The has announced a gift of $50 million from the Zell Family Foundation to its .
The gift — the largest in the college's history and the third-largest ever to the university — will endow the , which provides twenty-two students a year with tuition and a $22,000 stipend while they take classes, then pays them to teach in their second. An earlier $10 million gift from the foundation, which is led by UM alumna Helen Zell ('64), wife of billionaire Sam Zell, also a UM alumnus, makes it possible for all students in the program to receive a third year of support, including health insurance, to focus on their work. Helen Zell first became involved with the MFA program in 2001, when she endowed a visiting professorship in fiction. In recognition of support totaling more than $60 million, the program will be renamed the Helen Zell Writers' Program.
"What I've watched happen with the introduction of the Internet and media and blogging, I almost feel like this part of our education is under siege," Zell told the . "The ability of fiction to develop creativity, to analyze the human psyche, help you understand people — it's critical....To me, it's the core of the intellectual health of human beings." Alumni of the program include Elizabeth Kostova, Hanna Pylväinen, Jesmyn Ward, Uwem Akpan, and Laura Kasischke.
"Helen Zell is a patron of writing at the University of Michigan," said UM president Mary Sue Coleman. "Helen is changing the lives of writers and providing the means for important works to be written, enriching the literary landscape. Her support of fiction and poetry is a commitment to the written word, which allows readers to explore, provides intellectual awakening, and stirs the imagination."