Lee Gutkind has long claimed Pittsburgh as an epicenter of creative nonfiction, a writing discipline the University of Pittsburgh instructor has spent more than three decades promoting in venues including the journal he edits, Creative Nonfiction. And if retaining that distinction means birthing more competition for writers already in the field, so be it.
Last year, the 412 Creative Nonfiction Literary Festival Gutkind founded drew nearly 700 paid attendees -- almost double the first year's numbers, he says. The third annual festival is themed "Ethics in Writing: Can YOU Handle the Truth?" It opens with a four-day series of free readings and talks at various area venues, starting Mon., Nov. 6, with a Literary Marathon at Gypsy Café, on the South Side.
But what's most notably new at the festival is a series of workshops on the craft and business of writing, aimed at those who lack the time or money for a formal writing program. The intensive three-hour workshops, scheduled for Sat., Nov. 11, are led by writing professionals and include: "Structuring Creative Nonfiction" (Penn State professor Dinty W. Moore); "Breaking into Book Reviewing" (Rebecca Miller of Library Journal); "Creating Metaphors That Matter" (Marc Nieson); "Interview and Immersion Techniques" (Rebecca Skloot); "Writing Query Letters for Magazines" (the Washington Post's Michael Rosenwald); and -- presumably for those who have prospered by the above skills -- "The Art of Giving Public Readings" (actor David Prete). The workshops take place at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. Enrollment is $75, or two workshops for $125.
Another new component is a program of film screenings and discussion on Nov. 10, at Pittsburgh Filmmakers' Melwood Screening Room.
Meanwhile, also on Nov. 11, a series of panel talks-- held at Oakland's Frick Fine Arts Auditorium -- feature local and national writers such as Miller, Rosenwald, Skloot and Robert Hughes, of The Wall Street Journal. Panels include "Writing Fiction from Real Life," "Selling What You Write: Breaking into Freelancing," "How NOT to Be Sued: Advice for Writers" and "Publishing Poetry in Literary Magazines." Other panel discussions cover recent literary scandals, financing your writing (i.e., writers' colonies, fellowships) and getting a literary agent.
Special guests include H.G. Bissinger, the Pulitzer-winning reporter whose books include 1990's Friday Night Lights, and novelist and memoirist Kathryn Harrison. On Nov. 10, following a free screening of the 2004 film adaptation of Friday Night Lights at Pitt's Alumni Hall, Bissinger will discuss the process of translating book to film. On Nov. 11, Bissinger and Harrison will join Gutkind at Frick Fine Arts to discuss ethics in creative nonfiction. That's followed by a free reading and talk by Harrison, whose controversial 1997 memoir The Kiss -- about her sexual relationship, as a young adult, with her father -- largely reprised the story of her first novel, Thicker Than Water.
Also, as in years past, local and national publishers and literary groups will showcase their wares at the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium. That event too is Nov. 11, with special $2 sample issues available from Council for Literary Magazines members.
The festival wraps that night, with a separately ticketed "Truth or Lies" party at Kiva Han coffeehouse, on Craig Street.
412 Creative Nonfiction Literary Festival Mon., Nov. 6-Sat., Nov. 11. $25 ($15 students/free for Pitt students). Truth or Lies party: $50 ($60 at the door) and $25 students ($30 at the door). 412-394-3353 or www.creativenonfiction.org
Lee Gutkind: "[T]here are higher truths ... that may not be easily fact-checked."