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Tell your story: DePaul University offers MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing

New publishing institute bolsters internship opportunities

Rebecca Johns Trissler
Rebecca Johns-Trissler, associate professor of English and director of the graduate program in writing and publishing, says she’s dedicated to helping MFA students ‘avoid pitfalls, to get where they want to go faster.’ (DePaul University/Randall Spriggs)
​​CHICAGO — Writers are rarely just working on one thing. They are copy writers on deadline, teachers penning poems and office workers starting a novel during lunch breaks. Faculty members at DePaul University know what it’s like to balance the writing life and working for a living. A new degree, the MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing, empowers students to prioritize their own writing while building career-ready skills in teaching and publishing. 

The DePaul Publishing Institute, launching in fall 2020, will enhance opportunities for students to gain professional experience at the university and across Chicago. 

An MFA with options
The MFA is a terminal degree, which qualifies graduates to teach in a 4-year institution. It is a new option within DePaul’s established graduate program in creative writing, which also offers an M.A. in writing and publishing, as well as a certificate in teaching. DePaul’s program is designed to also give options to writers who may not want to teach yet, or at all, but who would like to gain skills in publishing or other writing-focused careers. 

 “I’ve done almost everything you can do with an English degree,” said Rebecca Johns-Trissler, associate professor and director of the graduate program in writing and publishing. Before she sold her first novel, “Icebergs,” Johns-Trissler was an editor for Woman’s Day magazine, copywriter for Penguin books and journalist who has written for the Chicago Tribune and Cosmopolitan. Now, she’s helping young writers “avoid pitfalls, to get where they want to go faster.” 

That includes guiding students as they learn how to be a copy editor, design pages, write a pitch and publicize a book. The program will also include rigorous writing workshops and feedback that help writers take their work to the next level. Johns-Trissler describes an MFA as a “gift you give yourself.” “You’re giving yourself permission to grow as a writer, to study the craft, and to do that in an intense way with people who want their work read, and want to be successful,” she said. 

Institute bolsters learning at literary publications

Master's students in creative writing
Students in the MFA in creative writing and publishing program can tailor their degree to focus on career-reading skills in publishing, teaching and more. (DePaul University/Marketing Communications)
The DePaul Publishing Institute, launched to augment this degree program, is bringing together DePaul’s literary journals Poetry East, Slag Glass City and Crook & Folly, as well as the university’s nonprofit book publisher Big Shoulders Books. This move will facilitate more in-house internships that build students’ knowledge and experience to work in a variety of fields, according to Michele Morano, professor and chair of the English department. 

“Students will be able to move between book publishing and journal publishing, getting their feet wet and figuring out what they’d like to focus on in the future,” said Morano. The institute will also enhance the university’s existing relationships with publishers across the city of Chicago. 

“Our goal is not just to teach students how to write, but also how to produce books, magazines and online journals,” said Miles Harvey, an associate professor of English and director of the publishing institute. “In the fast-changing publishing landscape of the 21st century, we think such skills will increasingly be part of a successful writer's toolkit.” 

Harvey, Morano and Chris Green, a senior professional lecturer in English, cofounded Big Shoulders Books, reaching tens of thousands of readers with free copies of “quality works of writing by and about Chicagoans whose voices might not otherwise be shared.” 

DePaul students are central to the editing and creation of each of Big Shoulder’s five books, including “How Long Will I Cry,” a collection of first-hand accounts about the impact of Chicago's violence that has reached more than 50,000 readers, he noted. 

Building a community of writers and publishers
MFA students at DePaul are surrounded by successful writers and editors in DePaul’s faculty members, including Barrie Jean Borich, Ted Anton and Richard Jones. Erika Sanchez, author of “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter,” also began teaching in the program this year, starting with a graduate workshop on the young adult novel. 

Pairing the MFA with an advanced, hands-on experience in publishing gives students “paths into careers in book and magazine making,” said Borich, associate professor and editor of Slag Glass City, a digital journal of the urban essay arts. In her publishing class, students learn the history of “the little magazine” and do the work of deliberating over submissions as well as the “nitty gritty tasks required to keep the publication going,” Borich said. 

“The work of publishing involves hands-on toil, collaborative process, and a deep knowledge and love of books and literary writing,” said Borich, the award-winning author of “Body Geographic” and “Apocalypse, Darling.” “Our students will leave DePaul with concrete experience in all these areas — particularly as they relate to publishing ventures in cities such as Chicago and New York — preparing them for the challenging and invigorating life of literature making,” Borich said. 

Richard Jones has served as editor of Poetry East for 40 years, an anniversary he’s gearing up to celebrate with the journal’s 100th volume this fall. Students have been “a huge part” of Poetry East’s success, and Jones looks forward to collaborating with other faculty in the publishing institute. Jones is the author of a dozen books of poetry, including “Country of Air,” “At Last We Enter Paradise,” “A Perfect Time” and “Apropos of Nothing.” 

“Both the writing life and careers in publishing require discipline, will and perseverance. It's a matter of debate whether such traits can be taught, but there is no doubt that it can be a transformative experience to be part of a literary community that understands and aspires to these goals,” Jones said.

​For more information about the MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing, visit


Michele Morano

Rebecca Johns-Trissler

Miles Harvey

Media Contact:
Kristin Claes Mathews