Sherrie Flick. The latest collection by Southsider Sherrie Flick, “Thank Your Lucky Stars” (2018), is an assemblage of lonely people, broken people, wanderers and seekers. There are moments of hopelessness and beauty, all of which are observed with compassion and economy. In addition to this new collection, Flick is the author of the novel “Reconsidering Happiness” (2009) and the short story collection, “Whiskey, Etc.” (2016).
Jan Beatty. This is poetry. But never fear — Beatty is more rock & roll than staid sonnets. The director of Carlow University’s Madwomen in the Attic writing program tells stories of waitressing and addiction, road trips and adoption, homeless shelters and Joni Mitchell. She’s funny and sharp and edgy. How can you not love a writer who titles a poem, “Dropping Blotter Acid at the Slag Dump”? Pick up her most recent collection, “Jackknife,” from 2017.
Roy McHugh. Before Pittsburghers came to love hockey and before the Steelers were the calling card of the region, Pittsburghers loved boxing. The great Roy McHugh died at age 103 in February of this year, but luckily for us, a collection of his tremendous sports writing has been published posthumously, simply titled, “When Pittsburgh Was a Fight Town” (2019.) Nobody knew the fight game like McHugh, who wrote for the Pittsburgh Press for more than four decades. His prose was elegant and efficient, evocative and clean. He was one of the great sportswriters, in the pantheon with the likes of Grantland Rice, Shirley Povich and W.C. Heinz. If you want to understand boxing, or even if you just want to understand Pittsburgh, this book is a fantastic introduction.
And there are two writers with whom all Pittsburghers should be familiar: These two have both moved away, but continue to produce work as the writers emeritus of Pittsburgh.
David McCullough. For all the history dorks, one of the great American history writers hails from Pittsburgh. You’ve all seen McCullough about 1,001 times on various PBS history specials and he has chronicled Teddy Roosevelt’s childhood, the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Wright Brothers and the American Revolution. Some of his best titles are his comprehensive biographies of Truman (1992) and John Adams (2001). His first book, “The Johnstown Flood” (1968) should be required reading in every Western Pennsylvania high school history class.
Annie Dillard. Dillard’s breathtaking memoir of growing up in Point Breeze, “An American Childhood” (1987), is one of the best childhood memoirs of all time. Though she has written both fiction and nonfiction, she is best known as a naturalist. In “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” she reveals her exquisite abilities to observe and interpret the world around her. Dillard‘s prose feels like waking up all over again, but in a world that is lusher and brighter and more colorful. If you want a quick primer on Dillard, pick up “The Abundance” (2016), a collection of selected essays from four decades of writing that The New York Times describes as a “retrospective of her career.”
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