The Master of Fine Arts program in literary translation requires 48 s.h. of graduate credit, including a thesis. Students must maintain a cumulative g.p.a. of at least 2.75. They typically complete the program and graduate in two to three years.

Translators in the program focus on creating works that can convey the distinctness of the original languages and the immediacy of contemporary languages, whether poetry, fiction, or drama. Students consider ideas of literariness, style, cultural politics, authority, and how these come into play in the relationships between authors and their texts, authors and translators, translations and readers, and in the media landscapes in which these circulate.

At the core of the M.F.A. program are the workshops, TRNS:6555 Translator-in-Residence Workshop and TRNS:7460 Translation Workshop, which every student must take for a minimum of 12 s.h. of credit. Depth in the literature and culture of the source language, creative writing (translation is considered a writing art), translation theory and history, and contemporary literary theory are basic curricular requirements, supplemented with elective courses in which students may develop an area of special interest in consultation with their advisors.

During the first year, each student has an advisory committee of two faculty members: one from the translation program, who is the student's primary advisor; and one from a department in the Division of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures or from one of the M.F.A. writing programs. A third member joins the committee during the second year, when a student submits the thesis proposal. At least one member of the committee should be competent in the student’s source language.

The M.F.A. with a major in literary translation requires the following work.

Required Courses

All of these (36 s.h.):
TRNS:6000The Craft and Contexts of Translation (taken three semesters for 1 s.h. each semester)3
TRNS:6459Issues in Translation3
Courses in literature and culture of the source language9
Courses in creative writing (chosen in consultation with advisor)6
Additional course in theory (chosen in consultation with advisor)3
12 s.h. of workshop courses (each course taken at least twice):
TRNS:6555Translator-in-Residence Workshop3
TRNS:7460Translation Workshop3


Students earn 9 s.h. in electives of their choice, or from additional coursework in translation:
TRNS:4040Topics in Translation3-4
TRNS:4480Literature and Translation3
TRNS:4900Topics in Translation Studies1-3
TRNS:4497Techniques of Translation3
TRNS:5491Translation Internship1-2
TRNS:5500Advanced Translation Practice1-3

Thesis and Examination

One of these:
TRNS:6444Thesis Workshop3

Students earn 3 s.h. for the thesis, which is a translated collection of poems, literary essays, short stories, a short novel, or a drama with an introduction that sets the work in appropriate context. The introduction should include a critical discussion of issues and problems related to the translation; it should present a rationale for the translator’s approach and strategies, based on interpretation, analysis of the leading features, structure, style, or authorial objectives of the source text. The source text should be a work that has not been translated previously or, at the discretion of the advisory committee, a work whose previous translation is judged to be outdated or inadequate in some respect. An oral defense of the thesis examines the student’s translation and the introductory essay in detail.

Applicants to the program are evaluated mainly on a writing portfolio. The portfolio should include translations, including source texts, and an original critical literary essay or literary writing in English; a statement of purpose; and three letters of recommendation. Applicants should provide evidence of advanced competence in their source language—normally at least three years of college-level work or the equivalent—and substantial preparation in English literature. Availability of faculty expertise in the applicant’s source language and culture is considered in admission decisions.

All applicants must submit their scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test and transcripts from previous college-level study. Applicants whose first language is not English must submit official test scores to verify English proficiency. Applicants can verify English proficiency by submitting official test scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

Applicants must meet the admission requirements of the Graduate College; see the Manual of Rules and Regulations on the Graduate College website.

The program nominates up to two newly admitted, qualified students for the Iowa Arts Fellowship, a full-support fellowship awarded by the Graduate College each year. In addition, qualified students may receive teaching assistantships or part-time graduate assistantships. Students must apply for assistantships and other support; contact the translation program and the Office of Student Financial Aid for information.

Graduates have gone on to work in the world of professional publishing as editors and reviewers or as free-lance translators; to become university professors after earning a Ph.D.; and to pursue other careers involving cross-cultural and artistic exchange. In recent years, publishers of works by translation alumni have included Greywolf Press, Seven Stories Press, Autumn Hill Books, Melville House, Words Without Borders, The Iowa Review, 91st Meridian, Two Lines Press, Circumference Poetry in Translation, The Literary Review, Passport Publications and Media Corporation, Absinthe, and others.

Sample Plan of Study

Sample plans represent one way to complete a program of study. Actual course selection and sequence will vary and should be discussed with an academic advisor. For additional sample plans, see MyUI.

Literary Translation, M.F.A.

Plan of Study Grid (Manual)
Academic Career
Any SemesterHours
48 s.h. must be graduate level coursework; graduate transfer credits allowed upon approval. More information is included in the General Catalog and on department website. a  
First Year
TRNS:6459 Issues in Translation 3
TRNS:6000 The Craft and Contexts of Translation b 1
Creative writing course c 3
Literature and culture of the source language course c 3
TRNS:7460 Translation Workshop d 3
TRNS:6000 The Craft and Contexts of Translation b 1
Creative writing course c 3
Literature and culture of the source language course c 3
TRNS:7460 Translation Workshop d 3
Elective course e 3
Second Year
Thesis Proposal  
TRNS:6000 The Craft and Contexts of Translation b 1
Theory course c 3
Literature and culture of the source language course c 3
TRNS:6555 Translator-in-Residence Workshop d 3
Elective course e 3
TRNS:6555 Translator-in-Residence Workshop d 3
Thesis Workshop f
or Thesis
Elective course e 3
Final Exam g  
 Total Hours48