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Department of the Writing Seminars records

 Record Group
Identifier: RG-04-200

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

The records of the Department of the Writing Seminars date from 1947 to 1953, 1978 to 1982, and 2015-Ongoing and are arranged in three series. Series one consists of graduate student files from the years 1978-1982. Series two consists of issues of The Hopkins Review, a literary journal published by the Department from 1947 to 1953. Series three includes archived versions of the department's website from 2015-Ongoing.


  • Creation: 1947-1982
  • Creation: 2015 - Ongoing


Use Restrictions

Education records in series 1, as defined by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, are restricted. For details, see Regulations Governing Access to Restricted Records, at the front of each binder.


The Department of the Writing Seminars began as the Department of Writing, Speech and Drama in the fall of 1946, when President Isaiah Bowman asked Elliott Coleman, who was teaching composition and creative writing courses, to head the new department. As it evolved, the department offered the opportunity to obtain a liberal arts education, read contemporary literature and engage in creative writing. The official terminal degree was the one year Master of Arts; however, there existed an interdepartmental Ph.D. program in literary aesthetics for those writers with, as John Barth put it, "a scholarly string to their bow."

Elliott Coleman broadened the scope of literary studies at Hopkins to include contemporary literature and sought to minimize emphasis on those areas of writing with money-making potential. This was an almost revolutionary idea; with the exception of the writing program at the University of Iowa, the Writing, Speech and Drama Department at Hopkins was unique. The notion of having writers study in an academic program was without precedent, and the Department went on to become one of the top graduate creative writing programs in the country.

By 1953, the Department had grown to include eight faculty members and was granting the Bachelor of Arts as well as the M.A. degree, when the administration decided to terminate the speech and drama aspects of the program. The writing classes were made into a new and smaller department called the Writing Seminars, with only Coleman and a junior faculty member retained.

Due to lack of funding, the distinguished literary magazine The Hopkins Review, which had begun in 1947, was forced to cease publication in 1953. However, the Department still managed to attract several famous visitors, including the poets Robert Lowell, e. e. cummings, W. H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, Robert Frost, and Marianne Moore, as well as fiction writers John Dos Passos, Katherine Anne Porter, William Styron and Aldous Huxley. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Department also sponsored public lectures and ran Poetry Festivals in 1958 and 1961. Journalism courses augmented the curriculum in the 1960s. In the early 1970s, the Department was again expanded, increasing its course offerings and faculty, and the undergraduate Writing Seminars major was restructured. With the abolition of the interdepartmental Ph.D. program, the M.A. again became the terminal degree in the Department.

In 1975, Charles Newman was named Chairman to replace the retiring Coleman. John Irwin succeeded him in 1977. Under Irwin's direction the Writing Seminars continued to grow, instituting courses in film, radio, journalism, science writing and drama, in addition to the traditional areas of poetry, fiction and playwriting. The popularity of the undergraduate major increased greatly; with 110 students in 1986, the Writing Seminars had the largest enrollment of any humanities program on campus. The Johns Hopkins Press recently instituted a series of poetry publications under Irwin's editorship.

The graduate Writing Seminars program is now recognized as one of the University's most prestigious. With a 10:1 ratio of applicants to spaces available, admission is extremely competitive. Recent graduates include Louise Erdrich, Mary Robison and the Barthelme brothers.

Faculty of the Department of the Writing Seminars (Asterisks indicate full professors)
*Elliott Coleman, Associate Professor, 1946; Professor, 1960; Chairman 1946- 1975; Professor Emeritus, 1975.
N. Bryllion Fagin, Assistant Professor, 1946; Associate Professor, 1949; Associate Professor Emeritus, 1959.
Francis J. Thompson, Assistant Professor, 1946-1953.
Adolphus D. Emmart, Lecturer 1946
Karl Shapiro, Assistant Professor, 1947-1950.
Robert D. Jacobs, 1948; Assistant Professor, 1949-1953.
Delmar Solem, 1948.
Victoria Lincoln, 1949-1950.
Huntingdon Cairns, Lecturer, 1949.
James Byrd, 1949.
Louis D. Rubin, 1949
Frances Carey Bowen, 1949.
Kenneth Sawyer, 1951.
William Burford, Instructor, 1955-1958.
*Richard Macksey, Assistant Professor, 1958; Associate Professor, 1964; Professor (moved to Humanities Center in 1967); Joint Appointment with Writing Seminars, 1983.
John Taylor, Lecturer, 1959.
James J. Hill, Lecturer, 1960.
Richard O'Connell, Lecturer, 1961
Albert L. Hammond, Lecturer, 1963-1964.
Joseph Whitehill, Lecturer, 1964-1970.
Virginia Shaffer, Lecturer, 1966-1967.
Melvin Lorentzen, Lecturer, 1967-1968.
Paul Kirschenbaum, Instructor, 1968.
John Michael Lynch, Lecturer, 1969-1976.
A. Stephen Wiest III, Lecturer, 1970-1975.
Roberto Arellano, Lecturer, 1972; Assistant Professor, 1983-1987.
*John Barth, Professor, 1973-present; Joint Appointment with English, 1973- present.
*Charles Newman, Professor, 1975-1977; Chairman, 1975-1976.
Cynthia MacDonald, 1975-1979
Herbert B. Cahan, Adjunct Professor, 1975-1978.
*Tony Tanner, Professor, 1976-1977.
*Michael Fried, Professor, 1975-1980
*John Irwin, Professor, 1977-present; Chairman, 1977-present.
Edmund White, Assistant Professor, 1977
David St. John, Assistant Professor, 1977; Associate Professor, 1981-present.
*William Arrowsmith, Professor, 1980.
Stephen Dixon, Assistant Professor, 1980; Associate Professor, 1984-present.
Mark Crispin Miller, Assistant Professor, 1982-present.
*Horace Freeland Judson, Professor, 1982-present; Henry R. Luce Professor of Science and Writing.
Richard Chisolm, Lecturer, 1983-1986.
Peter Sacks, Associate Professor, 1986-present.
Catherine A. Evans, Lecturer, 1986 - present


7.28 Cubic Feet (4 record center cartons, 6 letter size document boxes)

1 Website(s)

Language of Materials



Series one was transferred by Gardin Danceforth, Admissions Secretary of the Writing Seminars Department. Series two, The Hopkins Review, was transferred to the Archives by the Milton S. Eisenhower Library from storage in the Gilman stacks.

Accession Number

78.43, 86.20, 87.50

Processing Information

Finding aid prepared by Laurah Limbrick

Department of the Writing Seminars records
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA