Writing Away the Stigma

A free eight-week writing workshop for teens who have experienced mental illness.

Writing Away the Stigma is an opportunity for 15 young writers to use their true stories to help combat the dangerous shame and stigma surrounding mental illness. Under the direction of Creative Nonfiction staff and author Yona Harvey, the selected participants will learn to write and share their true stories in a meaningful way by participating in a series of writing workshops and public readings.

About Writing Away the Stigma for Young Adults

In addition to learning the basics of creative nonfiction, such as crafting scenes and characters, finding your audience, and revising your work, participants will also receive help preparing to perform their work aloud at a public event. The writing process will help participants gain control over their stories and their experiences, and the public events will allow a larger audience to better understand and appreciate what it’s really like to live with mental illness.

Participants will also become part of a special cohort of young adults working together to dismantle the stigma surrounding mental illness and show that people affected by mental illness can survive and prosper emotionally, creatively, and academically.

This is the third iteration of the writing away the stigma project. You can read about past projects here.

What is creative nonfiction?

Simply put, creative nonfiction is true stories, well told—factually accurate, artful prose about real people and events. Learn more here.

Why this project?

We believe in stories—true stories. Creative Nonfiction's founder and editor, Lee Gutkind, explains "I believe that true stories, told well—the genre known as creative nonfiction—can best precipitate action and change. Which is why writers write. We want our work to make a difference—despite the cost." Mental illness affects one in five young people (ages 13–18)—a rate of occurrence that is staggering compared to cancer, broken bones, and the other physical ailments we hear about regularly. And yet, there is still a powerful stigma attached to mental illness, which often makes it hard for people to ask for help. Sharing our stories helps defuse this persistent stigma.

Who should apply?

Any teen in grades 9–12 with a true story to tell about the challenges or the satisfactions of confronting mental illness—whether your own or that of a friend, peer, or family member. You must also be prepared to travel to the Creative Nonfiction Foundation (5119 Coral Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15224) for weekly workshops.

Key Dates

Application Deadline
Friday, March 2, 2018 (11:59 PM EST) Although the deadline has passed, we will continue to accept applications, as space allows, on a rolling basis until Friday, March 9th. Apply now >>

Wednesdays from 6 - 8:30 pm
March 7, 14, 21, 28, April 4, 11, 18 & 25

Graduation Reading // Friday, May 4

NOTE: There will also be three additional readings in various Pittsburgh locations in May/June; we expect each participant to attend at least one of these events.

The 2018 Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference
Participants who complete the program will have the chance to win a scholarship to attend the 2018 Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference, held in Pittsburgh May 24–26, 2018.

How to Apply

The application requires contact information, a brief personal statement statement, and a few writing samples. You can apply online through Submittable. Please note: you will need to create a free account to submit only. You may also apply by mail.*

A PDF version of application can be reviewed or printed here.


Workshops will be led by author Yona Harvey, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh, an award-winning author of both poetry and essays, and a writer for Marvel Comics.
Vivian Lee Croft, the founder of Girls Write Pittsburgh, a mentoring and creative writing after-school program, will be the supporting fellow for the project.
Alyssa Cypher is the executive director of Inside Our Minds, an organization which is about open conversations about mental illness in Pittsburgh. She will be serving as the mental health advisor and will be onsite for all workshops.

The workshops will also feature guest lectures and a mental health specialist.

Previous Writing Away the Stigma Programs

This is the third iteration of the Creative Nonfiction Foundation's “Writing Away the Stigma” project. The program, which previously served adult writers, originated as intensive creative nonfiction workshops led by CNF’s founding editor and director, Lee Gutkind. Following the workshops, the participants continued polishing their stories to be published and presented at public events. You can learn more about these previous iterations here.

Many of the completed works from the 2016 iteration of Writing Away the Stigma were published in the Washington Post or the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review; you can read some of these stories, including a piece by Lee Gutkind, below: