Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series offers a diversity of voices


The Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series, now in its 25th year, presents a rare opportunity to see international literary writers for free in Pittsburgh, says new PCWS director Irina Reyn.

Reyn, English faculty member in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, believes the annual series has equal appeal to students and to a wider public, making it “a crossroads where the University community and the city community could meet. … to see these incredible people that we are lucky to get every year.”

The 2018-19 series — all at 7:30 p.m. at the Frick Fine Arts Building except as noted — features:

  • Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah (Sept. 26, Heinz Memorial Chapel), an essayist whose work has won the Pulitzer Prize and a National Magazine Award, and whose first book, “The Explainers and the Explorers,” will be published this year.
  • Chinelo Okparanta (Oct. 18), a short story and novel writer whose work has appeared in The New Yorker. Okparanta, assistant professor of English and creative writing at Bucknell University, has won a Lambda Literary Award and an O. Henry Prize, and was a nominee for both the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award and the NAACP Image Award in Fiction.
  • Poets Bhanu Kapil and Jackie Wang (Nov. 8). Kapil is the author of many full-length works of poetry and teaches interdisciplinary studies at Naropa University in Boulder, Colo. Wang is the author of punk zines, as well as poetry and essay collections, and is a doctoral student at Harvard University.
  • Cristina García (Jan. 31), who has published seven novels and edited two anthologies, many with a focus on Cuba and other Latino subjects, as well as penning books for young readers. Her work has been nominated for a National Book Award, and she has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University and a National Endowment for the Arts grant. 
  • Joshua Bennett (Feb. 21), author of “The Sobbing School” — a National Poetry Series selection — and “Being Property Once Myself: Blackness and the End of Man,” forthcoming from Harvard University Press. He has received fellowships from the NEA, the Ford Foundation and the Society of Fellows at Harvard University, and is an assistant professor of English and creative writing at Dartmouth College.
  • Wesley Morris (March 21), critic-at-large for The New York Times and co-host of the podcast “Still Processing.” Morris has written for several daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe, where in 2012 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.

In addition to reading from their works and answering audience questions, many of the writers will engage in conversations with Pitt faculty or others as part of the evening. Ghansah will be joined by Dawn Lundy Martin, English faculty member and director of the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics; a conversation with García will be led by English faculty member Angie Cruz; Longform podcast co-host Max Linsky will direct a talk with Morris; and Kapil and Wang will respond to each other following their readings.

“What ties this series together,” Reyn says, “is just the wonderful range and diversity of the voices.”

Marty Levine is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at martyl@pitt.edu or 412-758-4859.