Special Programs

Writing the Tough Stuff

A Free 8-Week Writing Workshop for Teens

It’s hard to be a teen any time, but maybe even more so this year. Writing about challenges—whether personal or political, big or small—can help.

This free, intensive, hybrid (online and in-person) writing workshop is an opportunity for Allegheny County (PA) students in grades 9-12 to write about subjects and challenges such as social isolation, anxiety, uncertainty, sexuality, gender identity, peer and family relationships, bullying, mental illness, racism, etc.

During this multi-week workshop at Creative Nonfiction, participants will become part of a special cohort of young adults working together. They’ll have the opportunity to share and reflect on the writing process, and specifically on how writing about difficult topics gives the writer the opportunity to investigate their life and take ownership of their experiences. In addition to learning the basics of creative nonfiction, such as crafting scenes and characters, finding your audience, and revising your work, students will also receive training on how to prepare a portion of your work to be performed aloud at a final “graduation” event.

Workshops will be led by Sarah Shotland, the author of the novel Junkette and a playwright whose work has been produced nationally and internationally. She is cofounder and Program Director of Words Without Walls, which brings creative writing classes to jails, prisons, and drug treatment centers in Pittsburgh. Her work has been funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and her essays have been published or are forthcoming in The Iowa Review, Baltimore Review, Creative Nonfiction, and elsewhere. She teaches in the MFA program at Chatham University.

Alona Williams is this year’s teaching assistant. She is a 2020 graduate of Chatham University where she earned a BFA in Creative Writing with a Minor in Music. She participated in the Winter Tangerine’s Winter 2018 workshop, and has been published in 1839 Magazine, The Minor BirdTENDER a literary anthology and book of spells: evidence, and Moonstone’s chapbook, Philadelphia Says: Resisting Arrest.

Applications are due by February 7, 2022.

What is creative nonfiction?

Simply put, creative nonfiction is true stories, well told—factually accurate, artful prose about real people and events. “Creative nonfiction can be an essay, a journal article, a research paper, a memoir, or a poem; it can be personal or not, or it can be all of these.” — Lee Gutkind. Learn more about the genre here.

Who should apply?

Any resident of Allegheny County in grades 9–12 who has a story to share. All applicants must be available to join an online meeting on a reliable wifi connection— preferably on an actual computer with a camera rather than a smartphone or tablet. 


Meetings will take place on eight Thursdays: Feb 17, 24, Mar 3, 10, 17, 24, 31, and April 7. (Some workshops may meet in person; location to be announced).

Readings—All participants should expect to attend and participate in a “graduation” reading currently scheduled for the evening of Thursday, April 21st, 2022.

Applications are due by February 7, 2022. Submit your application here.