Annual programs

The Cheryl J. Family fiction program


Alyssa Songsiridej is a writer from the Midwest who now lives on the East Coast. She is the author of Little Rabbit and a National Book Foundation 5 under 35 honoree. She is also the managing editor at Electric Literature.

Liza St. James is a writer and translator living in New York. Her work has appeared in Tin House, New York Tyrant, The Believer, Wigleaf, The Collagist, Paris Review Daily, and other publications. A former editor at Transit Books, she is a contributing editor at BOMB and a senior editor of the literary annual NOON. She teaches writing at Columbia University and The Cooper Union.


Vi Khi Nao’s work includes poetry, fiction, film, play, and cross-genre collaboration. Nomadic and prolific by nature, she is the author of the novel, Fish in Exile, the story collection A Brief Alphabet of Torture  (winner of the 2016 FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize) and of four poetry collections: Human TetrisSheep MachineUmbilical Hospital, and The Old Philosopher(winner of the 2014 Nightboat Prize). Her poetry collection, A Bell Curve Is A Pregnant Straight Line, and her short stories collection, The Vegas Dilemma, are forthcoming from 11:11 Press Summer and Fall 2021 respectively. She was the fall 2019 fellow at the Black Mountain Institute. 

Marc Anthony Richardson is an artist and novelist from Philadelphia, who specializes in dense, visceral prose that circles on itself and leaps from present to past, using language that is, at times, phantasmagoric. Year of the Rat, his debut novel, won the Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize, and an American Book Award.  Messiahs, his second novel, is due for release in Fall 2021 by Fiction Collective Two/University of Alabama Press. The book takes place in a dystopian America, where one can assume a relative’s capital sentence as an act of holy reform—the proxy initiative, patterned after the Passion. Richardson was also the recipient of a PEN America grant, a Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright fellowship, and a Vermont Studio Center residency. His work has appeared in Conjunctions, Callaloo,  Black Warrior ReviewWestern Humanities Review,  and the anthology, Who Will Speak for America?, from Temple University Press. He received his MFA from Mills College, taught at Rutgers University, and currently teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is the recipient of a 2021 Sachs Program Grant for Arts Innovation for his novel-in-progress,  The Serpent Will Eat Whatever is in the Belly of the Beast,  for which he has also received a 2021 Creative Capital Award. In 2022, he will be a writer-in-residence at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. Visit for more info.

September 30, 2020: Kiley Reid: A Reading and Conversation

An Arizona native, Kiley Reid is a recent graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she was the recipient of the Truman Capote Fellowship. Her writing has been featured in the New York Times, Playboy, WSJ. Magazine, Ploughshares, December, New South, and Lumina, where her short story was the first-place winner in the 2017 Flash Prose Contest. Her New York Times-bestselling debut novel, SUCH A FUN AGE, is currently in development by Lena Waithe's Hillman Grad Productions and Sight Unseen Pictures. Kiley lives in Philadelphia.


Ottessa Moshfegh is a fiction writer from New England. Her first book, McGlue, a novella, won the Fence Modern Prize in Prose and the Believer Book Award. She is also the author of the short story collection Homesick for Another World. Her stories have been published in The Paris Review, The New Yorker, and Granta, and have earned her a Pushcart Prize, an O. Henry Award, the Plimpton Discovery Prize, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Eileen, her first novel, was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Man Booker Prize, and won the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction; My Year of Rest and Relaxation, her second novel, was a New York Times bestseller.


Weike Wang is a graduate of Harvard University, where she earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry and her doctorate in public health. Her first novel, Chemistry, received the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction, Ploughshares' John C. Zacharis Award, and a Whiting Award. A "5 Under 35" honoree of the National Book Foundation, Wang is the Craven Writer in Residence in the Penn Creative Writing Program.

Daniel Finkel is a junior majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing. He is currently the head editor of The Penn Review and is conducting CURF-supported research on the early poetry of Ezra Pound.


Carmen Maria Machado's debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2017. She is a fiction writer, critic, and essayist whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in The New Yorker, Granta, Tin House, Guernica, Electric Literature, The Paris Review, AGNI, NPR, Gulf Coast, Los Angeles Review of Books, VICE, and elsewhere. Her stories have been reprinted in Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy, Best Horror of the Year, Year's Best Weird Fiction, and Best Women's Erotica. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and has been awarded fellowships and residencies from the Michener-Copernicus Foundation, the Elizabeth George Foundation, the CINTAS Foundation, the Speculative Literature Foundation, the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers' Workshop, the University of Iowa, the Yaddo Corporation, Hedgebrook, and the Millay Colony for the Arts. She is the Artist in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, and lives in Philadelphia with her partner.

Jenny Zhang is an American writer and poet based in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of the poetry collection Dear Jenny, We Are All Find and a collection of poetry and essays,The Selected Jenny Zhang.


ROSALIE KNECHT is the author of Relief Map (Tin House), an Indies Introduce selection, and translator of The Seamstress and the Wind (New Directions 2011, And Other Stories 2016). She has received a Fulbright grant and a Center for Fiction Emerging Writer Fellowship. She is a social worker and lives in New York City.

MARIE-HELENE BERTINO is the author of the novel 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas and the story collection Safe as Houses. Awards include the O. Henry Prize, The Pushcart Prize, and The Iowa Award for Short Fiction. She teaches at NYU and in the low-residency MFA program at Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, and lives in Brooklyn, where she is an Editor at Large for Catapult Magazine.

November 3, 2015: Julia Elliott

Julia Elliott’s fiction has appeared in Tin House, The Georgia Review, Conjunctions, Fence, Best American Fantasy, and other publications. She has won a Pushcart Prize and a Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award. Her debut story collection, The Wilds, was chosen by Kirkus, BuzzFeed, Book Riot, and Electric Literature as one of the Best Books of 2014 and was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Her first novel, The New and Improved Romie Futch, is forthcoming in October 2015. She is currently working on a novel about Hamadryas baboons, a species she has studied as an amateur primatologist. She teaches English and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where she lives with her daughter and husband. She and her spouse, John Dennis, are founding members of the music collective Grey Egg.

April 13, 2015: Jami Attenberg

Jami Attenberg has written about sex, technology, design, books, television, and urban life for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Salon, Print, The Hairpin, Vogue, New York, Elle, Real Simple, The Rumpus, and others. She has contributed to numerous anthologies and also wrote Wicked: The Musical: A Pop-up Compendium. Her debut collection of stories, Instant Love, was published by Crown/Shaye Areheart Books in 2006. She is also the author of two novels, The Kept Man and The Melting Season, both published by Riverhead Books. Her third novel, The Middlesteins, was published in October 2012 by Grand Central Publishing. It appeared on The New York Times bestseller list, and will be published in England, Taiwan, Russia, Italy, France, Turkey, The Netherlands, Germany and Israel in 2013. It was also a finalist for both the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction and the St. Francis College Literary Prize. A fifth book, Saint Mazie, will be published in 2015 in the U.S., the UK, and Italy. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, where she fights crime in her spare time.

April 21, 2014: Roxane Gay

One warm spring day in April 2014, Roxane Gay visited the KWH for the seventh annual Cheryl J. Family Fiction Program. Donald Antenin introduced Gay, marveling that she’d appeared in Best American Short Stories and Best Sex Writing in the same year (2012), and emphasizing her impressive social media presence, most notably on Twitter (@rgay). Gay prefaced her reading by telling us about her UPS delivery man, with whom she has “a really hot relationship” — and then she launched into an erotic essay about it (which everyone enjoyed immensely). When introducing her new novel, An Untamed State, Gay warned us that the novel would stand in stark contrast to the lighter, sexier essay. “My parents are from Haiti,” she said. “I was always struck by what a beautiful country it was and what a wonderful time we had there. And the older I got the more I realized not everyone gets to have a wonderful time when they’re in Haiti. And I started to see more of the class divisions… I started to realize that some people have what many people don’t.” The reading left us much to mull over, about class and race — and deliveries, too. Later, dinner conversation was lively, as we spoke of many things, including Game of Thrones and Twitter. Students of Naomi Jackson, our 2013–14 ArtsEdge Resident, had special seats at the table.

April 10, 2013: Ariel Djanikian

This event was practically a family reunion as Ariel Djanikian, daughter of Creative Writing director Greg Djanikian, read from her first novel, The Office of Mercy. Professor Max Apple introduced the young author — who met her husband as an undergraduate in one of his classes — with charming anecdotes from the classroom. Djanikian’s reading plunged headfirst into America 5, a dystopic underground settlement “the basic shape of a concrete and lead-enforced flower,” where Natasha Wiley has her doubts about her prestigious job exterminating renegade tribes. Though time permitted only a fleeting glance into a frightening future, Djanikian explained in a question and answer session that the book goes on to explore societal issues such as abortion, taken to extremes. The author also described her literary role models, her writing plans now that she’s created a world, the arbitrary borderlines between genres, and how apocalyptic she is on a personal level.

November 29, 2011: Amina Gautier

On a rainy day in 2011, Amina Gautier returned to The Writers House for the first time since her visit in 2001 – her first reading ever, incidentally! – to share a story from her first book At Risk: Black, Young, and Under Duress. Herman Beavers introduced her and made the mistake of forgetting his introduction on the podium, but grabbed it before Amina had a chance to steal it away. "I can't keep it?" she asked, before reading a story which evoked all the exuberance and awkwardness of adolescence: her narrator recounts the self-consciousness induced by school uniforms as well as learning a hip new dance – something called The Running Man – in the school bathroom. Amina left us with a reflection on the "openness and lack of finality" that stories are capable of sustaining, and how writing stories has become for her as much an addiction as a craft.

March 23, 2011: Karen Russell

For our fourth annual Cheryl J. Family Fiction Program, The Writers House had the pleasure of having Karen Russell – outed in Erin Gautsche’s introduction as Rollingstone’s recently crowned “Hot Novelist” – enchant us with a gorgeous description of a night-time dive into an alligator tank from her new novel Swamplandia!. Prompted by a listener’s question, Karen reflected that the “liminal” quality of the shoreline lends itself to the experience of her “weird and pubescing” characters. At any rate, we’ll all remember Karen’s evocation of a woman’s headlong leap into water that “wrinkled like black silk,” and how delighted Karen was to learn that one of her earlier stories had “firmly creeped out,” and enthralled, one reader in attendance (“Such a nice compliment!” Karen exclaimed).

October 6, 2009: J.C. Hallman

In 2009, JC Hallman visited the Writers House to read from his book of short stories and describe his recent “decent into the Kafkaesque,” or what happens when you’re editing an anthology and try to publish a piece of writing called The Metamorphosis – not Kafka’s famous novella, but Vladimir Nabokov’s inauspiciously titled essay about that famous novella. This task, undertaken for Hallman’s anthology The Story About the Story, can reduce even an adult man to a “hissy fit,” or so Hallman told us as he recounted his struggles with a truly Kafkaesque publishing bureaucracy. Shifting gears, Hallman read a story exploring the relationship between a middle-aged man and his young nephew from his collection The Hospital for Bad Poets, reminding us why stories, along with the stories about the stories, are so important in the first place.

October 23, 2008: Ben Fountain

On an October Thursday, Ben Fountain came to the Writers House to read from his acclaimed debut short story collection, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, with his wife and daughter – a Penn student! – in attendance. Ben warmed all our hearts by describing the Writers House, “an entire house for writing,” as one of the three most vital places on a university campus, alongside the cafeteria and the hospital. Reading from his story, Asian Tiger, a witty and engaging exploration of golf played under a dictatorship, Ben paused every five minutes to ask for “suggestions,” before diagnosing the immemorial question of “what happens next?” as the defining quandary of fiction writing. He also revealed, very memorably, that some choice comments attributed to one George W. Bush in Asian Tiger were quite real. The story finished, Ben reflected on his time in academia and his relatively late turn to fiction writing, thanking his wife for her support and his own skills as a dancer for convincing her to become his wife – or at least go out with him.

February 26, 2008: Adrian Khactu & Samuel Delany

Samuel R. Delany is a critic and novelist, with essays and interviews collected in seven volumes, the most recent three of which are Silent Interviews (1994), Longer Views (1996) and Shorter Views (1999). His award winning autobiography The Motion of Light in Water (1988) and his novel Hogg (1995) were returned to print in 2004. His novel Phallos was reviewed in the Village Voice as "a lapidary, digital-age Pale Fire, tonally redolent of Valery's Epilinos." His other fictions include The Mad Man (1995), and Atlantis: Three Tales (1993). A multiple winner of both Hugo and Nebula Awards, Mr. Delany is also a recipient of the Pilgrim Award for outstanding scholarship in science fiction studies, and a winner of the William Whitehead Memorial Award for a lifetime's contribution to Lesbian and Gay Literature. His scholarly interests include Walter Pater and the Oxford aesthetic movement and its influence on high modernism, as well as questions of race, gender, queer studies, and literary theory. After eleven years as a comparative literature professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a year and a half as an English professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, Mr. Delany began as a professor of English and creative writing at Temple University in January 2001.

Adrian Khactu's work has been published or is forthcoming in the Atlantic Monthly, Carve, Heritage, and In/Vision (or HOOT! as those in the know pronounce it). He has won the Richard Moyer Prize in Fiction and the Ezra Pound Prize in Literary Translation, as well as fellowships from Clarion West and Vermont Studio Center. Adrian currently lives, studies, and works in Philadelphia, and he holds shiny, though not entirely profitable, creative writing degrees from Stanford and Temple Universities (where he was a student of Samuel Delany).

Adrian Khactu