Words Without Walls is a creative writing outreach program that serves Allegheny County Jail, State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh and Sojourner House, a residential drug and alcohol treatment program for mothers and their children. Since 2009, creative writing classes have been taught by students at Chatham University who are earning their MFA in Creative Writing. Our program teaches 18 classes per year, serving over 300 men and women in the Pittsburgh area.

Words Without Walls offers creative writing instruction to those who might not otherwise have an opportunity to participate in such classes; and gives MFA students the opportunity to become engaged in the Pittsburgh community in new and meaningful ways, while practicing the skill of teaching.

In addition to teaching classes, Words Without Walls publishes chapbooks of our students’ best work, maintains a blog to showcase student and teacher writing, and awards the Sandra Gould Ford Prize annually to a student who shows outstanding promise and dedication to creative writing.

In 2017, we launched the Maenad Fellowship Program for women in recovery from substance abuse who are interested in developing and deepening their writing practices. The Maenads meet for twelve weeks on Chatham’s campus, taking creative writing classes from practicing, professional creative writers and forging bonds that strengthen their creativity and their recovery.


Our Mission & Values

We believe that the exposure to contemporary writers and the nurturing of the participants’ own writing leads to an increased sense of self-worth, gives a healthy outlet for emotions, and prepares them for a more meaningful life outside of jails, prisons, and treatment centers. We believe that the skills of creative writing, which include, but are not limited to the ability to be honest and intimate with oneself and others; the ability to craft and imagine both current realities and new futures; and the development of a confident, mature voice, are crucial skills for those who are incarcerated as well as those who may be released from prison into a less-than-perfect world.

Words Without Walls gives students permission to create, a supportive and positive community, and a reading audience. By providing an atmosphere for creative growth and nurturing student work, Words Without Walls empowers students to express themselves on the page.

We are inspired by the passion, intelligence and talent of many of the students with whom we have worked; this program has the primary goal to help them make their writings better, and to help make the best of their writings available for others via print and web publication.