Writers' Café

About the Café

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. 

Sessions are facilitated by practicing creative writers, often from the Pitt faculty. Typical sessions include craft talks, writing in response to prompts, and sharing that writing. Start your weekend the "write" way by being part of the Writers' Café.

This fall, all of the Writers' Café sessions will be held remotely, via Zoom. Register for each session via the registration links listed below. 

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 2021 Sessions Fridays from 3:30 to 5

:30 on Zoom


3/26/21 • Robin Clarke • Writing to Heal 

Registration Link: https://pitt.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJUlcO6prjMqGNN4ruzbyDMGmzZaOyqKwMQh

This special session of the Writer’s Cafe is for anyone who would like to release, at least a little bit, the grip of the past on the present. We will begin with a discussion of how disturbing past experiences can get stuck in our memories and what we can do to get unstuck, including a list of outside resources. We will also use guided imagery and meditation to ground ourselves in the truth of the present: that our suffering does not determine who we can become, that we are not alone, and that we are loved. Then, we will use writing to deepen compassion for self as we explore how we have suffered and how we have survived.

Robin Clarke is a writer, teacher, and psychotherapist living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her first book of poems, Lines the Quarry (Omnidawn, 2013), won the Omnidawn 1st/2nd book prize for poetry. With the poet Sten Carlson, she co-authored a chapbook of poems entitled Lives of the Czars (nonpolygon, 2011). An excerpt from her memoir-in-progress, Those Little Anodynes, won the 2016 Tupelo Open Prose award. She lives in an intentional co-housing community with her partner and their two daughters. 


3/12/21 • Toi Derricotte • Writing About Hard Stuff

Registration Link: https://pitt.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJwkcOCrpj0iHtI7ELq5YeaUng85Ww51ru4g

This cafe session will be held from 3:30-5:15pm. At 5:30, we will reconvene for the Dedication of the Julianne MacAdoo Award in Fiction. The dedication will be held from 5:30-6:15. Attendees are welcome to attend one or both of these events. 

 “When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”  Audre Lorde
“Shame keeps us silent, and silence keeps everything the same.”  Audre Lorde
When I took my first writing class, I read the Sylvia Plath poem, “Daddy,” which has the line, “Daddy, I have had to kill you.”  Of course, expressing angry feelings in a poem can’t kill anyone but, for some of us, expressing certain feelings can seem that powerful and scary.  When I read that poem, I learned something that I believe has saved my life:  I never knew that there was a place in which it was safe to express feelings that I could not express in my real life; and that in expressing those “forbidden” feelings, I could create something powerful and/or beautiful, something not “weird,” but “human,” something to which others may relate. In this session, we will each try our hand at writing about a difficult subject, exploring some of the motivations and challenges in doing so, and some of the tools we might employ.
Toi Derricotte’s sixth collection of poetry, “I“ New and Selected Poems, was published in 2019 and shortlisted for the 2019 National Book Award. Other books of poetry include The Undertaker’s Daughter, Tender, and Captivity. She received the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America in 2020. With Cornelius Eady, she co-founded Cave Canem, a home for the many voices of African American poetry, in 1996. Her literary memoir, The Black Notebooks, received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Non-Fiction and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Among other awards, she is the recipient of three Pushcart Prizes, the 2012 Paterson Poetry Prize for Sustained Literary Achievement, a Distinguished Pioneering of the Arts Award from the United Black Artists, and the 2012 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry. She is Professor Emerita from University of Pittsburgh and a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. 

Dedication of the Julianne MacAdoo Award in Fiction

This year the Writers’ Café annual fiction award will become the Julianne MacAdoo Award in  Fiction, in memory of our dear friend and colleague who passed away in November of 2019. After the very slightly shortened Writers’ Café session, we’ll hold an event to dedicate the award, including brief reminiscences and a short reading of Julianne’s fiction. All are welcome to attend—whether you choose to stay after the session or come only for the tribute. To avoid disrupting the session, we’ll re-open the space for tribute attendees at 5:20. Use the same zoom link above to register. 


2/12/21 • Against Wholeness: In celebration of intrusion, interruption, uncertainty and the suggestive fragment 

Registration Link: https://pitt.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMtcOqqqjgvGtSZkjmWOhlBAgxNGzW2B1SU

Two disabled writers look at strategies for resisting the perfect poem, essay, or story in celebration of the creative power of imperfection.  How can our craft as poets and prose writers open us to the real dilemmas, conflicts, and interruptions of living in the world in a spirt of openness, acceptance, and vulnerability? 

Sheila Black lives and writes in San Antonio, Texas, where she tends to hope for more rain. She is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Iron, Ardent from Educe Press. Her poems and essays have appeared in Poetry, The New York TimesThe SpectacleSo to SpeakLily Poetry Review and elsewhere. She is a co-editor of Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability and a co-founder of Zoeglossia, a new non-profit that seeks to build community for disabled poets.  She works at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP).

Ellen McGrath Smith teaches at the University of Pittsburgh. Her writing has appeared in The American Poetry Review, Los Angeles Review, The New York Times, and other publications, and in several anthologies, including Beauty Is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability and Rabbit Ears: TV Poems. Smith has been the recipient of an Orlando Prize, a Rainmaker Award from Zone 3 magazine, and a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellowship. Her chapbook, Scatter, Feed, was published by Seven Kitchens Press in 2014, and her book, Nobody's Jackknife, was published in 2015 by the West End Press.  


Fall 2020 Sessions Fridays from 3:30 to 5

:30 on Zoom

10/9/20 • Point of View in Genre Writing: Mystery, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, the Weird • David Harry Tannenbaum and Dan McMillan

Registration Link: https://pitt.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJErcuqsqTksGd2ewxvAKqjT4AdAzdqrck3R 

Fresh, concrete images are at the heart of quality fiction.  This workshop will focus on specific techniques for point of view and how these techniques allow authors to use images to create characters-as-people.  We will address some of the challenges and opportunities that writing quality genre fiction entails and why writing characters-as-people is so doggone challenging in genre fiction.  What one person notices when they walk into a room is not what anyone else would notice.  Their 'noticing' is unique to them, and what a person notices speaks volumes about their worldview and who they are as a person--real and alive, even if the world they inhabit, and the images they notice, are far removed from the realities of mundane life.

David Harry Tannenbaum was born and raised in Pittsburgh and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a BS in Electrical Engineering. He is the award-winning author of three novels: STANDARD DEVIATION, a story built around an Asperger’s Syndrome child and the difficult personal relationships that spectrum people must navigate; OUT OF THE DEPTHS, a fictional account of the ravages of survivor’s guilt on a Holocaust survivor; and ADVENTURES IN THE LAW, a collection of stories taken from his law career—as a registered patent attorney for Bell Telephone Laboratories in New Jersey, and later, as head of the Intellectual Property Section of Fulbright & Jaworski in Dallas, Texas. Under the pen name of David Harry, he has also published nine mysteries/thrillers set on South Padre Island, Texas, featuring Jimmy Redstone, an aging former Texas Ranger, and Angella Martinez, a relative newcomer to law enforcement. David is a former Vice President of the Southwest Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. He and his wife Mary now reside in South Florida and Pittsburgh where he is currently writing a new detective mystery series tentatively titled THE SEMINAL SOCIETY.

Dan McMillan has a B.A. and M.A. in English from Northern Arizona University where he focused on pop culture studies, and fiction and poetry writing. He received his M.F.A. in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Pittsburgh where he currently teaches composition, creative writing, and technical writing at the Swanson School of Engineering. He is interested in the ways in which cultural mythologies (like the American Dream) both author and reflect society’s shared values and tensions and can simultaneously bind us and blind us. He is also interested in genre fiction and how contemporary authors have broken and blurred strict genre lines like hard science fiction or horror to create remarkable works, both written and visual (think Netflix’s Stranger Things as one such example). He enjoys discovering the fresh and new, writing that explores the familiar in unfamiliar ways, and seeing students make connections between the larger cultural stories we tell about ourselves and how those stories shape our individual identities in complicated ways.

10/30/20 • The Stranger(s) • Justin Phillip Reed

Registration Link:  https://pitt.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJIqcOivqDIvEteNGK4OCAhgCRt0JdbGuXDW

What image won't stop replaying behind your eyes as you lie there in the dark? What sound made you switch on the light? Horror tends to reveal to us—and allow us to engage ​with—unacknowledged fear, repressed desire, and our most crucial priorities. Enduring writing, like enduring horror, suspends the individual in stark confrontations with the creep inside. In this session of the Writer's Cafe, we'll engage different "scenes" of horror media and write directly toward what frightens, disturbs, and repulses us—all with the aim of better recognizing who we are when we're alone.

Justin Phillip Reed is an American poet, essayist, and amateur bass guitarist whose preoccupations include horror cinema, poetic form, morphological transgressions, and uses of the grotesque. He is the author of two poetry collections, The Malevolent Volume (2020) and Indecency (2018), both published by Coffee House Press. Born and raised in South Carolina, he participates in vague spirituality and alternative rock music cultures and enjoys smelling like outside. ​He is the 2019-2021 Fellow in Creative Writing at the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics at the University of Pittsburgh.


11/13/20 • On Lies and Truths about Sex and Bodies • Deesha Philyaw

Registration Link: https://pitt.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJcqce6trjooGNNv-EhIoe71CC8iqJiEMO-8

From an early age, we are taught lies about sex and bodies, ours and other people’s. We’re taught to diminish or mistrust our bodies and our desires. We’re taught that we don’t measure up, that we aren’t enough, but also that what we want and need is too much. In this Writer’s Cafe, we’ll identify these lies and explore the truths they obscure. Then, we’ll respond to creative writing prompts that celebrate these truths in fun, provocative, and, hopefully, healing ways.

Deesha Philyaw’s debut short story collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, won the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and 2020/2021 Story Prize, the 2020 LA Times Book Prize: The Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies focuses on Black women, sex, and the Black church. Deesha is also the co-author of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce, written in collaboration with her ex-husband. Her work has been listed as Notable in the Best American Essays series, and her writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington PostMcSweeney'sThe RumpusBrevitydead housekeepingApogee JournalCatapultHarvard ReviewESPN's The UndefeatedThe Baltimore ReviewTueNightEbony and Bitch magazines, and various anthologies. Deesha is a Kimibilio Fiction Fellow and a past Pushcart Prize nominee for essay writing in Full Grown People