MA Biography and Creative Non-Fiction


The School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia has a long-established international reputation in literary studies. World famous for our pioneering courses in creative writing, we are also home to prize-winning scholars and translators of literature and drama from all periods.

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"My year at UEA was on of the best of my life"

In their words

Ian McEwan, Creative Writing Graduate and Booker Prize winner


UEA has announced the launch of the British Archive for Contemporary Writing (BACW), which contains the extensive personal archive of the Nobel Laureate, Doris Lessing, and literary material from other prominent authors such as Naomi Alderman, Tash Aw, Malcolm Bradbury, Amit Chaudhuri, J.D. Salinger, Roger Deakin, Lorna Sage, WG Sebald and the playwright Snoo Wilson.

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This course is for anyone seeking to develop their writing in the increasingly diverse and exciting genre of non-fiction. UEA is the country's leading university for the teaching of Creative Writing.

The course, which runs for one year (full-time) or two years (part-time), is taught by Kathryn Hughes, Ian Thomson and Helen Smith, all of whom have won major literary awards. Teaching is by 3 hour seminar during which you may discuss a set text, present a paper on a recent work of non-fiction or workshop your own writing. You will take two modules in the first semester and two in the second (one each semester for part-timers). You will submit a 15,000 word dissertation at the end of the summer.

During the year you will meet agents and publishers, hear talks by distinguished non-fiction writers and write a piece to be published in the annual student anthology.



Literary non-fiction is currently undergoing rapid change and reformation. Instead of the old ‘cradle to grave’ narratives of well-known literary or political figures, our best writers are now experimenting with new forms and subjects. Nature-writing, the personal essay, food journalism, art criticism and memoir are all part of the exciting emerging mix. This MA programme is for anyone who wants to develop their own writing in any of these genres while studying at the country’s leading university for the teaching of Creative Writing.

Why Study Biography and Creative Non-Fiction at UEA?

All the teaching staff are acclaimed writers.  Kathryn Hughes is an award-winning biographer and Guardian literary critic.  Her most recent book is The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton.  Ian Thomson’s Primo Leviwon the W H Heinemann Award and his book about Jamaica, The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica was awarded the Ondaatje Prize in 2010. Helen Smith is the winner of a Jerwood Award for Non-Fiction and the Biographers’ Club Prize for her book on Edward Garnett. The programme aims to provide students with the tools they need to develop their interest as readers and writers of non-fiction.

Course Content and Structure

The MA in Biography and Creative Non-Fiction may be taken full-time over one year or part-time over two. The seminars are timetabled to be convenient to those who wish to travel from London. Students take three compulsory modules: Writing Lives, The Life of the Book and Writing the First Person. In addition they take a fourth module chosen from the wide range available within the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing. Teaching is by 3 hour seminar. During this time we may be discussing a set text, presenting papers on a recent work of non-fiction or workshopping students’ own writing.

We will also invite leading non-fiction writers to address students on aspects of their craft. Recent guests include Kate Summerscale, Alexander Masters, Richard Holmes and Philip Hoare. The seminars are supplemented by one-to-one tutorials with the module leader. In most years students also choose to set up informal reading and writing groups amongst themselves. 

Students are encouraged to take advantage of UEA’s vibrant literary culture.  Each year a dozen or so leading novelists, poets and non-fiction writers visit Norwich to take part in our Autumn and Spring literary festivals. Students also have the opportunity to meet some of the UK’s leading agents and publishers who make regular visits to talk to students. An anthology of students’ writing is published each year and distributed to a key list of editors, agents and critics. In addition, students are encouraged to post their writing on UEA’s Creative Writing website, a new platform designed to showcase the best work emerging form the course. 

There is no workshop in the Summer semester (May-June).  Instead, students will have one-to-one sessions with a tutor as they work on their dissertation – a 15,000 word piece of non-fiction.

How is the course assessed?

In addition to the final dissertation, submitted in September, each module is assessed on a 5,000 word essay.

Who does Biography and Creative Non-Fiction at UEA?

We require a Bachelor’s degree, but this doesn’t have to be in any particular subject. Previous students have included doctors, barristers, teachers, therapists and an asparagus farmer.  We also take younger people who have just completed their first degree. What we are looking for is evidence of interest in and engagement with non-fiction of all kinds (this might include memoir, travel writing, nature writing, sports biographies and food journalism.)

What kinds of things to students write about?

Anything and everything. Football, murderers, wine, poets, saints and music.

What happens to students afterwards?

Each year a couple of students will go on to publish with a major house.  Many others will go on to produce work for smaller, more specialist publishers. Some choose to stay with us to undertake a PhD, working on a full-length project. Others return to their original discipline (teaching, journalism, the law) with the intention of integrating what they have learned into their practice. 

For further details please contact the Postgraduate Admissions Office on

Course Modules

Students must study the following modules for 40 credits:

Name Code Credits


RESERVED FOR STUDENTS ON ROUTES T1Q325102/T2Q325202 MA BIOGRAPHY AND CREATIVE NON-FICTION. This module explores the many ways in which writers have grappled with getting 'life' and 'lives' down on paper. We will look at samples of writing from many different genres, for example, travel, nature, music and sports writing. Students will be encouraged to find their own special subjects, to study comparative non-fiction and to look at the many new experimental approaches that make biography and creative non-fiction such flourishing phenomena today. During the workshop you will be expected to submit your own creative work and critique the work of other members.




CORE MODULE FOR STUDENTS ON THE MA BIOGRAPHY AND CREATIVE NON-FICTION ONLY. This module looks at autobiography in the broadest sense, taking in memoir, nature writing, travel writing, reportage and essay. We'll be talking about the history and variety of first-person narratives, the ways writers reveal themselves in their words, how autobiography keeps to and departs from the facts, the importance of form and structure, and about non-fiction's relationship to novels and poems. Seminars will feature practical writing exercises as well as readings and discussions.



Students must study the following modules for 120 credits:

Name Code Credits


This 10-credit module consists of a series of lectures by Creative Writing and Critical faculty of direct relevance to the practical aspects of researching and writing a major piece of creative work. Attendance is compulsory.




Students are required to write a dissertation of a length as specified in their MA Course Guide on a topic approved by the Course Director or other authorised person.




RESERVED FOR STUDENTS ON ROUTES T1Q325102/T2Q325202 MA BIOGRAPHY AND CREATIVE NON-FICTION This module will follow the arc of a biography or work of creative non-fiction from inception to reception. How do you choose a subject, determine a book's structure, find a voice and build character? What about the often daunting question of research? Once the book is written, how do you set about writing a proposal, finding a publisher and what happens during the editorial process? The emphasis will be practical, with a significant workshop element.



Students will select 20 credits from the following modules:

Name Code Credits


Critical reading and creative writing meet in the activity of adapting a text in one medium for presentation in another. The module focuses on dramatic adaptation, establishing a foundation in basic theory and then focusing on readings or original works and screenings. Discussions probe the choices offered by original texts and explore the possibilities and limitations inherent in different dramatic forms. In the later sessions, students will have the opportunity to workshop an adaptation for a final project.




This MA module is compulsory for students taking the poetry strand of the MA in Creative Writing. It is also offered as an optional unit for students taking other MA programmes. We often think of poetry as a descriptive art, representing our experience of the world. One of the most important things it describes, however, is the experience of language. This module will consider some of the ways in which poetic language has been described in philosophy and literary criticism, and some of the poems in which it has described itself. It offers a historical survey of some of the major texts in Western poetics, from Plato to the Language poets, to be read alongside a range of poetic treatises in verse. Students will be encouraged to contribute texts from their own reading for discussion. Short writing exercises will also be set in class, in preparation for the final 5,000-word coursework essay.




Throughout the medieval and Early-Modern periods Norwich was one of England's most important cities - probably second only to London - and East Anglia one of the country's culturally liveliest and richest areas. This module explores the literature of these periods in its material contexts (the region's prosperity and power may still be seen in its architecture and in the rich holdings of its libraries and museums) and asks whether there was a specifically East Anglian cultural tradition. The module explores East Anglia's rich dramatic traditions, its devotional literature and practices (in orthodox forms and in those that brush against the heterodox), and, insistently, the manner in which its literature participates in its broader social and cultural worlds. The module is compulsory for students on the Medieval and Early Modern Textual Cultures MA but may also appeal to those with an interest in the cultural traditions of Norwich and East Anglia or, more generally, in the literature of place.




Fiction 'After' Modernism: Re-reading the 20th Century responds to the current reassessment of critical narratives about twentieth century fiction by restoring significance to a critically awkward phase of twentieth-century writing. Focusing roughly on the years between 1930 and 1980, we examine what it meant for mid-century writers to work in the wake of modernism. By thinking about mid-century fiction in terms of its own historical and aesthetic awkwardness, we will challenge the formalist distinction between experimental and realist fiction that has dominated the most influential work on the mid-century novel, and which has also stamped many post-war writers as irretrievably minor. In a similar spirit, we will explore how writers worked in the 'between' of modernism and postmodernism. Rather than produce a cohesive narrative about the period, we will examine how our writers engage with, and disturb, their own literary, historical and critical inheritances. This module is an opportunity to participate in an emerging critical conversation that is carving out new directions in literary study. Working through the period with special attention to previously marginalized (and in some cases forgotten) writers, alongside a selection of critical and theoretical texts, we will examine the ways our writers accede to, challenge, and disrupt our critical understanding of fiction after modernism. By re-reading the 20th century, this module offers an opportunity to participate in - and indeed contribute to - a still emerging critical conversation that is redefining twentieth century literary studies. Recent critics have expressed an "invariable sense of disappointment" with the aesthetic failures of fiction written 'after' modernism: but it is precisely the fiction these critics have neglected to read critically that is leading other scholars to radically re-think the stories critics have told about the period. The critical re-evaluation of neglected writers is pushing twentieth century scholarship in new directions, and creating new debates and dialogue about how we read the twentieth century. In this module, we join the conversation.




A CORE MODULE FOR STUDENTS ON THE MA WRITING THE MODERN WORLD. The word modernism was applied only retrospectively to the texts written at the beginning of the twentieth century; and that retrospective naming has worked to define an ever-shifting field of cultural activity. This course aims to introduce students to 'living modernism', a phrase that highlights the mutually informing relationship of contemporary writing and modernism. In the first 5 weeks, students will be asked to read James Joyce's Ulysses and Franz Kafka's The Trial. The course then considers the ways in which Joyce's and Kafka's writing continues to animate critical and creative knowledge. In weeks 6-12, critical and literary questions of law, justice, exile, and narrative voice will be posed out of modernism. The living legacy of modernism will be considered in different ways; as literary influence, (Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go as a Kafkaesque meditation on exile, for instance), as critical quotation and interpretation, (Jacques Derrida's claim, for example, that Kafka's 'Before the Law' is a staging of justice and literary interpretation), and linguistic or thematic interaction (Lolita as Nabokov's Joycean writing of exile in America). There will be a particular focus on how Joyce and Kafka write law, justice and exile as global, rather than state-based, categories, and the importance of these transnational visions for their continuing influence. Authors explored will include James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Vladimir Nabokov, J. M. Coetzee, Kazuo Ishiguro, Jacques Derrida, Giorgio Agamben, Mladen Dolar, Denise Riley and W. G. Sebald.




Play, or the ludic, is often listed as one of the main characteristics of postmodernist art, but what is meant by play is usually left no more clearly defined than what is meant by postmodernism. This course seeks to trace the evolution of leading postmodernist styles and themes, especially ludic ones, back to their origins in Joyce, Kafka, Borges, and Nabokov. Using these enormously influential authors as a starting point, we will read a range of ludic authors, passing back and forth between languages, nations, and genres. Authors studied will include Georges Perec, Italo Calvino, Raymond Queneau, Thomas Pynchon, Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover, Angela Carter, Paul Muldoon, and John Ashbery. We will examine these authors in relation to one another, and to their major pre-postmodernist sources, such as Carroll, Rimbaud, Mallarme, and Dostoevsky. We will also be reading theorists of play such as Schiller, Huizinga, Derrida, and Bakhtin. Central to the module is the exploration of play as a response to literature, and a way of creating new literature out of old, through the play of parody, imitation, transposition, and translation. We will be studying these ancient modes of literary response and performing them ourselves: all students will be encouraged to try their hand at parodying and imitating the texts we are studying, though this is not compulsory. Final assessment can take the form of a 5000 word critical essay or of a combination of a creative piece and a critical essay, to make up 5000 words.




We are currently witnessing a renaissance in history writing. Sales of historical novels continue to rise steeply. Societies have formed, new prizes established. A number of eminent historians are turning from fact to fiction. What can the historical novel do in terms of reaching the past that more conventional historical accounts cannot do? Can it challenge long-told historical narratives, propose new ones or give us new vantage points? Novel History is a critical-creative MA module that crosses the boundaries between literature, art history, history and creative writing to explore the possibilities (and paradoxes) of historical fiction. Students will study the history of the historical novel and read critical and theoretical essays about the writing of history alongside examples of innovative or revisionist contemporary historical fiction. They will also explore ideas around 'object history' through a series of workshop sessions amongst the historical objects of UEA's extraordinary rich collection in the Sainsbury Centre. Students will present work in progress in the workshop format as they move towards a final piece of creative writing, a short story or radio script, screen or theatre script. Students will be given the option of structuring their final work around a single chosen object from the Sainsbury Centre collection.




This module is designed to allow students to produce translations in conditions that encourage and facilitate reflection on the process and product of translation. It encourages students to think experimentally, not only about the forms a finished translation might take, but also about the ways in which process might be incorporated into that translation. The module has a workshop format and culminates in a series of presentations by students of the projects on which they have chosen to work. A series of sessions, devoted to the discussion of problems, both theoretical and practical, connected with translation and the projects ahead, precede the presentations. This module is compulsory for students on the MA in Literary Translation but may also appeal to those students with an interest in experimental writing and creative re-writing and textual intervention practices. Please note there is no foreign language requirement.




This module aims to give students an introduction to the modern publishing industry and a practical survival guide to the different functions involved in the publication of a book. As well as learning about the structure and economics of the British book industry, the opportunities and challenges of digitalization, students will engage with the process whereby books are chosen for publication, review principles of text and jacket design, practise basic copyediting and proofreading skills and learn tips for running a marketing and publicity campaign, writing 'blurbs' and press releases. The course will also touch on copyright law, finance and distribution. Students from the module are invited to join the core team producing the annual MA Creative Writing anthologies.




PLEASE ENROLMENT PRIORITY IS GIVEN TO MA PROSE FICTION STUDENTS Short fiction is too often defined in terms of what it is not - namely, a novel. Whether stories, novellas or experimental short fiction, short fiction is an art form in its own right. While acknowledging that there are no 'rules' as to what makes a good short story, we will look at the expectations and technical challenges created by the form, and in so doing to sharpen our analytical and critical faculties. This is predominantly a practical, workshop-based course oriented at writing short fiction, although students will also be asked to form critical opinions and perspectives on published short stories, the technical aspects of writing in the form, and on themes and trends in short fiction.




This module will provide students with critical and creative knowledge of modern crime/thriller fiction, and is designed to complement the Creative Writing MA programme, but is open to students across the MA. Crime/thriller fiction, the world's most popular literary genre, is particularly subject to ever evolving conventions, expectations, precedents and sub-genres. Understanding the presiding logistical and thematic issues is fundamental to both the creation of and critical response to crime/thriller fiction. The module will analyse the developments and characteristics of the modernisation of the genre, through a symptomatic approach to authors, from Dashiell Hammett to Denise Mina, from police procedurals to psychological thrillers. Issues of literary worth, escapism and social context, particularly will be examined. A prior interest in the genre is not necessary, while there will be much focus on the structural aspects of the novel. Creative work will also concentrate on how to craft a convincing plot, creating believable characters, building narrative drive and suspense, and generating voice. Students will be required to make presentations on particular authors from the set texts, and to produce original crime/thriller fiction. Assessment by creative writing, fiction up to 5000 words, and/or an accompanying critical essay.




This module is designed to complement the prose fiction workshop but is open to students on related programmes. It is intended to provide students with creative and critical knowledge in a single experiential burst, by exploring as they are relevant to writing fiction such topics as time, place, dramatic structure, character and concinnity. The unit also gives consideration to professional issues confronting novelists, from writer's block to editing, contracts and dealing with the media. The module presents the writer as both artist and supplier of intellectual property to a market, while examining that and other tensions critically. Reading, writing and analysis happen alongside each other. Fictional, critical and professional texts are examined, writing exercises illuminating the issue at hand are undertaken. Students are also expected to make presentations on topics of their choice. Assessment by creative writing coursework with a critical commentary.




This module explores key issues in the history of the theory and practice of translation in the West. We explore the changes in the cultural status of translation from ancient times to the present, analysing the ways in which translations have contributed to the reception of texts, and focusing on some of the political, theological and philosophical debates which translations have provoked. In the second half of the module we focus on a range of contemporary debates in translation studies. Students are encouraged to explore their own theoretical interests and present their findings in class. The module is compulsory for students on the MA in Literary Translation but can also be taken as an optional module by literature, drama and creative writing students, since there is no foreign language requirement.




Whilst the University will make every effort to offer the modules listed, changes may sometimes be made arising from the annual monitoring, review and update of modules and regular (five-yearly) review of course programmes. Where this activity leads to significant (but not minor) changes to programmes and their constituent modules, there will normally be prior consultation of students and others. It is also possible that the University may not be able to offer a module for reasons outside of its control, such as the illness of a member of staff or sabbatical leave. Where this is the case, the University will endeavour to inform students.

Entry Requirements

  • Degree Subject UK BA (Hons) 2.1 or equivalent
  • Special Entry Requirements Sample of work - see below

Students for whom English is a Foreign language

We welcome applications from students whose first language is not English. To ensure such students benefit from postgraduate study, we require evidence of proficiency in English. Our usual entry requirements are as follows:

  • IELTS: 7.0 (minimum 6.0 in each section and 7.0 in writing)
  • PTE (Pearson): 68 (minimum 55 in each section and 68 in writing)

Test dates should be within two years of the course start date.

Other tests, including Cambridge English exams and the Trinity Integrated Skills in English are also accepted by the university. The full list of accepted tests can be found here: Accepted English Language Tests

INTO UEA also run pre-sessional courses which can be taken prior to the start of your course. For further information and to see if you qualify please contact

Special Entry Requirements

A sample of your biographical writing or creative non-fiction of around 3000 words


The School's annual intake is in September of each year.

Please note that those candidates offered a place on the course will not be able to defer their offer to the next year if they are unable to take up the offer of a place, however they are welcome to reapply the next year.

Alternative Qualifications

If you have alternative qualifications that have not been mentioned above then please contact the Admissions Office directly for further information.

Fees and Funding

Tuition fees

Tuition fees for the academic year 2017/18 are:

  • UK/EU Students: £7,300
  • International Students: £14,800

If you choose to study part-time, the fee per annum will be half the annual fee for that year, or a pro-rata fee for the module credit you are taking (only available for UK/EU students).

We estimate living expenses at £820 per month.

Scholarships and Awards:

There are a variety of scholarships and studentships available to postgraduate applicants in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. For further information relevant to the School of Literature and Creative Writing, please click here.

How to Apply

Applications for Postgraduate Taught programmes at the University of East Anglia should be made directly to the University.

You can apply online.

Further Information

To request further information & to be kept up to date with news & events please use our online enquiry form.

If you would like to discuss your individual circumstances prior to applying please do contact us:

Postgraduate Admissions Office
Tel: +44 (0)1603 591515

International candidates are also encouraged to access the International Students section of our website.

    Next Steps

    We can’t wait to hear from you. Just pop any questions about this course into the form below and our enquiries team will answer as soon as they can.

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    telephone +44 (0)1603 591515