Up until recently when I decided that I wanted to pursue creative writing in graduate school, I had only a handful of writers and their respective styles in mind. And of that handful, only one writer and style did I actually see something of my own (or what I assume is my own) personal writing style. The other writers I think I am merely in awe of, or have been trained to consider the ground broken by way of their work, most of which are contemporaries.
When I began looking for a graduate program I wanted to attend a school with some Caribbean roots so I applied to the University of the West Indies in Cave Hill, Barbados for Cultural Studies. I am yet to hear from them. My recommendor sent them her letter over three times before they said they received it. It's been four, almost five months, and they have yet to get back to me with not so much as a yay or nay regarding my application for Fall 2009! And if you check the date on this post, its well into the fall season. Anyway, I choose Cultural Studies because I was drawn to the field of humanities and anthropology. I studied Religion in addition to Creative Writing as an undergrad and thought I could continue studying various Caribbean (indigenous) religious traditions in the process but none of this worked out. I still get upset thinking about it. (I'm going to write UWI an angry email, one among many I've written over the past few months, after I finish this post.)
Since my attempt at Cultural Studies did not work, I thought up the next best thing. I would research schools with Caribbean English faculty and apply there. So while compiling this list, I decided on Kwame Dawes, Lorna Goodison, and Merle Collins. I also had some more writers but of course they were based out of none other than the University of the West Indies, which I decided to have sit out this list of potential schools.
U.S. News and World Reports every year, without fail, comes out with a list of the top 50-100 colleges in the U.S. for anxious high school juniors racking themselves mad over SAT prep. It also rates the best graduate programs in law, medical, business, liberal arts, and even fine arts programs, but did you know that no where on any of those lists is a ranking for creative writing? It's not ranked under English or Fine Arts. So basically what the U.S. News and World Report are trying to tell you is, if you plan to write creatively (because journalism is damn sure listed) for a living, you can kiss their behinds.
So how does one come up with a good list of creative writing graduate programs. Well first off you do some soul searching because creative writing may very well lead you down a path of no money, and second you consider some professional writers in your own space, professors and graduate students for instance. They're in the boat you're longing to catch. Also, research to find out what sorts of writers and/or styles you like. I'm tempted to say that you should also consider aligning yourself to a movement, though I'm pretty sure movements are only considered so after the fact, not during; and what's more, its difficult from our vantage point to see differences in style and form as being even grander manifestations of thought working to polarize writers into distinct groups.
Either way, be glad now writers have their own forums, seasonal publications, which handle some of these needs. Consider The Atlantic which just came out with an issue of the U.S.'s top creative writing programs. My alma mater is ranked at number 2, (and in all honestly it's always very high on the list, and it makes me wonder why don't apply there and then I think, I've already been there, and I really really do need a change of scenery.) The Atlantic does a really great job because it separates the schools based on varying factors such as how well funded they are, if they're innovative, up-and-coming, most distinguished faculty, and notable alumni just to name a few categories. If you're interested just take the following link to the article/rank and learn more.