significant new financial commitment from The University of Southern
Mississippi will allow the renowned Center for Writers to remain
one of the country’s premier creative writing programs, a
university official said Tuesday.
Already ranked high among creative writing programs
nationally, the Center for Writers received ten new $15,000 Excellence
Fellowships to help attract the best writing students.
“This stipend is very competitive with
the best writing programs in the country,” said Frederick
Barthelme, director of the center. For comparison, Barthelme noted
that the University of Missouri, considered one of the nation’s
foremost creative writing programs, offers $13,500 to its fellows.
“In fact, we lost two very fine students to Missouri two years
ago,” Barthelme said. “Stipends were the chief reason.”
In addition, the budget for teaching assistants in
English and Creative Writing at Southern Miss has been increased
“This financial assistance solidifies
our position as one of the top graduate programs in creative writing
in the United States,” said Dr. Elliott Pood, dean of the
College of Arts and Letters. “It assures our ability to attract
the best doctoral students nationally. We’re trying to go
from the top 10 percent to the top 10—that’s our goal.”
In 1997 the Center for Writers was ranked in the
top 10 percent of the nation’s creative writing programs in
a widely circulated assessment published by U.S. News & World
Before the current increase in the stipends for teaching
assistants and teaching Excellence Fellows, graduate students in
English and in the Center for Writers received allocations of $8,000
per year in return for teaching four courses. By almost doubling
that amount for the Excellence Fellowships and raising the base
amount of departmental stipends to $10,000, the department has made
itself much more competitive with regional institutions. With the
addition of the Excellence Fellowships, it has positioned itself
to compete with the nation’s top programs, Barthelme said.
“We believe we can build on what is already
a very successful program,” he said. “We’ve always
attracted a very high caliber of student – students from schools
such as Cornell, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Harvard -- but with these
new teaching fellowships, we believe we can attract more of the
top tier students.”
After polling 13 of the top candidates in recent
semesters who selected programs other than Southern Miss, Barthelme
found the previously low stipends to be a significant factor in
their decisions. He then drew up a proposal for Dean Pood and university
President Shelby Thames comparing the nation’s top creative
“The president was very responsive to
our proposal and committed to giving the Center the support it needed,”
Barthelme said. “Like Dr. Aubrey Lucas before him, Dr. Thames
clearly felt that the center deserved support, and he gave that
support in spades.”
President Thames said it was important to give this
internationally prominent program the kind of support and commitment
it deserves, assuring the Center for Writers can continue to compete
for the brightest students in the world.
“The Center for Writers has long been
one of our more successful and prestigious programs, and I believe
this increased support will allow it to gain even greater prestige,”
Dr. Thames said.
Part of the Department of English, the Center for
Writers was founded in 1971. In 1977, Barthelme, a finalist in last
year’s PEN/Faulkner award, took over the program. He has guided
it since that time, producing dozens of publishing writers, among
them many prize-winning fiction writers and poets, as well as many
teachers of writing employed at dozens of universities across the
country. As of next year, graduates of the Center for Writers will
be directing the creative writing programs at Georgia State, Southwest
Minnesota State, Florida State, and the University of Tennessee.
Barthelme said an added benefit of attracting the
nation’s top writing students is the expertise they offer
to students in undergraduate writing courses.
“One of the big advantages of bringing
in graduate students from schools like USC and Princeton and the
University of Virginia is that we will always have very high quality
instruction in our core composition courses,” Barthelme said.
“These are writers who are already greatly skilled in writing,
and they pass those skills along to our students universitywide.
There will be immediate and measurable benefits.”
More than two-thirds of the students who have obtained
graduate degrees in the English department in the last dozen years
have been in creative writing, Barthelme said. The Center for Writers
currently has more than 40 graduate students, with the expectation
of increasing that number to more than 50 with the creation of the
The department is also in the process of hiring
new faculty to replace three retired professors. “We’ve
already hired a terrific new poet, Julia Johnson, who took her undergraduate
degree at Hollins University and her graduate degree at the University
of Virginia. She has a first book already with L.S.U. Press, and
a second book is in the works. She’ll join us in the fall.
And we’ll look for additional replacements next year,”
Barthelme said. “But Julia Johnson is the perfect template
for the kind of people we’re seeking—smart, accomplished,
with a dedication to teaching and publishing, and ready to make
a long-term commitment to The University of Southern Mississippi.
The future is a great opportunity for this university, and we want
to do our part for the benefit of the school and its students.”