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MFA English Program
University of Mississippi

2022 Book List Rubric

MFA Book List Rubric

DOWNLOAD: MFA Book List Rubric

*Bear in mind that the following rubric is a starting point or set of basic guidelines to help the student begin formulating their list, and a general expression of what we as a program hope the student will accomplish during this part of the process, but it is not necessarily a qualifying or disqualifying rubric or set of rules.  All MFA Book Lists are subject to the specific parameters set up by the thesis director and committee, who at any time can alter or substitute any of the following items if they desire.  We strongly advise conferring with your director and committee before starting your list, and including them in the discussion as you develop it.



The MFA Handbook describes the Book List as the following:


“Creating a Book List: The thirty-book list, composed by the MFA degree candidate, will be used by his or her committee members to form the written comprehensive exam. This list should demonstrate both breadth and depth as defined by the Reading List Rubric. These thirty books should focus on your genre of interest, but should also include books from other genres, books in translation, or theory/critical writings. The reading list rubric should be made available to each of the student’s committee members but does not need to be officially submitted to the department.”


“Depth and Breadth” – this key phrase from the description seeks to ensure the student has sufficiently covered the genre in a general way, measured by a variety of books from differing levels of relative importance to the field, historical value, literary notoriety, continued reference/usage, etc.  For example, a 20th century American poetry reading list would likely include iconic poets such as Frost, Olds, Ginsberg, Lorde, Hughes, Eliot, etc., as well as so-called “lesser-known” poets like Nguyen, Hendricks, Wray, Black, etc.  This indicates that the student is reading deeply, going beyond just the “standard” practitioners in their area, also finding specific poets that speak to their experience or writing goals, stretching the normal boundaries, etc.

This “depth and breadth” phrase also refers to boundaries of time and history.  The expectation is that the student has put together a list that covers at least 50+ years of writing in this genre, with most lists covering about 100 years of literary history of a given period.

“Depth and breadth” asks the student to broaden their scope in terms of geographical space, language, and/or culture.  This commonly takes the form of works in translation, and/or specific cultural/national genres or literary forms.  The goal for the reading list is not to necessarily cover vast amounts of world literature, rather to clearly exhibit an interest and effort at seeking forms, styles, and traditions outside of your more narrowly selected area/genre.  In a relatively short list of 30 this normally means just a handful of books.

An expression of this desired variance also includes books in other genres, again with the desire to demonstrate a curiosity on the part of the student that reaches beyond their chosen area.  To this end the list ought to contain several books from other genres that has helped inform the student with their studies and their creative work.

As an expression of our commitment to a literature-centered degree program, the student writer is expected to include at least several works of literary theory or criticism.  There is a lot of flexibility here as to what qualifies as “literary theory” (established by your director/committee) but again the student is asked to demonstrate how important works of literary criticism have shaped their writing and their teaching/thinking about writing.

Lastly, students are encouraged to create a list greater than 30 books, in consultation with their director/committee, if desired.  Remember that beyond the evaluation describe above, your book list will be primarily used by your committee to create your written comprehensive exam.  It is expected that you will be able to write at length and in great detail about each of the books on your list, be able to related them to important movements, periods, and other literary grouping methods, and that you will have some facility in making comparisons between them.  This should be the most important criteria to keep in mind when formulating your list.