Bennington offers creative writing classes in fiction, poetry, and “creative nonfiction”/memoir. By and large, studying literature at Bennington is more geared toward reading and critical writing than creative writing (hear me out… keep reading). Bennington has the philosophy that good writers are good readers. The slogan for the MFA in Writing program is “Read one hundred books. Write one.” Bennington is not anti-creative writing in ANY way. Despite the emphasis on reading literature, many of the professors I’ve studied with give their students a number of opportunities to respond to readings in both critical and creative ways; Marguerite Feitlowitz in particular, in my experience, is very supportive of students who want to try writing author imitations for class.
Additionally, both of the workshop-format creative writing classes I’ve taken (Reading and Writing Short Stories, and Literature: Special Projects) have had critical components. In the former, our professor Becky Godwin compiled an extensive reading list of short stories. We spent half of each meeting discussing readings, and half workshopping short stories by students in the class. In Special Projects, each student had a class devoted to discussing their project (mine was a collection of stories that I was beginning work on); in advance of the class, the student handed out supplementary readings that provided either context or influence for the work (in my case, some stories by James Joyce and Saul Bellow that had particular bearing on my writing).
I found these classes immensely helpful, not just for my own writing, but for my critical reading as well. Evaluating a piece of writing in a workshop setting, you are approaching it from a different mindset. After taking Special Projects (and also after reading submissions for a literary magazine this past Field Work Term), I feel that I have fairly rounded critical reading skills. Although some people may view “Literature” and “Creative Writing” as separate areas of study, I think that Bennington’s philosophy on reading and writing is beneficial to any student who is an aspiring writer.
In terms of the difficulty of gaining access to a class that is more geared toward creative writing, I would be lying if I said that it isn’t competitive. Normally, to get into these classes, you simply have to submit a short writing sample; the class list is determined solely based on that. Although the quantity of these classes may seem small, they are offered regularly, so you will have many chances to take one. Meanwhile, the campus is filled with writers, so the prospect of an informal, non-academic writers workshop isn’t far-fetched at all.
Here’s a link to this term’s curriculum; look under the heading “Literature” to see all of the classes offered. There is also a list of all the literature classes that have been taught in the past 4 years, and when they were taught (FA2010= Fall 2010, SP2011= Spring 2011, etc.)