New Writing BA at York College of Pennsylvania

Travis Kurowski | April 2024

             A group of students and faculty sitting in a group and smiling while talking amongst one another.

For over twenty years, York College of Pennsylvania—a small, private college in the heart of central Pennsylvania—has been offering BA degrees in professional writing alongside creative writing minors to students who have gone on to publish books, start presses, work as agents and editors, and attend MFA programs. But after hearing from students about their desires to pursue creative writing as a career, as well as watching our alumni increasingly focus on creative writing and publishing after leaving York, we decided to change our curriculum and how we support current and future students in creative writing.

Our goal was to build a writing program that would offer a more considered, wide-ranging, and skills-based education in creative writing—while not losing the career and writing skills already established in the professional writing major (skills that have led to continued job placement). Starting in fall 2024, York is excited to begin offering an innovative BA in writing, with one track in creative writing and a second in professional writing. This will give our creative writing students an incredible amount of practical writing and publishing skills, with the opportunity now to focus on creative writing in depth throughout their college experience.

York College of Pennsylvania may be unfamiliar to some—“an incredible secret” is how I sometimes describe our writing program—but this teaching-focused college is close to Baltimore, DC, and Philadelphia and has a rich, distinctive history of writing education. Both the York College student literary magazine and newspaper date back to the 1960s, and our student writing awards—established by Bob Hoffman of Olympic weightlifting fame—launched in the 1980s. York introduced the professional writing major in 2001, drawing accomplished writing faculty, students, and resources, such as Story magazine, Young Scholars in Writing, and the Naylor Workshop on Undergraduate Research in Writing Studies.

In 2006, the college started its annual Writer-in-Residence Program, which welcomes acclaimed writers to the college and community for a week to work with students in the classroom, meet community members, appear at a large public event, and offer a day-long Saturday workshop downtown at the historic Gunter-Smith Center for Community Engagement. Past writers in residence include Li-Young Lee, Roxane Gay, David Shields, Mecca Jamilah Sullivan, Jessica Abel, and Nick Flynn.

We launched the Visiting Writer Series in 2010 to bring three to four writers to our campus and classrooms throughout the year, including Laura van den Berg, Melissa Faliveno, Tao Lin, Kristopher Jansma, Rachel Louise Snyder, Jami Nakamura Lin, and Marie-Helene Bertino.

Our writing graduates report feeling especially prepared due to the close mentoring relationships they had as undergraduate students, along with their considerable work as engaged publishers, tutors, and members of the York College writing community. Here are some alumni success stories: Lauren Connolly (YCP ’13) will publish her latest novel, PS: I Hate You, this winter with Berkley. After working at various presses and journals in and around DC, Ashli MacKenzie (YCP ’14) is currently a senior production editor at Oxford University Press. And, between excursions to Germany to continue working on her book, Kendra Jones (YCP ’17, Columbia MFA ’21) has found great success and joy at Writopia Lab, teaching young writers in and around New York City.

                                                     The 'PS: I Hate You' book cover with artistically drawn puzzle pieces on it.

Jane Friedman wrote in a 2014 article for AWP about how creative writing programs need to prepare each student “to be a successful writing professional.” This understanding of a contemporary creative writing education’s responsibilities drives our new writing BA at York. We believe that weaving professional and creative writing skills is integral for creative writing education in the twenty-first century. Rhetoric and poetics. Document design and character development. Pitching editors and performing a pantoum. York College students who study creative writing will be supported by a major core, shared by all writing majors, of writing skills, theory, and experience, which provides a firm foundation for a future yet unwritten. The writing core teaches students design, digital writing, editing, and a deep knowledge of historical and public rhetoric. Students also learn and use qualitative, quantitative, and archival research skills, to support both their creative work and future careers.

                                           A group of York Review staff sitting in front of a table with a banner that reads 'The York Review.'

Beyond the core is the creative writing focus, carefully built to reflect the best practices outlined in the AWP Guidelines for Creative Writing Programs. Creative writing students in the writing BA will attend workshops in various forms and genres, take writing courses in other mediums (such as screenwriting and comics), study art and literature, and produce and share a final creative capstone. All creative writing students will have space to minor in an area of their choosing to diversify their experience and portfolio. Our students serve as editors, publishers, and designers on the York Review—the award-winning campus literary magazine, which just released its thirtieth anniversary “pearl” issue—or work as producers and hosts on the associated student podcast, Rough Draft, currently on season 13. Experiential, hands-on learning is key to a writing education, and so we encourage, advise, and support all our majors to complete at least one internship.

                                                    A screenshot of the York Review's Instagram post containing several sheets with "York Review" written on them in cursive.                                                                                

We really feel that this new writing BA—offering two tracks, which share a foundational writing core, competitive research skills, and array of publishing and work experience—is an exciting direction for York College and creative writing education. We look forward to the next twenty years, and a much longer future, of great writing, writers, and community at York.


Travis Kurowski is the coeditor of Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century and editor of Paper Dreams: Writers and Editors on the American Literary Magazine. He is an associate professor of creative writing at York College of Pennsylvania. A member of the AWP Board of Directors, he also serves as the Mid-Atlantic Council chair.

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