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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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The Global Supply Chain is Collapsing

Over the past 18 months, I’m betting there isn’t a single person who hasn’t been affected by supply chain issues. From toilet paper to home appliances to semiconductor chips, it has become obvious that the global supply chain we have blindly depended on for so long is collapsing. Today we’re experiencing a period of massive …

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This Johnstown Mob Story Is Business and Personal

The gangster has long stood as an outsized figure in America’s 20th-century mythology, ranging from the brutal Al Capone to the fictitious Tony Soprano. “The Godfather Part I” and “Part II,” as well as “Goodfellas,” rank in the American Film Institute’s Top 100 American Movies of all time, while several others deal in mob tropes. …

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Pittsburgh Philanthropy

Ask a person from Pittsburgh to define philanthropy and they’ll most likely mention an industrialist such as Andrew Carnegie, or a patriarch named Heinz or Mellon. These economic titans loom large in Pittsburgh. The word “Pittsburgh” and its Gilded Age bequests are so intertwined that some think these industrialists invented philanthropy here. Experiences at Carnegie’s …

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A Different View of the Neighborhood

In 1968, when Fred Rogers pushed through his famous front door for the first time, he brought with him more than kindness, compassion and a cardigan sweater. He brought more than Daniel Tiger, more than X the Owl, more than all the puppets who lived in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. What Rogers brought was less …

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Looking at the Block Family’s Record on Race

Book reviews traditionally talk about what’s in a book, but almost never about how a particular book came to be. This one has an interesting and unusual beginning. Nearly three years ago, following a controversy over an editorial called “Reason as Racism,” Allan Block, the chair of Block Communications, Inc., the parent company today of …

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Short Takes: “To Risk It All,” “Franco, Rocky & Friends”

In his book, “To Risk It All: General Forbes, The Capture of Fort Duquesne, and the Course of Empire in the Ohio Country,” historian and war scholar Michael N. McConnell sets his sights on the French and Indian War, and more specifically General John Forbes’s campaign against Fort Duquesne, the largest overland expedition during the …

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A Well-Deserved Drue Heinz Prize-Winner

In The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories, winner of the 2020 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, Caroline Kim offers an expansive debut collection of stories that transports the reader across continents and centuries. Kim is a gifted writer of tremendous range—each story conjures a world unto itself. Throughout the collection, settings shift from the …

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Short Takes: “Further News of Defeat,” “Hallelujah Station and Other Stories”

When Autumn House Press began in 1998, they published poetry. In 2008, the Pittsburgh-based press expanded its offerings to fiction, and over the past decade, few small presses can claim to have published a catalog of work as reliably entertaining and artful. In the fall, Autumn House Press published two new story collections from up …

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Lee Gutkind on Writing His Memoir, “My Last Eight Thousand Days”

My memoir, “My Last Eight Thousand Days,” published in October 2020, had been a work in progress for at least 10 years—just as my life had been a work in progress for 70-plus. I think of the book and the process of writing it, digging deeply into my life, as a bridge from the Lee …

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The Life and Deaths of Cyril Wecht

Stepping into his office to interview Cyril Wecht for a profile I had been commissioned to write for Pittsburgh Quarterly, I expected to encounter the intense, blustering and contentious person who had so often been depicted on the evening news. To me, at the time, Cyril was just another loud-mouthed local public official who had …

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Fairest of Them All?

Following the results of the historic November 2018 midterm elections, I found myself, at times, both amazed and appalled. My reaction was not as a result of the outcome of the midterm elections. Rather, it was the increasingly sharp divisions between the Republican and Democratic parties, which became even more strident over the next several …

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