Photograph of Cynthia Macdonald, undated.

In 1979, poets Macdonald and Stanley Plumly co-founded UH's creative writing program and served as co-directors until Plumly left the program in the mid-eighties. A critically acclaimed poet, Macdonald was the recipient of many awards, including being named one of Life magazine's ten most significant poets in 1981.


Forming the UH Creative Writing Program

The UH English Department, with John McNamara as chair, shaped its creative writing program in the late 1970s when such programs were sprouting up across the country. At the time, many college or university English departments offered curricula focused mostly on literature with just a few creative writing courses, and the department theorized that having a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing would make UH graduates more marketable when applying for academic positions.

In 1978 the department asked poet Cynthia Macdonald, then at Johns Hopkins University, to advise them on the proposed program. One highlight was the Ph.D. in literature and creative writing to be offered alongside the MFA in creative writing. UH approved it in 1979 and the English Department asked Macdonald to direct. Macdonald then invited poet Stanley Plumly to join her in developing the program.


"Rationale for the Ph.D. Creative Writing Option," [approximately 1978].

This document outlines the rationale for implementing UH's creative writing program and discusses the potential draw of a Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing, especially in terms of the job market. "The value for the student of the Ph.D. option in creative writing would come primarily in an enhanced ability to find a teaching job."

"Proposal for a Creative Writing Option within the Ph.D. Program," [approximately 1978].

Outlines the requirements of the creative writing option within the Ph.D. program as approved by the Creative Writing Committee. "With the exception of dissertation, which will be creative rather than scholarly, the creative writing requirements will be added to current requirements rather than used to replace them."

Letter from UH Creative Writing Program Coordinator Peter Stitt to Donald Barthelme, December 4, 1979.

Stitt thanks Barthelme for his recent visit and states that UH's writing program was "trying to initiate talk . . . about a possible appointment for you." He adds: "Yesterday the Department approved the offering of a creative writing option for the Ph.D. in English. This adds enormously to our potential strength; there are a lot of good people out there with M.F.A.s looking for a good place for further study."

Photograph of Donald Barthelme, undated.

Celebrated short story writer Barthelme held visiting professorships in UH's creative writing program in the fall semesters of 1981 and 1982 and was offered a full time position in 1983. Barthelme's presence increased the profile and respectability of UH's writing program, in which he assumed an important role until his death in 1989.

Letter from Cynthia Macdonald to Donald Barthelme, [1985].

In this handwritten note, Macdonald shares with Barthelme what she is "too inhibited to gush in person." She continues, "I think you are an inventive, touching, funny, strong, wonderful writer. And I like you. To have you as a colleague would be special."

Letter from Dean of the College of Humanities James H. Pickering and UH Provost George Magner to Donald Barthelme, June 16, 1983.

This formal offer of appointment of the Cullen Professorship was supported by an endowment of approximately $23,000 on an annual basis. Barthelme was known for being generous in helping the program with what he called his "Don funds."

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