The program provides dual emphasis in literature and creative writing, culminating in the dissertation, which combines critical analysis with creative originality. Roughly half of the dissertation is based on original research, that is to say, research contributing to knowledge which enriches or changes the field. Doctoral candidates not only read and write texts as finished products of scholarship in researching their creative work’s literary and historical milieu, but also consider the text as writers create it, then compose texts as writers, a process that goes to the source of the study of literature and of literature itself. This integration of literature and creative writing is reflected in the structure of the dissertation, which introduces the creative work within a context of critical inquiry, bringing together the examination and embodiment of the literary act, a new model of scholarship and creative innovation.

Ph.D. candidates in literature and creative writing must pass the same departmental examination taken by Ph.D. candidates in Literature who are not working in the area of creative writing. The exam tests students in various areas of emphasis (British literature, American literature, poetry, prose, etc.) and literature and historical periods as a measure of their preparedness to undertake independent research.

Past and present course descriptions are available on the English Department website.

Degree Requirements

This degree is under the jurisdiction of the Graduate School. Refer to the Graduate School for general regulations. All courses applied toward the degree must be courses accepted by the Graduate School.

Graduate Curriculum and Unit Requirements

The graduate curriculum is divided in 500-level foundation courses and 600-level advanced courses. The 500-level courses offer fundamental work in theory and in the history of British and American literatures and cultures. The 600-level courses feature advanced studies in theory, creative writing seminars and workshops and special topics.Although students will normally take 500-level courses leading up to the screening procedure and 600-level courses thereafter, students after consultation with their advisors may be permitted to take 600-level courses in the first semester of their graduate training.

The student’s course work must total at least 64 units. No more than eight units of 794 Doctoral Dissertation and no more than four units of 790 Research may count toward the 64 units. A maximum of 12 Transfer units approved by the Graduate Director will be allowed toward the 64 units minimum required by the Ph.D.


The student will be assigned a faculty mentor in his or her first semester in the graduate program and will be encouraged in subsequent semesters to begin putting together an informal guidance committee. The makeup of the guidance committee may change as the interests of the student change. The faculty mentor and informal guidance committee will assist the student in planning a program of study appropriate to the student’s interests leading to the screening procedure.

Screening Procedure

At the end of the student’s fourth semester (second semester for students who enter with an M.A. or M.F.A. degree or near equivalent), the student will sit for a departmental examination, which is part of a comprehensive screening procedure. Rarely, and only with the approval of the graduate director and the graduate committee, will a student be allowed to postpone the departmental examination and the screening procedure, and then only for one year. Prior to the screening procedure, the student will be allowed to take a maximum of four units of independent study (ENGL 590), and that independent study will normally be used to prepare for the departmental examination; all other units must be in the 500- or 600-level seminar.

Guidance Committee

Immediately following successful completion of the screening procedure, the student will nominate formally a five-member guidance committee, including a chair and three other members from the English Department who are in the student’s areas of interest and an outside member from another Ph.D.-granting department. The committee must be in place and approved by the Graduate School at the time the student chooses a dissertation topic, writes the dissertation prospectus and schedules a qualifying examination.

Qualifying Examination

Following completion of course work, the student must sit for a qualifying examination, at a time mutually agreed upon by the student and the guidance committee.

This is a field examination given in the subject of the student’s proposed dissertation research. No less than one month before the qualifying examination, the student will submit to the guidance committee a dissertation prospectus. The prospectus, it is understood, will not be a polished dissertation proposal, but at a minimum it should display a strong knowledge of the subject, much of the relevant secondary material and other contexts crucial to the writing of the dissertation, and should present a workable plan of attack as well as a reasonably sophisticated understanding of the theoretical assumptions involved in the subject.

The qualifying examination will consist of both written and oral portions with special emphasis areas in creative writing. It will focus on the dissertation area and its contexts with the specific format and content of the examination being negotiated among the student and all members of the examination committee. Upon successful completion of the qualifying examination the student proceeds to the writing of the doctoral dissertation.


The dissertation is a book-length manuscript that makes an original and substantial contribution to creative literature: a book of poems, a novel, a collection of short stories. In addition, students must complete a critical component of the dissertation of 60 pages or more. Its substance, style, and format must meet professional standards of research. Upon submission of an acceptable manuscript and a successful oral defense, the student will be awarded the Ph.D.

Foreign Language

Ph.D. students are required to demonstrate proficiency in at least one foreign language. This may be demonstrated by completing a course in the literature of that language at the 400 or 500 level (with a grade of B [3.0] or better) or by passing a foreign language exam that tests proficiency in reading comprehension and translation. Ph.D. students may also be required to demonstrate proficiency in additional languages, as determined by the guidance committee in view of the student’s proposed field of research.

Common Requirements

Transfer of Credit

A Transfer Credit Statement is prepared by the Degree Progress Department for students admitted to full graduate standing. The application of any available transfer credit is contingent on successful completion of the screening exam and is determined by the director of graduate studies no later than the end of the second year according to the following guidelines: credit will only be allowed for courses (1) from accredited graduate schools; (2) of grade B (3.0 on a four-point scale) or better; (3) constituting a fair and reasonable equivalent to current USC course work at the graduate level and fitting into the program for the degree; and (4) approved by the Graduate School. Graduate transfer credit will not be granted for life experience, credit by examination, non-credit extension courses, correspondence courses or thesis course supervision.

The maximum number of transfer credits which may be applied toward the Master of Arts degree is four units. The maximum number of transfer credits which may be applied toward the Ph.D. degree is 12 units. The Graduate School stipulates that transfer units must have been completed within 10 years of admission for the doctoral program to be applied toward the degree.

Experience in Teaching

This requirement may be fulfilled by two to four years’ service as a teaching assistant in the Writing Program or equivalent experience as determined by the director of the Graduate Studies Program.

Graduate Activity and Support

The English Department is committed to the development of its graduate students as professionals. To this end, the department provides a number of opportunities for professional activity. In addition, the Association of English Graduate Students (A.E.G.S.) hosts a variety of lectures, discussions and forums throughout the year. To support the student’s professional activities outside of USC, the department also provides some funding for travel to conferences and professional meetings, along with a full range of placement, advising and support activities. Graduate creative writing students will host lectures, discussions and forums in poetry and fiction studies.

  • Janalynn Bliss, Creative Writing Graduate Coordinator
  • University of Southern California
  • Department of English
  • 3501 Trousdale Parkway, THH 431
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-0354