Chatham News

Chatham University MFA in Creative Writing Program Receives NEH Grant


PITTSBURGH: Chatham University announced today that it has been awarded a $50,000 Humanities Access “challenge” grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to expand Words Without Walls, a creative partnership between the Chatham MFA Creative Writing ProgramAllegheny County Jail, State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh, and Sojourner House, a residential drug and alcohol treatment facility for mothers and their children.

Chatham’s grant is among $16.3 million in funding approved by the NEH for 290 projects in 43 states, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico supporting a variety of humanities-based research and programs.  The Humanities Access grant program provides grants to help enhance and support existing cultural programs for youth, communities of color, and economically disadvantaged populations. In order to receive the full amount, the institutions and organizations receiving this grant must match the NEH funds with the same amount of money raised from non-federal, third party donors. Donations to Words Without Walls in support of the matching grant can be made on Chatham’s online giving page.

NEH funding will support the further expansion of the Words Without Walls program through graduate student fellowships including a special fellowship for a student of color; honoraria for visiting writers; support staff; support for publications; and a new fellowship component designed to to encourage a continuing writing practice and provide a community for such practice for eight to twelve people per year who have recently left prison, jail, or a rehab facility.

“The goals of Words Without Walls are predicated around the belief in the psychological benefits of giving participants a healthy outlet for their emotions, rekindling (or in many cases discovering) their sense of self-worth, and preparing them for a meaningful emotional and creative life outside of jails, prisons, and treatment centers,” said Sheryl St. Germain, professor and director of the Chatham University MFA in Creative Writing program and co-founder of Words without Walls. “In jails and prisons, those who take advantage of educational opportunities, like those available in Words Without Walls, have been shown they are less likely to recidivate.”

Since 2009, Chatham University MFA in Creative Writing graduate students, alumni, and faculty have taught creative writing classes through Words Without Walls. The program currently teaches 16 classes per year, serving over 360 men and women in the Allegheny County Jail, SCI Pittsburgh and Sojourner House. In addition to on-site classes, Words Without Walls publishes an annual anthology of the program’s best writing work and also runs a community workshop for those who have been released from jail, prison, or have completed their treatment at Sojourner House.

Additional major funding for Words Without Walls has been provided by the A.W. Mellon Charitable and Educational Trust Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation; Staunton Farm Foundation; Laurie and Henry Reich; Melanie and Fred Brown; and Margaret and Tom Whitford.

“NEH provides support for projects across America that preserve our heritage, promote scholarly discoveries, and make the best of America’s humanities ideas available to all Americans,” said NEH Chairman William D. Adams. “We are proud to announce this latest group of grantees who, through their projects and research, will bring valuable lessons of history and culture to Americans.”

About The National Endowment for the Humanities
Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: