The Northwest Institute of Literary Arts (NILA) was a non-profit 501(c)3 Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing low-residency program founded by the Whidbey Island Writers Association, in operation for twelve years, from 2005 to 2016. Beginning with an enrollment of nine students, the NILA MFA program grew to a peak enrollment of 62 students in 2014. Also known as the Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA, the low residency program was taught by the following regular faculty: Kathleen Alcalá, Bonny Becker, Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, Stephanie Bodeen, Andrea Brown, Lawrence W. Cheek, Gary Copeland Lilley, Jerry Gabriel, Kate Gale, Melissa Hart, Bruce Holland Rogers, Christopher Howell, Andrea Hurst, Kirby Larson, Lisa Dale Norton, Derek Sheffield, Ana Maria Spagna, Wayne Ude, Sarah Van Arsdale, David Wagoner, Carolyne L. Wright, and Susan Zwinger. Each semester began with intensive in-person residencies offering morning classes in craft, workshop, and directed reading, and afternoon sessions on the profession of writing. The three hours of afternoon classes were taught by guest faculty, bestselling authors and renowned agents, editors, and writing industry professionals. At the end of residency, students returned home to complete the rest of the semester via online class forums.
The NILA MFA program grew quickly, drawing students to Whidbey Island twice annually from across the U.S. and Canada. Due to multiple contributing factors, however, including a proliferation of low residency MFA programs, lower enrollment, and a lack of core funding, the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts Board of Directors made the decision to cease operations of the MFA program at the close of the 2015-2016 school year. On August 13, 2016, twenty graduates received MFA degrees in Creative Writing, adding to the 65 graduates of the previous nine years. In addition, an Honorary Doctorate was awarded to best-selling author Elizabeth George for her distinguished support of the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, including annual scholarships to aspiring writers through the Elizabeth George Foundation. NILA students who had not yet completed their creative writing coursework and graduate theses were successfully transferred to other low residency MFA programs.
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