehensive exam will be evaluated on a pass/fail basis. Students failing the exam will have an opportunity to take it in the third year of study. At the discretion of the comprehensive exam committee, some students judged to have narrowly failed may be given the opportunity to take a supplemental exam in the second week of April; students who pass this supplemental exam will have completed the requirement of passing the comprehensive exam. Those who fail must retake the new examination the following February. Students will not be able to receive a degree until they have passed the comprehensive exam.
Reading lists are revised every two years by a subcommittee of the Graduate Programs Committee, but any interested graduate students and faculty members can participate. Between ten and twenty-five percent of the list may be changed.