Program Overview:
Write in the Heart
of Appalachia

Cultivate a writing life. Join a writing community.

West Virginia Wesleyan’s low-residency Master of Fine Arts program offers writers the opportunity to study fiction, nonfiction, or poetry with accomplished and dedicated mentors in an intimate, student-centered environment.


The MFA is a two-year, 49 credit hour program. Students join an extraordinarily warm community every summer on campus and every winter at Blackwater Falls State Park for an intensive ten-day residency that initiates an independent semester of apprenticeship completed off-site through correspondence with a mentor. Students work with a mixture of new and returning faculty, working one-on-one with a different faculty mentor within their discipline throughout each residency and off-campus period.

• Faculty/student ratio of no greater than 1:4.

• Grounding in the best of past and current writing.

• Emphasis on craft and technique.

Located in central Appalachia, the program welcomes and fosters writing that explores place and identity, though that emphasis is secondary to fostering excellence in all writing, and applicants are accepted on the basis of writing quality, regardless of thematic content. As a natural outgrowth of investigation of place, interested students may substitute one campus residency with a Wesleyan-supervised field seminar in Ireland, or may design and propose a seminar for other travel destinations.

Low-Residency Model

The low-residency model is designed for serious, motivated writers. The model enables students to work toward a degree while balancing their work commitments and community life at their places of residence. Students are expected to dedicate 25 hours per week to the semester project they design with their faculty advisors.

  • Overview

    The low-residency rhythm of community and solitude, as well as its requirements of self-discipline and commitment, echoes the rhythm of the writing life. Wesleyan’s MFA is for writers who care deeply about writing and want to get better at it in the company of dedicated peers. Although we offer a postgraduate teaching fellowship, the program’s focus is not teacher preparation, but writing and working toward a manuscript of publishable quality.

    As a two-year program, Wesleyan’s MFA requires five residencies and
    four semesters, and students can begin in summer or winter.

  • The Residency

    Summer residencies are held on Wesleyan’s campus in Buckhannon in early July, and winter residencies are held at Blackwater Falls State Park in early January. Each of the four semesters begins with an intensive ten-day residency featuring a series of craft seminars, workshops, and readings presented by the program’s core faculty of writers and the semester’s visiting faculty. Information on the residency seminars is sent to students a month in advance, along with a list of assigned readings.

    Mornings of the residency are devoted to lecture- or discussion-style seminars; these mornings are interdisciplinary, offering all students instruction in fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. The final morning of the residency is dedicated to a panel discussion on topics ranging from publishing to the role of place in writing. The two-hour afternoon writing workshops are genre-specific. All of these core activities are incorporated into the Craft and Theory and Workshop courses detailed in the Course Descriptions. For more details on what to expect at the residency, read this excerpt from the Student Handbook (PDF).

    At the first four residencies, students complete a Semester Project Proposal in collaboration with their faculty advisors, and the semester coursework is completed at home.

    The Fifth Residency is the culmination of the student’s work in the program. The graduating student returns for this final instructional residency to participate in a Thesis Interview; give a reading from the Thesis Manuscript; teach a seminar to his or her peers; and usually participate in a mixed-genre workshop, along with professional workshops covering topics such as book proposals, submission to magazines, and post-MFA career tracks.

    For writers who are interested in participating in the robust community of the residency, but who are not seeking the MFA degree, the program offers an audit option.

    ON-CAMPUS SUMMER RESIDENCY ACCOMMODATIONS: If students opt for a meal plan, they dine in the campus dining hall; vegetarian meals are available. If students opt for campus housing, they stay in a residence hall in a private room with a suite bathroom shared with one person.

    Details and costs unique to the Blackwater Falls Winter Residency are outlined here (PDF)

  • The Semester

    The Semester Project is a one-on-one course undertaken with a core or visiting faculty member involving five exchanged writing packets and the submission of a final portfolio. These exchanges are not online courses, but tutorials which encourage a close, sustained apprenticeship with master writers who have significant publications and standing in their fields. The mentor relationship is maintained through regular and frequent email, mail, telephone and/or Skype contact. In addition to the creative work and brief annotations (craft essays) required in the writing packets during the first two semesters, the third semester also engages the student in a 20-25-page Critical Essay that deeply explores an element of craft central to the student’s own writing. The fourth semester is dedicated to the completion of the Thesis Manuscript.

Core Faculty
  • Doug Van Gundy, Program Director

    Doug Van Gundy’s poems and essays have appeared in many journals, including The Oxford American, The Guardian, EcotonePoems & Plays and The Louisville Review. His first book of poems, A Life Above Water, is published by Red Hen Press. He is the co-editor of Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods: Contemporary Writing from West Virginia, published by Vandalia Press. A graduate of the Goddard College MFA program, Doug has been a visiting poet at Middle Tennessee State University, Lynchburg College, Randolph Macon College, Barton College, Coastal Carolina University and Davis & Elkins College, and was an associate artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. In addition to writing and teaching, Doug is an award-winning old-time musician whose music has been featured on three CDs, several films, and National Public Radio’s Mountain Stage. He plays fiddle, guitar and mandolin in the duo, Born Old. Active Faculty Summer-Fall 2021

    A Fierce Desire to Stay” in The Guardian (new window)

    Serengeti” in Birmingham Arts Journal (new window)

    The Return of the Almighty” in Waccamaw (new window)

    Engineers” in Waccamaw (new window)

    From the Fishouse Archive

  • Devon McNamara

    Devon McNamara has poetry, essays, reviews and interviews in The Christian Science MonitorThe Hiram Poetry ReviewLaurel ReviewTrellisDark HorseWild Sweet Notes: 50 Years of West Virginia Poetry, and most recently Dogs Singing, from Salmon Poetry, Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare, Ireland. She directs cultural tours of Ireland for undergraduates and for writers in the MFA program. Before joining the Wesleyan English faculty she taught in poets-in-the-schools projects in West Virginia, Ohio, Iowa and Missouri, conducted writing workshops in reform facilities, and pioneered the West Virginia Public Radio college course, Women and Literature, featuring interviews with Appalachian musician Jean Ritchie, poets Adrienne Rich, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Irene McKinney, and former West Virginia Poet Laureate Louise McNeill. She was also co-manager of The Morgantown School of Ballet, a character dancer in the regional company, and has worked collaboratively with dancers from The Dayton Ballet and Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. Her Ph.D. is from New York University and she is the recipient of a YADDO fellowship. Active Faculty Summer-Fall 2021

    “Zach Sings” and “Spring Lament” in Dogs Singing (PDF)

  • Robert Stevens

    As a Navy brat, Robert Stevens moved 11 times by the time he turned 18.  After graduating from Pitt, he lived in Pittsburgh for the next 15 years.

    In the summer of 2012, he worked as a stand-in for George Takei and has appeared as an extra in commercials and movies such as Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Fathers and Daughters.

    Writing as Robert Yune, his fiction has been published in Green Mountains ReviewThe Kenyon Review, and Pleiades, among others.  In 2009, he received a writing fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

    In 2015, his debut novel Eighty Days of Sunlight was nominated for the International DUBLIN Literary Award.  Other nominees that year included Lauren Groff, Kazuo Ishiguro and Salman Rushdie.  His debut story collection Impossible Children won the 2017 Mary McCarthy Prize and was published in October 2019 by Sarabande Books.

    Stevens was the 2018-2019 Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College. He is currently an Assistant Professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College.

    Active Faculty Summer-Fall 2021

    “Everything that Rises” Coal Hill Review, issue 21 (new window)
    “Scenes from the Reverse Metamorphosis” The Monarch Review (new window)

Apply Now

Course Descriptions
Secondary Genre Concentration
Degree Requirements
Ireland Residency
Audit Option
Tuition, Fees & Financial Aid
Heartwood Literary Magazine