Carnegie Mellon University

Jane McCafferty

Jane McCafferty

Professor of English, Director of Creative Writing Program

Department of English, Carnegie Mellon University, Baker Hall 259, 5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890

Area of Study

Creative Writing, Professional Writing


I teach Fiction Writing, Creative Non Fiction, and Literary Journalism. My courses have always included a diversity of authors and content, and no matter the genre, I’m trying to teach students about the power of language to help re-shape the world and the self. I’m hopeful that engaging deeply with stories will ultimately translate into an understanding that “the universe is, made of stories, not of atoms” as poet Muriel Rukeyser wrote. Stories constructed and handed down for enjoyment, critique, and the chance to make new meaning.

I ask students in all my classes to keep their eye on all the elements that shape character as driving force for narratives, whether in fiction or non-fiction. I invite students to become more deeply acquainted with what calls them to writing in the first place, and try to honor that instinct and passion by giving them a variety of writers to study and learn from.

I'm the author of four books, Director of the World and other stories, winner of the Drue Heinz prize and The Great Lakes New Writers award. One Heart, a novel, which won the Book Sense award and was noted by Paul Ingram on NPR as one of the top novels of the year, Thank You For the Music, a second book of stories, highlighted on NPR’s Sunday Edition in an interview with Cheryl Corley, and First You Try Everything, another novel, which was an Oprah book of the week. My fiction and non-fiction both have been awarded Pushcarts, and an NEA. My essay “Unleashed” won the Talking-Writing award in 2016.  I’ve just completed a novel, and have published recent stories in The Sun, Iowa Review, Crazy Horse, and forthcoming in The Commons. I also write poems and have recent poems in Café Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review,Healing Muse, Chautauqua Quarterly, Presence, Soul Lit, Post Gazette, and others.

I’ve written a sleep-cast for Headspace and several for Wondery, and have also written two children’s story for Wondery, and hope to do more. I’ve worked with photographer Charlee Brodsky on projects that bring writing and photographs together, including a show at the Pittsburgh Center for The Arts called Faces, and writing the introduction and an essay for a book entitled I Thought I Could Fly, which tells stories of those suffering from the experience of mental illness.

I also teach in Carlow’s Madwomen in the Attic program, and over the years have conducted several community writing workshops at the Wilkinsburg Library, East Liberty Presbyterian, and East Liberty Library.

I write about mostly white, mostly middle or working class characters of all ages who find a sense of temporary belonging or redemption in deep human connection, often discovered in the most unlikely places. One Heart looks at sisterhood, along with the class divide between cooks in a children’s camp and the campers, and First You Try Everything centers a character struggling with mental illness after the end of a marriage.  My new novel looks at forgiveness, loyalty, bi-polar depression, faith, and the difficult love-stories inherent in a large family as the children venture into middle-age. 

Research Keywords: Fiction Writing, Creative Non Fiction, and Literary Journalism