Founded in 2005 by Drs. J. Michael Lennon and Bonnie Culver, the Wilkes University Master of Arts in Creative Writing was one of the first low-residency programs in the country to utilize the online delivery possibilities offered by the Internet instead of the snail-mail packets used by the five existing programs at that time. Dr. Lennon and Dr. Culver began developing the program in 2003 and did so by seeking input and advice from writers, editors, publishers, producers, and agents on how to make the program meaningful, practical, and real for its students. The founding advisory board members included such luminaries as novelists , Norman Mailer and Larry Heinemann; poets, Toi Derricott, , H. L. Hix, and William Heyen; editors, Carol Schneider, Thom Ward; and NY agent, Jack Scovill.
While the founders sought to develop the content and shape of the program’s curriculum, they also employed the services of outside consultants to build the online backbone that would support the online workshops, content exchange, chats, and overall course delivery while using the best practices of teaching creative writing blended with the best practices of teaching courses online. In 2006, the Wilkes CW program was awarded the WebCT National Conference Award for Best Innovation in Program Content and Design. When the Pennsylvania Department of Education approved the Master of Arts proposal in 2004, the site team cited the program’s curriculum design and faculty engagement as a “model for all colleges to follow when developing future low-residency programs.”
In 2015, the program celebrated its 10th anniversary and the continued publishing and producing success of its faculty, board members, alums, and students. Taylor Polites, Barbara Taylor, Dawn Zera, Morowa Yejide, Laura Moran, Jason Carney, Chris Bullard, Brian Fanelli, Jonathan Rocks, Laurie Powers, Nisha Sharma, Jennifer Bokal, and Marlon James are only a few extraordinary program success stories of the program’s first decade.
Since 2006, Wilkes University has worked in partnership with Etruscan Press, a non-profit literary press founded in 2001 by Wilkes Graduate Creative Writing Program founding faculty members Philip Brady and Robert Mooney. Etruscan publishes books of poems, novels, short stories, creative nonfiction, criticism, translation, and anthologies. Etruscan Press is committed to nurturing a dialogue among genres at all levels of society, including young readers that are introduced to literary works through community outreach programs in Youngstown, Ohio, New York City, and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Over 60 Etruscan titles have been released, many of which have earned literary awards, including three National Book Award finalists, National Endowment for the Arts Translation Awards, Theodore Roethke Prize, Best American Poetry, Foreword Reviews Gold Medalists, Poetry Society of America First Book Winner, PEN Oakland Award, PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay, Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, Housatonic Book of the Year Award, and Community of Literary Magazines and Presses Firecracker Award. Etruscan Press offers intern partnerships to undergraduate students at several local colleges and universities. Over 100 graduate and undergraduate interns have been mentored by Etruscan editors, providing these interns with professional training and portfolio credentials.
Community service and giving back to the greater arts/writing community is an unstated goal of the program; however, faculty and alums have acted upon that spirit embedded in the program’s overall delivery to create community arts programs, develop new journals, create reading series, and launch new presses. At the Inkwell, Seersucker readings/classes, Hippocampus e-zine, Northampton House Press, and Kaylie Jones Books are examples of how alums and faculty have expanded the footprint of the program as it moves into its second decade.