Letter from Chuck Kinder (Professor and former director of the Writing Program)
Have you ever heard of a "hot metal bridge?" Pittsburgh has one. Pittsburgh is a place of mysteries and cloud factories, of Cathedrals and House Poems, of Primanti Brothers French-fry-stuffed sandwiches in the Strip District dawn. Michael Chabon says this about Pittsburgh: "In Pittsburgh, perhaps more than anywhere else in our languid nation, a barmaid does not care." Pittsburgh born Gertrude Stein's very own first words were reputed to have been: "There is an abundance of here here."
What Pittsburgh does have is an abundance of very fine writers. And many of them are part of the University of Pittsburgh's Writing Program, one of the oldest and largest in the country. It is going to be an exciting time for our MFA Program this coming year. We are in the process of redesigning our curriculum in order to offer our graduate students more of a cross-genre experience in their writing life. Our three tracks, Poetry, Creative Nonfiction, and Fiction, are becoming ever more blended in ways that will result in new modes of mutual endeavor and cross-fertilization. Many members of our faculty have published successfully across the genres in their professional lives, and many of our students have expressed interest in exploring various avenues of writing.
For the first time this past Spring Term we offered a graduate writing workshop that included students in both the Poetry Track and the Creative Nonfiction Track, which was team-taught by the renown poet Toi Derricotte and the equally renown nonfiction writer Jeanne Marie Laskas. They designed this course for students interested in studying and writing hybrid forms of memoir, literary nonfiction, and poems, and in exploring the questions: What can poets learn from nonfiction writers? And what can nonfiction writers learn from poets?
In this course students were led in guided practices to immersion research and in gathering information from memory and imagination. The course was a huge success and will be offered on a regular basis. Along these same lines, we are redesigning many of our graduate workshops so that they will deal with the Nature of Narrative, be it fiction or nonfiction—or poetry, for that matter. We see this new approach of cross-genre writing leading to MFA thesis manuscripts that are richly experimental and hybrid in their natures, encompassing everything from highly lyrical personal essays compact and intense as poems to graphic novels. Everything will be on the proverbial table around these parts.
Our celebrated faculty continues to publish widely and prominently, while still providing a varied and intense classroom experience for students. And next year we will be joined by Joel Lovell as a Visiting Assistant Professor. You may have heard Joel’s work on the “This American Life” radio program, his most recent broadcast being “The Bitter Fruits of Wakefulness,” in August 2008. Joel has been a story editor for both The New York Times Magazine and Harpers Magazine. He edited the best-selling memoir, I Lost My Love in Baghdad, by Michael Hastings for Scriber in 2008. Joel is currently a story editor/correspondent for GQ Magazine, where he has most recently edited stories by such authors as Juno Diaz, Elizabeth Gilbert, Matthew Klam, Ryan Lizza, David Rakoff, and many others.
From its inception, the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series (PCWS) has fulfilled its mission to make central to the intellectual endeavors of the University the study and writing of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction by bringing notable writers to Pitt’s main campus every year. Lynn Emanuel, the director of PCWS, and Jeff Oaks, the assistant director, have scheduled an exciting array of world-renowned writers for the 2009-2010 season to read from their work and to explore the general theme: Foreseeable Futures—The Future of Fiction, The Future of Poetry, and The Future of the Book.
For years now I have been telling my hipper-than-thou, out-of-town friends that Pittsburgh is this stealth city that is somehow sailing under the National Radar Cool-Detector. I tell them that Pittsburgh is actually the shining Paris of Appalachia, a Paris of converging rivers and seemingly countless bridges. And I attest to them that if they truly want to discover the glittering romance of dark, rainy, lamp-lit Left Bank café nights and the salon glamour of Gertrude and Alice reborn, come to Pittsburgh, that Moveable Feast where many of the Hemingways and Fitzgeralds and Zeldas and Joyces of this generation of writers are polishing their shiny new legends.