Program Overview

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The MFA in Literary Translation consists of 48 semester hours of coursework, and features a balance between

  • extensive, hands on and collaborative training in the art and practice of literary translation, and
  • theoretical studies on translation and coursework in source language, literature and cultures.

Courses are typically distributed as follows:

course distribution overview


Students in class

The core of the MFA experience is the Translation Workshop, the 'creative commons' where students gather every week. Translating from their particular source languages into English, they review and comment on each other's manuscripts, discuss practice and methods, in the process developing a keen eye for both precision and aesthetic fluency in translation.   

Along with Creative Writing courses, two additional translation workshops are available to students.  Translator-in-Residence Workshop features a renowned literary translator who holds a five-week residency in Iowa City, and conducts an intensive workshop with second year students.  Selected through a nation-wide call, two translators-in-residence participate in the program each year, one each semester. International Writing Program Translation Workshop is a truly unique experience for students to collaborate with and translate works by some of the noted and emerging international writers who hold residency in Iowa City during the fall semester. 

students in a classroom

Complementing the translation and creative writing workshops is the one semester hour The Craft of Translation that students take each semester, except their last.  The Craft of Translation focuses on the various aspects of the craft, including:  how to write about translation; editing, publishing, making the perfect pitch, translating grammar and punctuation; preparing prospectus and the long manuscript;  emerging voices and approaches to translation; translation as global engagement; and the literary/cultural scene of translation here and overseas.  The Craft of Translation also features guest speakers and translators visiting Iowa City.

Students work closely with the program director and members of their advisory committee in order to fashion a coherent plan of study that combines training in the source literature and culture, and critical translation theory.  Students are expected--in addition--to become familiar with the history of the discipline and the broader context of their practice.  This is normally accomplished through guided reading or by taking topics courses such as Issues in Translation, Translation and Globalization, Poetics and Translation, and others across the division or the college.

Elective courses enable students to develop complementary skills and knowledge in fields of their choosing--whether it is in book arts, intermedia, second language acquisition, publishing, or in human rights or interdisciplinary area studies.  

students listening to a speaker

As early as possible, MFA candidates take on Advisory Committees of two members at first, adding a third member by the time they submit their thesis proposal.   At least one committee member represents translation and another the candidate's foreign language and literature area. 

The MFA Thesis is a translation into English of a collection of poems, literary essays, or short stories, a short novel, or a play, with an introduction that sets the work in context. The introduction can take the form of either a Preface (10-12 pages) or a more extensive Critical Introduction (25 pages), which addresses the structure and style of the source text, and presents rationale for the translation strategies and techniques adopted. The Critical Introduction is strongly recommended for students interested in pursuing doctoral studies in comparative literature, language and literary studies, or creative writing.  An oral defense of the thesis examines in detail both the candidate's translation and the introductory essay. Please click here for guidelines and important deadlines. 

Engaged Practice

We live and work in an increasingly interconnected world where virtually every form of exchange--from goods and information to values and ways of seeing--has come to depend on translation. MFA students are therefore encouraged to seek service and outreach opportunities, and overseas research and practical experience.