Chatham News

Poet Tyehimba Jess to give reading at Chatham as part of the Words Without Walls Black Writers Reading Series

By: Amanda Leff Ritchie, Senior Public Relations Specialist
February 15, 2012 

Tyehimba Jess

PITTSBURGH (February 15, 2012)… Chatham University’s MFA in Creative Writing program will host poet Tyehimba Jess for a free public reading and book signing at 8 p.m. on February 24 in the Welker Room, James Laughlin Music Hall, Shadyside Campus. A reception will follow.

The event is part of Chatham’s Words Without Walls Black Writers Reading Series, funded by the Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation. The grant supports the visits of five black writers throughout the next year, who will present their work at the Allegheny County Jail for the inmates studying creative writing there through Chatham’s Words Without Walls program. While in Pittsburgh, writers give public readings of their work. More information about the series is available on Chatham’s news page.

Born in Detroit, Mr. Jess’ poetry bridges slam and academic poetry. His first collection, leadbelly (2005), an exploration of the blues musician Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter’s life, was chosen for the National Poetry Series by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, and was voted one of the top three poetry books of the year by Black Issues Book Review.

A two-time member of the Chicago Green Mill Slam team, Mr. Jess was also Chicago’s Poetry Ambassador to Accra, Ghana. He is the author of African American Pride: Celebrating Our Achievements, Contributions, and Enduring Legacy (2003), and his work has been featured in numerous anthologies, including Soulfires: Young Black Men in Love and Violence (1996), Slam: The Competitive Art of Performance Poetry (2000), and Dark Matter 2: Reading the Bones (2004).

His honors include a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Chicago Sun-Times Poetry Award, and a Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Poetry Award. A former artist-in-residence with Cave Canem, Mr. Jess has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council, and the Fine Arts Work Center at Provincetown, as well as a Lannan Writing Residency.

Mr. Jess has taught at the Juilliard School; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; and the College of Staten Island in New York City. He received his BA from the University of Chicago and his MFA from New York University. Faith Adiele and Dwayne Betts spoke at Chatham as part of the series last year. Upcoming readings include Tim Seibles at 7 p.m. on March 23 in the Mellon Board Room, and Patricia Jabbeh Wesley at 8 p.m. on April 6 in Welker Auditorium in the James Laughlin Music Hall on Chatham’s Shadyside Campus.

About Words Without Walls
Words Without Walls is a creative collaboration between Chatham University’s MFA in Creative Writing program and the Allegheny County Jail. It fosters and supports creative expression and personal growth by exposing men and women at the jail to literature, award-winning visiting authors, and the opportunity to publish their work. Words Without Walls grew from a residency program started by artist Sandra Gould Ford. Because of the program’s reach, Chatham University committed to continuing the program’s creative writing classes at Allegheny County Jail in June 2010. Because of its innovative approach to learning and teaching, Words Without Walls has received support from the A. W. Mellon Education and Charitable Trust Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation and the Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh Fund, a partnership of The Heinz Endowments and The Pittsburgh Foundation.

About Chatham’s MFA in Creative Writing program
Chatham’s MFA in Creative Writing allows students to focus on tracks in creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, screenwriting, and writing for children, while encouraging them to explore two tracks simultaneously. Students take innovative field seminars that include travel to such places as Costa Rica, Ecuador, India, and Germany. In 2007 Poets & Writers named the MFA one of “Nine Distinctive Programs” and The Atlantic Monthly named it one of five innovative/unique programs in the country in its “Best of the Best” graduate program listings. In January 2012, The Writer named it one of the “4 top schools you should consider” and in 2009, named it one of ten programs that offer a specialty focus. Chatham University also offers an undergraduate BFA in Creative Writing, an online Master of Professional Writing, and a low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. For more information, visit or contact Sheryl St. Germain at

About Chatham University
Chatham University prepares students from around the world to help develop solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges. Consistently ranked among the top master’s level institutions in the Northeast by U.S. News & World Report and The Princeton Review, Chatham University is also ranked in the top five percent of graduate-intensive institutions nationally and experienced the fastest-growing enrollment in the Pittsburgh region over the past decade. Founded in 1869, Chatham University includes the Shadyside Campus, with the historic 39-acre Woodland Road arboretum and Chatham Eastside facility; and the 388-acre Eden Hall Campus north of Pittsburgh. For more information, call 800-837-1290 or visit

# # #