The Student News Site of Chatham University


The Student News Site of Chatham University


The Student News Site of Chatham University


Poet John Amen visits Chatham for reading

On Wednesday, April 15, John Amen was a guest reader for the ongoing readings hosted by Chatham University’s MFA program. The event was in connection with the Words Without Walls program that is a creative venture of the MFA Creative Writing Program, Allegheny County Jail, State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh, and Sojourner House–a rehabilitation house for mothers and their children.

The author was one of the many featured in “Words Without Walls: Writers on Addiction, Violence, and Incarceration” published in April 2015. The anthology was created to serve as inspiration for inmates participating in the Words Without Walls writing classes. The collection of short stories, poems, and essays deal with topics such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation, homelessness, violence, and incarceration. Each piece is meant to be brief so that it can easily be used as reference material in the classroom.

Amen’s poems were chosen for the anthology because of his style. In a review by Cheryl Lynn Bradley, his poetry has been described as, “powerful, wonderful, thought-provoking, raw, visceral, tender, and pure. Absolutely golden.”

Amen began the reading by singing gospel inspired a cappella, which led the audience into the theme of the first poem entitled “Hiding.”  The piece itself was an experiment by the poet because the theme was something he was deeply interested in writing about.

His poetry proved to move those in attendance. He chose to read several other poems from different published collections. “Everyman” and “Invisible,” as well as selections from a piece that spans 260 lines of poetry, were published in the collection “At the Threshold of Alchemy” in October 2009. The selections were from a larger work titled “Portraits of Mary.” The combination of music and poetry made for an extremely dynamic and engaging reading.

The MFA program has hosted three authors for the Words Without Walls reading series this semester: Judith Tannenbaum, Allison Joseph, and now John Amen. Long-time faculty member Dr. Sandra Sterner commented, “These events are really varied. The next one might have a totally different style.”

“We have two more events coming up,” said Dr. Sheryl St. Germain, director for the MFA program. “We received a grant from the Pittsburgh Foundation. It allows us to get authors here.”

The next author will be a premier poet in the United States who learned to read while incarcerated and became a poet.

The Words Without Walls program was co-founded by St. Germain and alumna of the MFA Creative Writing Program Sarah Shotland who is the Words Without Walls’ acting Program Coordinator. Each year the program sends over 25 students into jails to teach classes. Veteran teachers go in with first-time teachers to act as a mentor.

“The students are performing a service,” said St. Germain, “But in the process students also get inspired.”

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