Writers' Café

About the Café

The Writers' Café is an on-campus writing and meeting space housed in the Writing Center. The Café meets during Fall and Spring Terms.

Writing can be a solitary art. Whether you are a Writing major or are simply deeply interested in writing, take time to find an informal community of Pitt writers at the Writers' Café. Make contacts with other writers, try your hand at different genres, let guided freewriting exercises jumpstart your process, and share feedback on works-in-progress with peers from all over campus. At the Writers' Café, you'll get leads on publishing opportunities and contests and enjoy a supportive environment for trying out your work on new readers and listeners. 

Each session is facilitated by at least two practicing creative writers, often from the Pitt faculty. Typical sessions include craft talks, writing in response to prompts, and sharing that writing. Coffee, soft drinks, and snacks are available free of charge. Start your weekend the "write" way by being part of the Writers' Café.

All of the Writers' Café sessions are held in the Writing Center, 317B O'Hara Student Center.

The Writing Center has a number of creative writing faculty on staff as tutors, and you are ALWAYS WELCOME to get one-on-one feedback on poetry, fiction, and nonfiction at the Center. 

If you have questions, contact Barbara Edelman or Sarah Leavens, the Writers' Café coordinators, via email or at 412-624-6556.

Spring 2018 Sessions • Fridays from 3:30 to 5


February 2   Science and Creativity—Sam Pittman & Lillian Chong 

For writers, science can get a bad rap--too rigid, too streamlined. And for scientists, writing can seem like a vehicle meant for clarity and not creativity. But what happens when we pull ideas and language from chemistry, biology, physics, and other hard sciences as expressive tools for our poetry, fiction, and nonfiction? And how can we take cues from poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction to enliven our communication of scientific discoveries and phenomena? Through readings, discussion, and guided exercises, we'll practice writing with and about science.

Sam Pittman is the author of the poetry chapbook, Mostly Water (Seven Kitchens Press, 2018), which won the Rane Arroyo Chapbook Prize. His writing has appeared in Bellevue Literary ReviewNewfound: A Journal of PlaceGlass, and elsewhere. Sam teaches in the English Department at Pitt, and in the ESL Program at Duquesne University.

Lillian Chong is a Chemistry Professor at the University of Pittsburgh who directs a lab in computational biophysics and enjoys creative writing. She also founded the Creative Science Writing Program for Pitt Undergraduates and the Program's online magazine on Medium called Lab Musings


February 16   From Story to Self: Meaning-Making Through Narrative Poetry—Cameron Barnett & Malcom Friend       

Join local poets Malcolm Friend and Cameron Barnett in an exploration of poetry’s narrative capabilities. In Barnett’s session, we will explore everyday ordinary objects through epistolary writing to discover their capability for relationship building. In Friend’s session, we will build off the letter form of poetry to choose celebrity/public figures to address through poems, and in the process address ourselves through the form. In each session, the aim will be to find which elements of storytelling our poetics amplify most, and what about our own nature is most amplified as well.

Cameron Barnett holds an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh, where he was poetry editor for Hot Metal Bridge, and co-coordinator of Pitt’s Speakeasy Reading Series. He teaches at Falk Laboratory School, is an associate poetry editor for Pittsburgh Poetry Review, and his debut collection, The Drowning Boy's Guide to Water, was recently published through Autumn House Press.

Malcolm Friend is a poet originally from the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. He received his BA from Vanderbilt University, and his MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of the chapbook mxd kd mixtape (Glass Poetry, 2017), and has received awards and fellowships from organizations including CantoMundo, VONA/Voices of Our Nations, Backbone Press, the Center for African American Poetry & Poetics, and the University of Memphis. His manuscript Our Bruises Kept Singing Purple won the 2017 Hillary Gravendyk Prize, and will be published in 2018 by Inlandia Books. His work has been featured or is forthcoming in publications including La Respuesta magazine, VinylWord RiotThe Acentos Review, and Pretty Owl Poetry.


March 23  Landscapes in Peril: Writing About Place In 2018—Marc Harshman & Douglas Van Gundy       

For this session, Doug Van Gundy and Marc Harshman will examine the charge of the poet to bear witness to and document the various ways in which the landscape of our nation is under threat.  Reading from their own work and that of other Appalachian writers, they’ll share their experience of being poets from a region so long under assault from exploitative industries.  They will then challenge participants with a pair of writing prompts designed to elicit close observation of place and generate empathy for—and solidarity with—the land and its people.

Marc Harshman’s fourteenth children’s book, FALLINGWATER, co-written with Anna Smucker, has just been published by Roaring Brook/Macmillan. His poetry collection, BELIEVE WHAT YOU CAN, was published in 2016 by West Virginia University Press and won the Weatherford Award from the Appalachian Studies Association. Periodical publications include The Georgia Review, Salamander, Shenandoah, Chariton Review, and Poetry Salzburg Review. Poems have been anthologized by Kent State University, the University of Iowa, University of Georgia, and the University of Arizona. An invited reader at the 2016 Greenwich Book Festival in London, he recently read with Doug Van Gundy at the Red House Arts Centre, in Wales. He is the seventh poet laureate of West Virginia.

Doug Van Gundy teaches in both the BA and MFA writing programs at West Virginia Wesleyan College.  His poems, essays and reviews have appeared in many journals, including The Oxford American, Ecotone, Appalachian Heritage, and Poetry Salzburg Review.  He is co-editor of the anthology Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods: Contemporary Writing from West Virginia, and is currently working on a follow-up to his debut poetry collection, A Life Above Water.


April 6  Purloining the Letter: Using Letters to Shape Stories—Rachel Hall                   

In their anthology Women's Letters, Lisa Grunwald and Stephen Adler write that “letters tell stories; they tell secrets; they shout and scold, bitch and soothe, whisper and worry…” Many writers including E.L. Doctorow, Alice Munro, and J.D. Salinger have written stories that incorporate written correspondence to one degree or another. In this session, we will consider how letters--real and fictitious--can provide tension and conflict, setting and situation, character and voice, and explore how they can be used to shape short stories.

Rachel Hall is the author of Heirlooms (BkMk Press), which was selected by Marge Piercy for the G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize. Her short stories and essays have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies including Black Warrior ReviewCrab Orchard ReviewGettysburg ReviewGuernica and New Letters, which awarded her the Alexander Cappon Prize for Fiction.  She has received other honors and awards from Lilith, Glimmer Train, Bread Loaf and Sewanee, Ragdale, the Ox-Bow School of the Arts, and the Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts. Hall is a Professor of English in the creative writing program at the State University of New York at Geneseo where she holds two Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence—one for teaching and one for her creative work. She lives in Rochester, New York with her husband and daughter. Learn more at rachelhall.org.