For 23 years, the Pittsburgh-based Creative Nonfiction Foundation has been at the forefront of its namesake genre, rising to national prominence for its efforts to promote “true stories, well told.” Thanks in part to the Foundation’s quarterly magazine, online classes and renowned writers conference, Creative Nonfiction is more popular than ever, with top literary talents writing memoirs, contributing to magazines, and more.
Now, after moving from Shadyside to a sunlit space in Garfield, the Foundation is bringing its mission home by turning its attention to Pittsburghers.
Though the organization has a well-established national presence, its staff began thinking differently about how best to serve its home community after relocating to its Coral Street digs, says Lauren Boehm, the Foundation’s events and building manager. “We spent months visiting neighborhoods around Pittsburgh,” says Boehm. “Eventually, we settled on [the Garfield location] when we saw the potential it had—the space, the light, the room to grow. And it very quickly became our mission to bring people here. Whether someone loves hearing and reading great stories or aspires to write and share their own experiences, we aim to provide a home for both.”
The result is an events calendar that’s “a little bit different than what you’d find elsewhere,” says Sharla Yates, the Foundation’s director of education. “We wanted to offer classes that you wouldn’t necessarily get in an MFA program. We take craft seriously, but we also help writers build community and learn practical skills—things like how to plan and how to publish.”
On July 15, for example, author Anjali Sachdeva will host a one-day “mini mid-summer writing retreat” to help writers start new projects and develop plans to finish them by Labor Day.
In August, author Sonya Huber will lead “Extraordinary Embodiment,” a class designed to help participants write about chronic illness and disability. By September, the Foundation aims to host several events per month—some focused on instruction, some on community-building, and some on simply having fun.
“Right now, we’re exploring everything from open writing sessions to smaller, more targeted workshops that serve specific groups,” says Boehm. “We’ve been hosting open houses during Unblurred [a monthly gallery crawl along Garfield’s Penn Avenue Arts District], and we love it when people who’ve never heard of us stop in for the first time. They pick up an issue of the magazine, check out our art gallery, and talk to the writers we’ve invited. It starts a great local dialogue about stories and storytelling.”
The Foundation hopes to bring that sensibility to Pittsburgh’s writing community. “It’s all about having open, accessible programming,” says Boehm. “We don’t necessarily have limitations. And now we have a space where we can celebrate the written word and bring true stories to life.”