Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, Keynote Speaker


Elizabeth Currid-Halkett is the James Irvine Chair in Urban and Regional Planning and Professor of Public Policy at the Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. Her research focuses on the arts and culture and most recently, the American consumer economy. She is the author of The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City (Princeton University Press 2007) and Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity (Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010) and The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class (Princeton University Press, 2017), which was named one of The Economist’s Best Books of 2017. Currid-Halkett’s work has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Salon, the Economist, the New Yorker, and the Times Literary Supplement, among others. Currid-Halkett is a faculty fellow USC’s Society of Fellows in the Humanities. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two sons.



Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Keynote Speaker

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Though best known as one of the Emmy Award-winning writer/producers of Lost, and for his Middleman TV show and graphic novels, Javier Grillo-Marxuach is a prolific creator of TV, films, comic books, and transmedia content. He most recently co-wrote and co-executive produced a prequel to the classic Jim Henson film The Dark Crystal for Netflix, and worked as a writer and consulting producer for Blood and Treasure, a limited series for CBS. Both will premiere in mid-2019. Further television work includes The 100, The Shannara Chronicles, Helix, Medium, Jake 2.0, Boomtown, The Chronicle, The Dead Zone, Charmed, Law & Order: SVU, and The Pretender, as well as pilot sales to all the major broadcast networks. A firm believer in mentorship and education, Grillo-Marxuach co-hosts the Children of Tendu podcast, which teaches newcomers how to build a career in television, and administers the Grillo-Marxuach Family Fellowship at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.



Allison Seger

Allison Seger.jpg“Born and raised in Nebraska, Allison grew up painting murals with her mom, riding bicycles with her dad and building tree forts with her sisters, cousins and neighbors.  While at CMU she also worked for the Oakland Review, Residential Life and volunteered at Allegheny County Jail and FreeRide.  After leaving Pittsburgh, she spent seven years working for Indigenous education, primarily with the Sicangu Lakota Nation on Rosebud Indian Reservation, first as a classroom teacher and then in teacher development and school leadership.  She also did some community organizing, captained a losing dart team and directed afterschool programs and outdoor education. She recently moved to Baltimore City, where she works for the school district and frequents the libraries.  She’s riden her bicycle across the US twice, once mountain biking Canada to Mexico on the Continental Divide, and once road biking East from Washington to Maine.”



Becky Kraemer


Becky has worked in book publishing for almost 20 years. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University with a dual degree in creative & professional writing, she began her career in the subsidiary rights department at Macmillan, selling domestic rights, including first and second serial. She then worked at Simon & Schuster and Hyperion, before moving to Melville House where she was Senior Editor and Rights Director, handling almost every aspect of book publication: concept, acquisition, editing, marketing, publicity, foreign & domestic licensing and special sales. She started Cursive, her own publicity and marketing firm in 2008, where she has handled publicity campaigns for authors including Viv Albertine, Anna Beer, Billy Bragg, Anthony Brandt & David Eagleman, Gregory Crouch, Laia Jufresa, Hanif Kureishi, Brad Parks, Eugene Vodolazkin and publishers including Catapult, Counterpoint, Faber & Faber, Oneworld Publications, Scribner and Simon & Schuster.  More about her work at cursivecomms.com, and on Twitter & Instagram @beckykraemer.



Clare Drobot

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Clare Drobot is a Pittsburgh based playwright and dramaturg. Her plays include: : The Bakken Formations (Ars Nova’s ANT FEST 2014, Composer Fritz Myers), Inktrap (NY NATAS Reading Series, Rider New Play Festival, Semi-finalist for PlayPenn, Seven Devils), Subprime (developed at Luna Stage and Passage Theatre, finalist ESPA*Drills),Ways of Seeing (semi-Finalist O’Neill Festival), and the lyrics for In Appetizing Portions (co-written with Fritz Myers). Her short work has been seen in the Old Vic New Voices “Out of Character” Contest, Culture Project’s “Women Center Stage,”  BlueBoxWorld’s Sticky Series at Bowery Poetry Club, 8 Minute Musicals at NYMF, New York Madness, and in the New Jersey One Minute Play Festival. She co- wrote/created the web series In the Wood (NoMAA Grantee) and is a published poet. On the dramaturg side she is the director of New Play Development at City Theatre in Pittsburgh. Prior to that she was the Resident Dramaturg at Premiere Stages at Kean University, ran the reading series [Untitled] at Happy Ending in NYC, and is a former literary associate for Passage Theatre in Trenton. She is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon where she studied Creative Writing and Music Composition and is a member of LMDA and the WGA.



David Gross

IMG_1018.JPGDavid is a true crime documentary writer living in Los Angeles, California. He has a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon (’91), and an MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA.”





David Koehn

image1 (1)David Koehn won the May Sarton Prize with his first full-length manuscript, Twine (Bauhan, 2013). David co-edited Compendium (Omnidawn Publishing, 2017) a collection of Donald Justice’s thoughts on prosody. His next collection, Scatterplot, will be released in 2020. Also, some poetry and a set of translations were previously collected in two chapbooks, Tunic, (speCt! books 2013) a small collection of some translations of Catullus, and Coil (University of Alaska, 1998), winner of the Midnight Sun Chapbook Contest. He has been published in Kenyon Review, New England Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Rhino, Volt, Carolina Quarterly, New York Quarterly, Diagram, McSweeney’s, The Greensboro Review, Prairie Schooner, North American Review, and many others.



Elyssa Goodman 

headshotElyssa Goodman is a full-time freelance writer and photographer. She is a columnist at VICE, and a contributing writer at COOLS. Her writing has also appeared in Vogue, Vanity Fair, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, ELLE, New York Magazine’s The Cut, i-D, and many more. Photography clients and publications include Sephora, The New Yorker, VICE, Artforum, and Cosmopolitan, among others. Elyssa also hosts the monthly Miss Manhattan Non-Fiction Reading Series (named after her blog, Miss Manhattan, miss-manhattan.com), where she brings together emerging and established non-fiction writers. The event has been featured in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Time Out New York, and more. Elyssa graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 2010 with a dual degree in Professional Writing and Creative Writing and a minor in Photography. You can read more of her work at elyssamaxxgoodman.com, follow her on Twitter and Instagram @MissManhattanNY, and subscribe to her TinyLetter, tinyletter.com/MissManhattanNY



Emily Nagin

unnamed.jpgEmily Nagin received her MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan Helen Zell Writers’ Program in 2015 and her BA in creative writing from Carnegie Mellon in 2011. Her work has appeared in Uncommon Core Fiction Anthology, New Ohio Review, and The Main Street Rag, among other publications. She has taught at the University of Michigan, Interlochen Summer Arts Camp, and the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. Currently, she serves as a contributing writer at Fiction Writer’s Review and Michigan Quarterly Review Blog, and as the managing editor at CMU’s literary journal, The Oakland Review.



Erin Trocknell

13735071_10154339729763704_2106377143415899612_o.jpg Erin E. Tocknell is the author of Confederate Streets, an account of growing up in Nashville during the era of busing and a winner of the Social Justice and Equity in Creative Nonfiction Award from Benu Press. Her essays have appeared in “Sojourners,” “The Southern Review,” and “The Bitter Southerner,” among other publications. She lives in Chattanooga and is in her twelfth year teaching English at The McCallie School, an all-boys’ boarding and day school. Ms. Tocknell is currently at work on her second book, which will be published by the University of Georgia Press in 2021.



John Biggs


John Biggs is an entrepreneur, consultant, writer, and maker. He spent fifteen years as an editor for Gizmodo, CrunchGear, and TechCrunch and has a deep background in hardware startups, 3D printing, and blockchain. His work has appeared in Men’s Health, Wired, and the New York Times. He has written five books including the best book on blogging, Bloggers Boot Camp, and a book about the most expensive timepiece ever made, Marie Antoinette’s Watch. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.



Kai Yu Wu

KaiW Headshot1Kai was born in Taiwan and raised in Salisbury, Maryland. She spent most of her days hanging out at Wal-Marts until she purchased a diary in aisle 9 and discovered her calling as a writer.  After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, she moved to Los Angeles where she got her start working as an agency assistant.  Kai’s written on shows such as NBC’s HANNIBAL, CW’s THE FLASH and ABC’s DECEPTION.  Currently, she serves as showrunner for a Netflix international original series.



Laura Harkcom

harkcom_headshot.jpgLaura Harkcom is a Los Angeles-based writer and producer. The TV show she created, wrote and produced for the SyFy Channel, “The Lost Room,” was nominated for two Emmys and a Writers Guild Award. The New York Times called it “…a jackpot for a mystery series.” More recently, she co-created and produced the sci-fi television show “The Building” for Fox Television Studios, with Neil Gaiman executive-producing. Laura has also written feature film scripts for Columbia Pictures, Miramax Films and The Weinstein Company, and created the comic book series WE KILL MONSTERS, currently in development as a feature film at Imagine Entertainment. Prior to writing and producing, Laura was a studio executive at The Walt Disney Studios and at Warner Bros., where she oversaw the critically acclaimed film THE IRON GIANT. Currently, Laura is working as a television and feature film script consultant for everyone from first-time writers to Steven Spielberg. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, Laura received her B.A. in writing and theatre arts from Carnegie Mellon University.



Laura Leigh Morris 

Morris Headshot.jpgLaura Leigh Morris is the author of Jaws of Life, a collection of short stories that take place in West Virginia. A 2001 graduate of Carnegie Mellon, she currently lives in Greenville, SC where she teaches creative writing and literature at Furman University. Previously, she was the National Endowment for the Arts/Bureau of Prisons Artist-in-Residence at Bryan Federal Prison Camp in Bryan, Texas. She is currently working on her first novel.



Meagan Ciesla

IMG_1262.jpgAfter graduating from CMU, Meagan Ciesla earned an MFA from University of Wyoming and a PhD from University of Missouri. Her fiction and creative nonfiction has appeared in publications such as Kenyon Review, The Journal, The Long Story, Cimarron Review, The Collagist, and others. She is currently an Assistant Professor at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.





Michael Gartland 

unnamed.jpgMichael Gartland works as the speech writer for New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. Before that, he worked as a print journalist for 20 years, covering crime, politics and religion for several newspapers, including the NY Post, The (Bergen, NJ) Record, The (Charleston, SC) Post and Courier and Newsday, among others. His work has earned him journalism awards in New Jersey and South Carolina, as well as national awards for his religion coverage. Along with fellow CMU alum, Rob Weiss, Gartland produced and directed the film Yankeeland: In the Shadow of the Stadium. He graduated from CMU in 1996 and lives in Washington Heights with his wife and two children.



Michael Szczerban

Picture1.pngMichael Szczerban is a vice president and executive editor at Little, Brown and Company. He was a Publishers Weekly “Star Watch” honoree in 2017, and received the Lawrence Peel Ashmead Editorial Award in 2012. He also writes about the publishing world for Poets & Writers magazine. Before joining Little, Brown, he was an editor at Simon & Schuster and later helped launch the Regan Arts imprint of Phaidon. His career in book publishing began at Carnegie Mellon University Press when he was a student.



Neema Avashia

avashiaNeema Avashia graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 2001. She has been a Civics teacher in the Boston Public Schools, since 2003, and was recognized as city wide Educator of the Year in 2013.  Avashia has written and performed for The Moth Story Slam, and has become a powerful voice on WBUR’s Cognoscenti, where she has published work about the urgent issues of our time, including, “My Parents May Be Acceptable Immigrants, But None of Us Is Safe” which looks at a violent crime against an immigrant in the midwest, and “Newton North High School: Talking To Students When A Symbol Of Racial Hatred Is Unfurled Close To Home” She has also published work in The Aerogram, and  in Eat, Darling, Eat. When not working on essays about inequity in education and racism, Avashia writes about the complexity of growing up Indian in West Virginia. She is currently working on an essay collection. This year, she was hired as teaching fellow for Creative Non Fiction, at the Kenyon Writer’s Workshop.



Sarah Cypher 

Sarah Cypher.jpegI’m a freelance editor, book reviewer, community workshop facilitator, and author of The Editor’s Lexicon: Essential Writing Terms for Novelists, a short reference guide for fiction writers. My fiction has appeared in The Crab Orchard Review, The Oakland Review, and anthologies, and was a 2018 finalist for American Short Fiction’s Halifax Ranch Prize. My freelance writing appears in Salon, The Oregonian, Publishers Weekly, Fodor’s guides, and more. I have a B.A. in Creative Writing from Carnegie Mellon University (’02) and a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture from California University of Pennsylvania, and I am currently a student in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College as a Rona Jaffe Graduate Creative Writing Fellow.



Sarah Smith 

Picture1.pngSarah Elaine Smith is the author of the novel Marilou Is Everywhere, forthcoming from Riverhead Books in summer 2019. She is also the author of I Live in a Hut, 2011 winner of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s first books prize, judged by Matthea Harvey. Her poems and short stories have appeared in Tin House, FENCE, jubilat, the Masters Review, and other publications. One of her poems was displayed in the kitchen of the Edgewood Town Center Eat ‘n Park, which she considers her greatest publication to date. Her work has earned her fellowships from the Rona Jaffe Wallace Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and the Michener Center for Writers at UT-Austin, where she earned MFAs in fiction and poetry, respectively. Currently she lives in Pittsburgh, teaching occasionally at the Interlochen Academy for the Arts and through the nonprofit Girls Write Pittsburgh



Tom Sweterlitsch