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.

Writers’ Café sessions will be held in a mix of zoom and in-person sessions; see details below for each café.

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 April Flynn or Sarah Leavens, the Writers' Café coordinators, via email or at 412-624-6556.


Spring 2023 Sessions Fridays from 3:30 to 5


January 27 — "Ars Cinema" with Xan Phillips
On Zoom:
 register at https://pitt.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJEqcuCopz8tGdCgqWMtqoxwMgMuo-aU-r8p

What can we as poets learn from non-verbal modes of storytelling? This workshop will explore image building by testing the relationship between poetics and cinematography. If you have ever been curious about the ekphrastic mode (writing in response to art), sampling, or experimental poetry this class will serve as a gateway into those creative endeavors. This session will include a dynamic discussion about a brief curated selection of poetry and film, with ample time to write and share work.

Xan Phillips is a poet and visual artist from rural Ohio. The recipient of a Whiting Award, Lambda Literary Award, and The Judith A. Markowitz Award for Emerging Writers, Xan is the author of HULL (Nightboat Books 2019) and Reasons for Smoking, which won the 2016 Seattle Review Chapbook contest judged by Claudia Rankine. He has received fellowships from Brown University, Callaloo, Cave Canem, The Conversation Literary Festival, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the Sewanee Writers Conference, and the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics. Xan’s poetry is featured in Berlin Quarterly Review, Bomb Magazine, Crazyhorse, Poets.org, Virginia Quarterly Review, and elsewhere. Find him online at xanphillips.com.


February 10 — "Syntax and Surprise" with Barbara Edelman and Ellen McGrath Smith
In person at the writing center (no registration needed)

Good writing is full of surprises—from unexpected imagery to plot twists to seemingly out-of-the-blue word choices. At the level of the sentence, writers often surprise both themselves and their readers by throwing a wrench into the workings of syntax. Sometimes, it's a verb in the place of a noun or a noun where a verb should be. Sometimes a sentence does a flip-turn, or one word spins off from another. What do such surprises make possible? How can we keep ourselves open to these swerves while we compose and revise our work? This session will present great examples of syntactical shake-ups from poetry and prose—along with exercises that invite you to torque your syntax in ways that stop, even jaw-drop, your readers.

Barbara Edelman’s poetry collections include All the Hanging Wrenches (longlisted by Publisher’s Weekly as a notable book of poetry for 2022) and Dream of the Gone-From City (2017), both from Carnegie Mellon University Press; and the chapbooks Exposure (Finishing Line Press) and A Girl in Water (Parallel Press). Her poems and short prose have appeared in Pleiades, Prairie Schooner, Raleigh Review, Rattle, and Spillway, among other journals, and in several anthologies. A professor emerita and current part time instructor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, Edelman has taught courses in creative writing, literature, and composition.

Ellen McGrath Smith teaches at the University of Pittsburgh and in the Carlow University Madwomen in the Attic program. Her poetry has appeared in The Georgia Review, The New York Times, The American Poetry Review, Talking Writing, Los Angeles Review, and other journals and anthologies. Books include Scatter, Feed (Seven Kitchens 2014) and Nobody's Jackknife (West End Press 2015). Her chapbook Lie Low, Goaded Lamb was released in January 2023 from Seven Kitchens Press as part of its Keystone Series.


April 14 — "Writing the Bodymind: Locating the Story Within the Self" with Jessie Male
In person at the writing center (no registration needed)

Description coming soon. 


Fall 2022 Sessions Fridays from 3:30 to 5



December 2 - "Glass Half-Full: Articulating Joy" with Sampsonia Way (in person in the Writing Center)

The poet Toi Derricotte once observed that “joy is an act of resistance.” In a world full of so much madness and chaos, we happen to agree! Joy is an act that we can articulate and practice. It's a way for us to de-stress and to make sense of the world around us. Join the staff writers of Sampsonia Way Magazine for a series of writing exercises designed to boost our vibes and articulate joy. Take a break from the hectic end-of-term crunch for snacks, writing exercises, and a joyful head space! Writers of all genres and at any stage are welcome! 

As the in-house magazine for City of Asylum, Sampsonia Way Magazine is devoted to literary freedom of expression and giving voice to persecuted writers. The online literary magazine operates as a publishing partnership between City of Asylum and the Public & Professional Writing Program, providing an incubator for advocacy journalism and fostering a global literary community. Each term, Pitt students serve as staff members, working to create and edit articles, curate literary works, conduct interviews, and manage the publicity of the magazine. 

Fall 2022 // Sampsonia Way Staff
Tim Maddocks, Managing Editor
Odessa Patmos, Assistant Editor
Daishon Spann, Assistant Editor
Alyssa Machi, Staff Writer
Ebonee Rice-Nguyen, Staff Writer
Leah Simpson, Staff Writer
Delaney Rauscher Adams, Staff Writer
Paige Wasserman, Staff Writer


November 4 - "Mind Your Business: Working Writers Can't Eat Exposure" with Joshua M. Patton and Nina Sabak (in person)

There are two wolves inside of you. One is a mercenary willing to do anything for money that allows you to legitimately call yourself a "writer." The other is an artist, a truthteller that cares only about molding the music of language to say something. beautiful and real. Neither one wins, because they both die of starvation after being asked to work only for exposure. Join fellow Pitt Panthers Nina Sabak and Joshua M. Patton as they share what they've learned in the years since putthing Cathy in their rearview mirrors. You've practiced the craft, now go pro by learning how to blend your artistic sensibilities with the unforgiving, real-world demands of the writing business via exercises that help you organize your ideas, create an action plan to realize them, and then pitch them to a publisher/outlet/etc. 

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and alum of the Pitt Writing Program. He started writing for the internet when both were just kids, today yelling about television on Comic Book Resources. Along with entertainment writing, he spent over ten years working as a journalist on the politics, policy, veteran, and justice beats. He's independently published two books, a collection of superhero-themed short stories he wasn't allowed to write for his fiction classes and a collection of short fiction, non-fiction, and poetry he wrote for them instead. He was the best star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend.

Nina Sabak is a fiction writer who earned both her BA (2013) and MFA (2016) from the University of Pittsburgh. After graduation, she moved to NYC to pursue a publishing career and presently works as editor of Publishing Trends and Publishing Trendsetter, as well as director of research and editorial for Market Partners International. Her writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Plain China, Gravel, and Bartleby Snopes, and in 2012 she published a chapbook with the Poetry Society of New Hampshire, Naming the Mountain. These days she lives in Garfield with her cat, Leonardo.


October 21 - "List-Making as Essay" with Neema Avashia (virtual via Zoom; CLICK HERE TO REGISTER)

Ever feel like you have a bunch of tiny vignettes that aren't big enough to be a whole essay, but resonant enough that you want to find a way to use them? In this session, we'll explore how to take the fragments of essays floating around in our heads, and organize them into a list essay that coheres around a theme. We will read a few examples, and then have time to work on our own lists. At the end of the session, there will be time for folks to share their work.

Neema Avashia is the daughter of Indian immigrants, and was born and raised in southern West Virginia. She has been a teacher in the Boston Public Schools since 2003. Her first book, Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place, was published by West Virginia University Press in March. It has been called “A timely collection that begins to fill the gap in literature focused mainly on the white male experience” by Ms. Magazine, and “A graceful exploration of identity, community, and contradictions,” by Scalawag.