Jun 15, 2024  
USC Catalogue 2022-2023 
USC Catalogue 2022-2023 [ARCHIVED CATALOGUE]

Literature and Creative Writing (PhD)

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Application deadline: December 1

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.

PhD candidates in literature and creative writing must pass the same departmental screening examination taken by PhD 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.

The literature and creative writing student takes 64 units in all, 32 in literature, 24 in creative writing workshops and seminars and 8 units of dissertation studies credits.

Admission Requirements

Requirements for admission to study in the department of English include: scores satisfactory to the department in both the verbal and quantitative General Test and the literature Subject Test of the Graduate Record Examinations; evidence of experience and ability in creative writing, as demonstrated by a creative writing sample; evidence of competence in writing English and interpreting English literature, as demonstrated by a sample of written work by the applicant on literary subjects; a satisfactory written statement by the applicant of aims and interests in graduate work; letters of recommendation from at least three college instructors; and grades satisfactory to the department earned by the applicant at other institutions. This program will accept applicants with BA degrees or transfer students with an MA or MFA in creative writing.

Degree Requirements

These degrees are under the jurisdiction of the Graduate School. Refer to the Graduate School  section of this catalogue for general regulations. All courses applied toward the degrees must be courses accepted by the Graduate School.

Graduate Curriculum and Unit Requirements

The graduate curriculum is divided into 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 (see Screening Procedure) and 600-level courses thereafter, students after consultation with their advisers 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, is allowed toward the 64 units minimum required by the PhD (See Transfer of Course Work.)


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 qualifying exam committee. The makeup of the qualifying exam committee may change as the interests of the student change. The faculty mentor and informal qualifying exam 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 MA or MFA 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.

Qualifying Exam Committee

Immediately following successful completion of the screening procedure, the student will nominate formally a five-member qualifying exam 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 PhD-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 qualifying exam 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 qualifying exam 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 final stage of the program is the submission of a creative dissertation that makes an original, substantial and publishable contribution to creative literature: a book of poems, a novel, a collection of short stories.

Foreign Language

PhD 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. PhD students may also be required to demonstrate proficiency in additional languages, as determined by the qualifying exam committee in view of the student’s proposed field of research.

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