Nonfiction Writing Program ranked #1 in nation for 5th straight year

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa has been ranked the number one nonfiction program in the country for the fifth year in a row by the magazine Poets and Writers.

Founded in 1976 by the Department of English in the UI College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, the Nonfiction Writing Program is a three-year-long graduate writing program that focuses primarily on creative nonfiction.

John D'Agata

“It’s very gratifying,” says Professor John D’Agata, Director of the Nonfiction Writing Program.  “Iowa obviously boasts a rich heritage in the literary arts, not to mention a pretty famous writing program in fiction and poetry.  So it’s encouraging to see the nonfiction program get its due.  Our students are the most accomplished young essayists in the country.  They deserve this.”

Joshua Wheeler, a second-year graduate student in the program, often volunteers to speak to prospective students of the Nonfiction Writing Program.

"For the last few weeks I've been fielding questions from prospective students all over the world,” he says, “and the thing I've found most surprising is not how many people are excited to apply to our program this year, but how I never run out of great things to tell them about our faculty and my peers and the opportunities the NWP provides us for pursuing careers as writers and teachers."

Considered the most selective writing program of its kind in the U.S., the Nonfiction Writing Program’s alumni are frequently cited as some of the most influential nonfiction writers in the country.

D’Agata estimates that during the past five years, graduates of the program have published over 80 books and won 31 literary awards.  Alumni of the program have secured teaching positions at some of the best schools in the country, including Northwestern University, Colgate University, the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, New York University, and the University of Massachusetts.

“We’re comparatively pretty small,” D’Agata says, “so the percentage of our graduates who go on to successfully publish and find teaching jobs is staggeringly high.”

Recent graduates of the Nonfiction Writing Program have also received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rona Jafee Foundation, the Whiting Writers Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.|

“They also win amazing literary prizes,” adds D’Agata, including in recent years the Guardian Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and a MacArthur “Genius” award.

Jennifer Percy, who recently received an NEA fellowship, is a 2010 graduate of the Nonfiction Writing Program.  She calls the program “a gem” of a community.

“I arrived in Iowa with a pretty stagnant idea of nonfiction,” she says, “but I left understanding the rich possibilities of the genre. The program helped me recognize the potential in my own work."

Percy’s first book, Demon Camp, will be published later this year.

“I think students thrive here because the program is both really rigorous and yet also very compassionate,” says third-year graduate student Catina Bacote.  “After just one semester here I became a stronger writer. It’s changed me forever as a writer and thinker.”

The Nonfiction Writing Program’s ranking can be found in the October/November issue of Poets and Writers.

For more information about the Nonfiction Writing Program, visit

The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers about 70 majors across the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. About 15,000 undergraduate and nearly 2,000 graduate students study each year in the college’s 37 departments, led by faculty at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all Iowa undergraduates through the college's general education program, CLAS CORE. About 80 percent of all Iowa undergraduates begin their academic journey in CLAS. The college confers about 60 percent of the university's bachelor's degrees each academic year.