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The Power and Danger of Storytelling

Sway. for Jonathan Gottschall, author of the riveting nonfiction, The Story Paradox: How Our Love of Storytelling Builds Societies and Tears Them Down, this lone syllable jotted on a bar napkin while watching interactions in a tavern becomes the answer to a question: What are they actually doing? His thesis: human communication stands “to influence …

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Death of the Daily News

Nearly 200 years ago, French social scientist Alexis De’ Tocqueville spent nine months touring America, documenting observations in what became the seminal Democracy in America. His take on the job of newspapers in a bourgeoning new country experimenting in representative democracy could be his most prescient: “’To suppose they only serve to protect freedom would …

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The Blue Continuum

“Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.”— Robert F. Kennedy Policing in any community is only as effective as the elected officials being informed and prudent enough to avoid common mistakes. When officers make mistakes, they jeopardize …

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Behind a Biography

I first got interested in John Kane 20 years ago. I was working at The Heinz Endowments, the large charitable foundation in Pittsburgh, which has a wonderful collection of the work of Pittsburgh artists, going back over 100 years. A local art dealer named Pat McArdle was talking to me about the collection when he …

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Consequences of Love

With kidnapping and murder in the storyline, a “whodunit” often ensues. But like the Coen Brothers film masterpiece, Fargo, sometimes the crimes are less interesting than how the characters react to their circumstances and the events that led them astray. Stewart O’ Nan, a Squirrel Hill native and Pittsburgh’s preeminent novelist, uses this tactic to …

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Getting Published at 70

I could write a book. we’ve all said it one time or another, whether it’s because we know a lot about a certain topic, or because we’ve had it up to here with our circumstances. But in my case, I wrote a book because I couldn’t find any women’s fiction I liked. I’m not all …

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Gabriel Welsch Surveys the Human Landscape with “Groundscratchers” Collection

In the world of landscaping, the term “groundscratcher” is derisive. It’s also the title of Gabriel Welsch’s revelatory short story collection from Tolsun Books. In it, the titular story finds Michael Petrin, ground supervisor of a large estate, at odds with the “maximal Minimalist” Japanese Zen Fusion gardener Yoshi Higashide hired by his boss, the …

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Expanding the Strike Zone

Baseball, once considered “America’s pastime,” has increasingly begun to feel irrelevant as games routinely last more than three hours and options for bored eyeballs abound on the internet. This year’s 99-day labor dispute over how to best divide billions of dollars in revenue has further alienated frustrated fans, who in Pittsburgh have only had a …

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When Leadershi* Hits the Fan

Leaders have many responsibilities, but if they don’t take the time to help their employees grow professionally and personally, then they have failed.  The time it takes to develop employees can be daunting for any leader, as they are interrupted every seven minutes.  It’s not practical to eliminate opportunities either as you need to be …

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American Bastard

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 25,528 children were born in 1952 in Pittsburgh. One was to an unwed Garfield teen. Cared for by nuns at the Roselia Asylum and Maternity Hospital in the Hill District, she was adopted the following year by a Whitehall couple and named Janet. Since then, Jan …

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Taking Flight With the Ordinary

“Speaking from the gut” was known in ancient Greece as gastromancy. It also became known as an early form of ventriloquism. According to Encyclopaedia Brittanica, “the noises produced by the stomach were thought to be the voices of the unliving, who took up residence in the stomach of the ventriloquist. The ventriloquist would then interpret …

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Reflections on Masculinity

In his award-winning recent memoir, Punch Me Up to the Gods, Brian Broome lovingly describes the antechamber of the now-defunct Hills Department store in his hometown of Warren, Ohio as smelling “like the emotions of a child. Pre-adolescent bacchanalia. It was dizzying. It was a roasted peanut, soft pretzel factory wrapped inside a chocolate-covered everything. …

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Dressick Packs 63 Quick-hit Tales into Fables of the Deconstruction

Flash fiction wasn’t invented by Hemingway but his classic six-word story, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” stands as a well-known exemplar of compressed emotion. With a word count that runs anywhere from five to 1,500, Writer’s Digest further defines the genre as not “focusing on plot or character development, the writer instead focuses on …

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A Swissvale Sleuth

Shawn Rossi is up against it, as folks in Swissvale might say. As both a Harvard Law School student in the early 1980s and as a practicing attorney in Pittsburgh in 2008, the protagonist in Ken Gormley’s debut novel, The Heiress of Pittsburgh, does his best to maneuver through multiple conflicts that often keep him …

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An Alternative History of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh has been labeled variously as a “mosaic,” “hell with the lid off,” and “the Paris of Appalachia.” The East Liberty-born poet Jack Gilbert describes the city in his poem, “Searching for Pittsburgh,” as being made of “brick and tired wood/ Ox and sovereign spirit/ a consequence of America.” Those characterizations loom as well-played section …

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Christmas Eve Disaster

A dozen years ago, my mother told me that my Grandpa Kuffner’s cousin had died in a Pittsburgh streetcar accident. She thought it happened in the early 1900s, but didn’t know the cousin’s name, gender or age. Reading library microfilm, it was clear that pedestrians used to be hurt or killed daily by streetcars, horses …

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The Secret Lives of Church Ladies Wins Widespread Acclaim for Wilkinsburg Writer

To say that Deesha Philyaw is having a moment would be an understatement. Since the beginning of this year alone, the Wilkinsburg-based author has raked in numerous awards for her debut story collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies (West Virginia University Press, 2020), beginning with the Story Prize in March, followed by the coveted …

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Characters Successfully Drive Drue Heinz Prize-Winning Work “Now You Know It All”

Fiction is full of self-deception. Perhaps what makes J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield and Vladimir Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert two of the most interesting narrators in contemporary literature is the way they continually delude themselves into believing whatever they’re selling. In a similar vein, author Joanna Pearson shows herself to be a deserving winner of the 2021 …

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Big Time

If you are not yet awoke, Pittsburgh native Jen Spyra is on your side. Her jaw-dropping debut of 14 short stories runs the gamut from totally un-PC to downright offensive, but with such imagination and dark, disturbing humor that it’s kind of refreshing. Remember when it was okay to laugh at ourselves, to acknowledge that …

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Steelers vs. Browns: Assessing the Turnpike Rivalry

Dedicated to “all the sons who watched their first Steelers-Browns game with their fathers,” The Turnpike Rivalry: The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns ($24.95 Black Squirrel Books) is a sure thing, sparking nostalgia in even the most hardcore of these cities rabid fanbase. Penned by father-son duo Richard and Stephen Peterson, the book takes it …

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Brothers & Keepers?

Editor’s note: Between 1984 and 2019, attorney Mark Schwartz represented convicted felon Robert Wideman, ultimately securing a commutation of his sentence in 2019. This is his account of what transpired in the 35 years he dealt with Wideman and his famous older brother, the author of “Brothers and Keepers.” Over the past 40 years, I’ve …

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The Last Liberal Republican: An Insider’s Perspective on Nixon’s Surprising Social Policy

“The Last Liberal Republican” is a memoir of my decade in politics, especially the first three years in Richard Nixon’s White House. As special assistant to the president, I worked with him on his universal health insurance proposal, his overhaul of the Food Stamp program and, most significantly, his Family Assistance Plan (FAP), to place …

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