Graduate students in the University’s creative writing program have been given a gift that students working their way through college seldom receive — the gift of time.

A new monetary gift from Helen Zell and the Zell Family Foundation will provide $25,000 for one year of post-graduate funding for graduates of the University’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program, allowing former students to complete work started during the course of earning their degrees.

Eileen Pollack, the program’s director and a professor in the department of English Language and Literature, said students in the MFA Creative Writing Program qualify for post-graduate funding if they have high academic standing and plan to stay in Ann Arbor while they produce finished pieces.

Pollack said the fund will exist as a three-year experiment, starting for the class of 2012 and ending in 2014. She added that the additional funding is expected to increase interest in the already successful program.

“Because of the generosity of our donors and the University and our wonderful faculty, we’ve kind of worked our way up to become one of the top two MFA programs in the country — out of hundreds and hundreds of them,” Pollack said. “So we’re very proud of that.”

The MFA Creative Writing Program was established in the late 1980’s, but the program didn’t begin offering post-graduate funding until 1999, when Hendrik Meijer and the Meijer Corporation established the Meijer Fellowship. In 2007, Helen Zell gave the program funding to expand its post-graduate aid to endow five graduates a year.

Pollack said the generous donations give the program an advantage over others and the gift from the Zell family will provide the program with an “edge” in recruiting new students in the future.

There are currently 22 students in each graduating class — 12 fiction writers and 10 poets — all of whom receive financial aid packages amounting to $8,000 a semester and $6,000 for summer work, which covers the entirety of their coursework expenses.

Pollack said the two-year MFA Creative Writing Program remains competitive against three-year programs because the funding allows graduates to continue the work they began in the program for an additional year.

She added that some programs policy to only give financial aid to particular students didn’t adhere to their program’s mission to support a writing community rather than create cutthroat competition.

Daniel Keane, who just completed his first year in the MFA Creative Writing Program, said the addition to the Zell fellowship improves the already nationally acclaimed program.

“A really good thing about the program here is that they’re really focused on our careers as writers,” Keane said.

Keane said he plans to pursue the funding in order to work on his fiction for a third year, adding that providing third-year funding for all graduates will solidify the program’s position as the top in the country.

Megan Levad, assistant director and 2008 graduate of the MFA Creative Writing Program, was one of three poets in the program to receive post-graduate funding from the Zell Fellowship.

Levad said she thinks the new funding will help graduates of the program better transition into their careers by allowing them additional time to create a body of work. Levad added that students in the MFA program grow together creatively and that providing funding will foster support among graduates when they need it the most.

“One of the great things about it being available to everyone is that they will now have real continuity as a writing community,” Levad said.

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