Tag Archives: Pittsburgh

The future of the book (take 2)

UPDATE: Find the liveblog of the event at this newer post.

The much-anticipated but sadly postponed discussion on The Future of the Book has been rescheduled for April 1.

Sven Birkerts


Sven Birkerts


Maud Newton


Maud Newton


Essayist Sven Birkerts and Blogger Maud Newton to Discuss the Impact Of Technology on the Publishing Industry, April 1 at Pitt

PITTSBURGH- Imagining the possibilities that future technologies might have on the publishing industry will be the focus of a discussion with essayist Sven Birkerts and blogger Maud Newton. Titled “The Future of the Book,” this rescheduled event will be held at 8:30 p.m. April 1 in G-24 Cathedral of Learning, 4200 Fifth Ave., Oakland. The event, part of the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series 2009-10 season, was postponed because of inclement weather.

The event will be moderated by Pitt creative writing professor Cathy Day, author of the short story collection The Circus In Winter (Harcourt, 2004) and the memoir Comeback Season: How I Learned to Play the Game of Love (Free Press, 2008).

The event is free and open to the public.

If you’re not able to attend — or if you do plan to attend and want to participate in a bit of backchannel discussion as it happens — I’m planning to liveblog this event here on this site. The liveblogging tech (from CoverItLive) lets everyone write in comments and questions, follow selected posts on Twitter, and generally participate in a variety of ways from any location. Nifty.


The future of the book

UPDATE: Another casualty of Snowpocalypse 2010, the “Future of the Book” discussion has been postponed. With luck it will be rescheduled soon.

Next Thursday, the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series at Pitt’s Creative Writing program will hold an event of primo interest to me: a discussion titled “The Future of the Book,” featuring Sven Birkerts and Maud Newton, moderated by Cathy Day.

Sven Birkerts
Sven Birkerts
Maud Newton
Maud Newton

Sven Birkerts and Maud Newton
The Future of the Book:
a discussion moderated by Cathy Day
8:30 pm, Thursday, Feb 11th
Frick Fine Arts Auditorium

Over the years, Maud Newton’s blog has become known among publishers, writers, and agents for its smart literary talk and her devotion to reading and writing.  She has been cited in a range of publications including New York magazine, The Scotsman, The Guardian, the New York Times, and Poets & Writers. Newton is particularly skilled at finding and posting links to lit bits that other sources miss, such as a previously untranslated Roberto Bolano story. Newton has written for The American Prospect, and contributed book reviews to The Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post Book World, the New York Times Book Review, and Newsday.  Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared various journals including Narrative, Maisonneuve, and Swink.

Sven Birkerts is the author of several collections of essays, including The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age (Faber and Faber, 2002). He has taught writing at Harvard University, Emerson College, Amherst College, and most recently at Mount Holyoke College. Presently, Birkerts is the Director of the Bennington College Writing Seminars. Birkerts reviews regularly for The New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, Esquire, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other publications. His other works include An Artificial Wilderness: Essays on Twentieth Century Literature (William Morrow, 1987), The Electric Life: Essays on Modern Poetry (William Morrow, 1989) and My Sky Blue Trades: Growing Up Counter in a Contrary Time (Viking, 2002).

Sven Birkerts had an opinion piece in The Atlantic last year, “Resisting the Kindle,” so I presume he’ll be presenting the “e-books will destroy mankind and all that is good” point of view.

Maud Newton has many great qualifications and achievements, but I think of her as the blogger who inspired me to start blogging all the way back in 2003. I’m super-excited she’s coming to talk on this subject — or honestly, about anything at all. She posted on her blog last year about e-books: “When is a book not a book?

The event is open to the public and free; see the full PCWS schedule here.

Whether you’re able to attend in person or not, I plan to liveblog the event, and I’d love for you to follow along and chime in. There will be a post on this site next Thursday with a CoverItLive widget where you can read my notes, make comments, add media (I think…), etc. Or you can tweet and tag your tweets with #futureofthebook and they’ll appear in the widget too. Very futuristic, no?

To see and see again: Lillian Hellman and “The Little Foxes”


Pictured standing (left to right) John Shepard, Chris Landis, and Ross Bickell. Seated is Helena Ruoti. Photo credit: Pittsburgh Public Theater.

In 1982 I was Lillian Hellman for fifteen minutes.

For 10th grade English class, we were each asked to choose an author and to research and report on that author. We were encouraged to dress like the author, bring visual aids, and generally get into the assignment.

I had read Pentimento that summer, so it took me no more than a moment to choose Lillian Hellman as my author. I already wanted to live her life. She’d written plays and movies, had a love affair with Dashiell Hammett, stood up to the House Un-American Activities Committee.

But to hurt innocent people whom I knew many years ago in order to save myself is, to me, inhuman and indecent and dishonorable. I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions, even though I long ago came to the conclusion that I was not a political person and could have no comfortable place in any political group. [source]


She wasn’t a beautiful woman, yet she was uncompromising and unstoppable, and I wanted to grow up to be her.

In preparing my report I couldn’t find copies of her plays — the school library and Butler Public Library offered limited resources. But I read An Unfinished Woman, her first memoir, and a biography of Hammett that talked about her. I re-read Pentimento, and tried to internalize Hellman’s poetic prose. Here’s the opening of Pentimento:

Old paint on a canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman’s dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter “repented,” changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again. That is all I mean about the people in this book. The paint has aged and I wanted to see what was there for me once, what is there for me now.


I wanted so much to do justice to my subject, I stayed up all night reading and re-reading the night before the report — my first all-nighter. The class was in the afternoon; to stay awake I got a couple of tablets NoDoze from another girl in the dorm. For a prop I borrowed a cigarette from another girl in the class. I was tired, wired, and full of plans and ideals and beautiful language.

At the time I had never heard of Method acting, but I suspect this might have been the first use of the technique in presenting a report in 10th grade English class.

I tottered around the front of the classroom in low-heeled pumps, and a belted beige suit, waving my (unlit) cigarette around and talking. I had no outline, just a page of phrases and quotes that I peered at now and then. Mostly I ranted in a vague attempt at a Southern accent. I told the class about my life with Dash, about my plays and films, about my childhood, and about how to write.

Eventually the fifteen minutes allotted for my report ended. I didn’t have a final statement, so I said “thanks” and sat down. Afterward my friends who smoked told me that I did the smoking part all wrong; I never exhaled. Despite my cigarette misuse I got an A.

Since that time, I’ve learned a lot more about Lillian Hellman. It’s likely that she fabricated the story “Julia” in Pentimento, created it from the private memoirs of another woman. She probably made up or at least embellished much of what she wrote about herself. Dashiell Hammett may have played a bigger role in the writing of her great plays — the memorable characters, the quotable dialogue — than she or he would admit.

It’s strange to look back on my childhood hero and see her in a new light, one that’s not wholly flattering. I think now that she was who she was, struggling through her life as we all do, making what sense of it we can. I still want to be like her, at least a little.

Actually, I would settle for writing one thing as unforgettable as The Little Foxes. The Pittsburgh Public Theatre is running Hellman’s most famous play until December 13.

I saw the show on Press Night (disclaimer: The Public provided me with complimentary tickets.) and thought the three-act play snapped along well. As always, the production is top-notch: stunning set (with a beautiful and very important staircase), lush costumes, perfect lighting, juicy and biting performances. Helena Ruoti plays an elegant, cold, scheming Regina, and I enjoyed Ross Bickell’s take on Ben Hubbard. I fear that Michael McKenzie seemed a little too healthy for Horace Giddens, verging on athletic, but otherwise he was convincing as a dying man trying to do right in a poisoned world. Deidre Madigan is heartbreaking as Birdie Hubbard, fragile and fearful, living on memories.

The play carries an emotional wallop. During the critical third act, I heard people in the theater gasping at all the right points.

Being a tale of a quintessential dysfunctional family, The Little Foxes is either a strange play to see during the holiday season or a perfect one. I recommend it.

[Get more information about The Little Foxes at the Public’s website.]

Pittsburgh BlogFest 19: PghBloggers.org turns 5!

finlay is five, originally uploaded by papalamour.

Five years ago, right around this time, a half-dozen or so bloggers in the Pittsburgh area were reading each others’ blogs, commenting, and generally marveling at the discovery that each of us was not alone — that there were not a few folks in the region who had started writing online.

We were a motley collection, writing about politics or sports or writing or random cultural flotsam. While there was no unity of theme, we shared a passion for sharing.

Several bloggers made extensive effort to compile blogrolls of Pittsburgh blogs. Everyone linked to everyone, but it was hard to tell which blogs were about what.

As I recall it, then two things happened. First, Mike Woycheck started on his own to create a site both to list and to aggregate the posts of all the Pittsburgh blogs (an ambitious undertaking indeed). Second, independently, some of the bloggers (Vanessa & Christina, Anne, and I) decided we should all get together and have lunch or a drink or something, in real life rather than just online.

Somehow the two efforts became combined, and we found ourselves with a website — www.PghBloggers.org — and a social event — the first Pittsburgh BlogFest.

Both efforts got off to strong starts. About 20 bloggers attended the first BlogFest. The shocking thing was not the size of the crowd but how well we enjoyed each others company. We immediately made plans to make a habit of convening.

Notably, Mike Woycheck was unable to attend the first fest, but he proceeded to make up for his absence by constructing and launching the website on which we depend to this day.

I don’t know the exact date of the launch. (Please comment if you do.) What I do know is that it’s time to celebrate.

Pittsburgh BlogFest 19: Happy birthday to us!

Come meet your fellow bloggers and social media types in a friendly, unstructured setting. BlogFest is an informal and friendly quarterly gathering of local bloggers, vloggers, podcasters, and anyone who enjoys life on the Internet. It’s more happy hour than meeting: No talks will be given, no credentials required.

WHAT: Pittsburgh Blogfest 19
WHEN: FRIDAY, November 20, 2009, 5:30 PM to 9:30 PM and beyond
WHERE: Finnegan’s Wake (near PNC Park, 20 General Robinson St., North Shore, 412-325-2601), in the Pub Room
WHO: All local bloggers, podcasters, and social media folk of all stripes (and their friends… feel free to bring some even if they don’t blog!)

Food and beverages will be available for purchase from Finnegan’s Wake, as always. Arrive when you like, leave when you must.

SMOKING NOTE: As always, the room in which we’ll be blogfesting will be smoke-free.

If you plan to attend, please send an e-mail to blogfest AT pghbloggers.org

Or to RSVP, leave a comment below. I hope to see you there.

Music for an international mixer: “Une americaine a Paris” by Rupa & the April Fishes

With leaders of the twenty largest economies, their assistants and entourages, worldwide news media, and demonstrators and protesters of all stripes converging this week on Pittsburgh, life in this region has begun to feel a wee bit tense.

OK, more than a wee bit. So far there have been people hanging banners from bridges, march permit applications ignored or revoked, windows boarded over, Pittsburgh businesses and schools closed for the rest of the week, personal friends of mine pre-emptively called up from the reserves to help quell any violence, and lots and lots of people looking anxiously about.

I wish and hope that whatever happens could end up like this video.

Une americaine a Paris

The band is Rupa & the April Fishes. This song nicely fits the description of their music being an “enchanting mix of chic French nouvelle vague, rousing Latin alternative grooves, energetic Gypsy swing, and dreamy Indian ragas.” That’s something we’d like to see in Pittsburgh this week I think.

Qu’est-ce tu pense, qu’est-ce tu pense?
C’est histoire.

Social media and the G20 in Pittsburgh: Roundtable discussion

Pittsburgh, by JOE M500
"Pittsburgh" by JOE M500

Last week I was honored to talk with some of my smart friends in the Pittsburgh social media scene. The topic was the G20 Summit next week in Pittsburgh — what we can expect and how can social media creators be involved.

Mike Sorg, new media producer and fellow PodCamp Pittsburgh organizer,  put it all together. The participants were Tim Hindes, Grants Manager and Creative Director with GSP Consulting; Elizebeth Perry, a sketch blogger and Technology Coordinator at the the Ellis School; Norm Huelsman, Assistant Director of Public Relations with the Art Institute of Pittsburgh; and me.

Visit the PodCamp Pittsburgh site to hear the discussion.

Highlights: What is the G20 Summit; how are preparations affecting life in the region; what role can social media creators — bloggers, twitterers, etc — play in understanding and discussing the G20; is this a good thing or bad thing for Pittsburgh; predictions and suggestions.

Behind-the-scenes note: I was running a fever of about 101 degrees the evening of our discussion, thanks to a late-summer flu I picked up. I’d like to blame the fever for any particularly wandering trains of thought I followed during the talk, but really that’s how I am all the time.

Announcing Pittsburgh BlogFest 18 — Saturday, 8/15

Beer and Laptop

Pittsburgh bloggers: Come meet your fellow bloggers and social media types in a friendly, unstructured setting.

Pittsburgh BlogFest is an informal and friendly quarterly gathering of local bloggers, vloggers, podcasters, and anyone who enjoys life on the Internet. It’s more happy hour than meeting: No talks will be given, no credentials required.

WHAT: Pittsburgh Blogfest 18
WHEN: Saturday, August 15, 2009, 5:30 PM to 9:30 PM and beyond
WHERE: Finnegan’s Wake (near PNC Park, 20 General Robinson St., North Shore, 412-325-2601), in the Pub Room
WHO: All local bloggers, podcasters, and social media folk of all stripes (and their friends… feel free to bring some even if they don’t blog!)

Food and beverages will be available for purchase from Finnegan’s Wake, as always. Arrive when you like, leave when you must.

SMOKING NOTE: As always, the room in which we’ll be blogfesting will be smoke-free. The rest of the bar allows smoking, so one can hop out for a smoke break. There’s a glass wall between, so the smokers and nonsmokers can stare at each other and see how the other half lives.

If you plan to attend, please send an e-mail to blogfest AT pghbloggers.org

(Photo credit: Beer and Laptop, originally uploaded by jdn.)

Come on babe, why don’t we paint the town, and all that jazz?

A revue may be the perfect way to see musical theater.

You get all the flashy singing and dancing, the lights and the costumes, and the live performance – outrageously talented people right before you.

And you don’t have to bend your mind around a musical’s plot, which in many cases makes little sense and exists only to glue together the musical numbers, and seems to take place in a world of mistaken identities, mysterious villains, and sudden ill-explained bursts of song and dance.

At home you can fast-forward a DVD to skip tortured dialogue; at the theater you can’t do anything but sit still and wait for the conductor to pick up his baton.

But a musical revue … that’s a different story. It’s a collection of songs  from multiple shows, and generally the best songs. A live greatest hits collection, , and not just the sounds but the visuals to boot.

The song writing team of John Kander and Fred Ebb created the music for some amazing shows: Cabaret, Chicago, Funny Lady, and New York, New York to name a few. The show that compiles their very best work is The World Goes Round. It’s sassy, sexy, and sometimes bitter, but with a sweet undercurrent and a lasting sense of optimism.

Here’s a little promo for the Pittsburgh Public Theater‘s production of The World Goes Round.

My favorite numbers in the show were three I had never heard or seen before: “Sara Lee” (about the dessert brand), “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup,” and “Arthur in the Afternoon” (about a certain man on the side). The big hits are here too (with the notable exception of “Razzle Dazzle”); “Mr. Cellophane” from Chicago was sweet and sad as you might hope.

The performers are Broadway professionals, and it shows. Amazing voices, excellent dancing, including some nice tap-dancing.

And where the Public’s previous show had actual swimming on stage (on in it, if you will), this one has roller skating. It’s the most athletic theater in town.

The show continues only through April 5 — this weekend. Find ticket and showtime info, and buy online on the Pittsburgh Cultural District website.

Disclaimer: The Public graciously provided me a complimentary ticket for this show.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor Day this Friday, 3/20/2009

This Friday, March 20, will be the second Won’t You Be My Neighbor Day, a tribute to Fred Rogers and a way to promote neighborliness throughout America.

To participate, wear a sweater on March 20. Doesn’t have to be a zippered cardigan — just has to be “special to you.”

You can also send a photo of yourself and your friends to Family Communications, Inc., the nonprofit Mr. Rogers founded, and they’ll post it on their website: www.fci.org/neighbor

You’ll find full details and photos from last year’s event there too.

And there’s more. This is from the press release:

As part of WYBMND, a number of Pittsburgh organizations have signed up to participate in the event by hosting activities to celebrate what it means to be a neighbor. On March 20, the Pittsburgh Zoo and the PPG Aquarium, The National Aviary, the Mattress Factory, the Westmoreland Museum of American Art and Photo Antiquities will offer free admission. Neighbors are also invited to visit Mr. McFeely and members of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum and join community sweater drives sponsored by The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (at its Liberty Avenue and Hill District locations) and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (in the first floor lobby at 925 Liberty Ave.).

In addition, the movie My Tale of Two Cities, which encourages everyone to be a caring neighbor, will have several benefit screenings the week of March 15. The film is a comeback story about the real-life “Mister Rogers Neighborhood”.  Featuring Franco Harris and other famous Pittsburghers, screenwriter Carl Kurlander’s story documents the “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” spirit that can be found across the country. The film will screen in Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C., and then, on March 20 in Pittsburgh at The Waterworks Cinema.

“What’s been so encouraging,” [Margy Whitmer of Family Communications, Inc.] says, “is the continued enthusiastic response from people all over the country. We’ve marked this date to give  organizations and institutions the opportunity to create an event that encourages the people in their communities to be caring neighbors.  We’re also hoping that individuals will connect one-on-one with their neighbors in caring ways and that it will become an annual national day of community service.”

For more information about “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Day (WYBMND) visit www.fci.org/neighbor.

This weekend: Bricolage’s “play-in-a-day” event

From the email inbox, an announcement of a very cool event involving my friend Rick Schweikert and some of Pittsburgh finest theatre professionals:

B.U. S. 4 Bricolage Urban Scrawl
Bricolage presents our third annual Play-in-a-Day Series
MARCH 21ST 937 LIBERTY AVENUE FIRST FLOOR

Join Bricolage for a unique benefit to unveil a brand new season for 2009.

6 Playwrights, 6 Directors, 24 Actors, 24 Hours, 120 Seats.

We are back again with another incredible line-up of local artists risking their creative necks to write, direct, perform, and present 6 new plays in one day. Each writer will have 12 hours to write a 10-minute play inspired by a 90-minute journey on a city bus. The directors and actors will have the next 12 hours to rehearse, memorize and stage each play to debut that same evening exactly 24 hours after the first meeting.

Come see an exciting new line up of artists including:

WRITERS
Gab Cody, Robert Isenberg, Wali Jamal, Michael McGovern, Rick Schweikert, Robin Walsh.

DIRECTORS
Martin Giles, Lisa Ann Goldsmith, Sheila McKenna, Anya Martin, John Shepard, David Whalen.

ACTORS
Eric Anderson, Nancy Bach, Karen Baum, Tyler Berube, Laura Lee Brautigam, Bridget Carey, Brian Czarneicki, George Dalzell, Don Digiulio, James Fitzgerald, Dave Flick, Tressa Glover, Lonzo Green, Daina Michelle Griffith, Mary Harvey, Chris Josephs, Kelly Marie McKenna, Robyne Parish, Joshua Elijah Reese, Rita Reis, Mark Clayton Southers, Genna Styles, and James Wong.

Enjoy cocktails and food provided by Penn Avenue Fish Market, Sonoma Grill, and Seviche. Bid on fabulous silent auction items such as sports, theatre, and film tickets, spa packages, and much, much more. Be witness to this exciting experiment in theatre and learn more about what Bricolage has in store for the coming year.

For a 7-minute video of past BUS events visit:
webbricolage.org/video_test.html

B.U.S. FARE: $40 cocktails and yummies
V.I.P. FARE: $75 private reception and Friday night actor selection party
Doors open at 7PM performance begins at 8PM.
Seating is limited. For tickets call 412-381-6999 or buy your tickets on-line at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/58505
To RSVP contact Tami at tami@webbricolage.org. For more information visit www.webbricolage.org

V.I.P. Fare – This ticket entitles the fare holder to cocktails, lite yummies and a front row seat to the intimate Friday Night Actor Selection Parade. This is rare treat for the VIP to get a behind the scenes look at the making of a 24 hour play event. This portion of the process is probably our favorite exchange. Choosing this fare will also give the VIP reserved seating for Saturday evenings BUS 4  event. Limited number of tickets available. Make your reservation today. Call 412-381-6999.

Supported in part by The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust