Native writers compose an anthology of the neighborhoods of Pittsburgh

What does Oakland look like as a neighborhood? College students hung over Flagstaff Hill at night with picnic blankets and bottles of wine. Ambulances speed Forbes on the way to Presby. Cathy is a beacon from afar for all of us.

This is only one part of Pittsburgh, but there are so many more to explore. In the “The Pittsburgh Neighborhood Guidebook, ” Pittsburgh local writers, released Tuesday, are telling the world about it.

The Pittsburgh Neighborhood Guidebook is part of an anthology series by Ben Gwin, a New Jersey native who has family ties to the Pittsburgh area he now lives in Belt Publishing. The anthology series records the many faces of cities in the rust belt such as Detroit, Cleveland and Chicago.

The White Whale Bookstore in the Bloomfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh will be one Kick-off event for the book on Friday at 7 p.m. via zoom. Tickets can be purchased for free on Eventbrite.

Gwin, who was asked by Belt Publishing to lead this project, said it had been a long and daunting experience, especially since he started story-collecting just before the COVID-19 pandemic that struck the country.

“I mean, it was in the middle of COVID. And do I want to continue persecuting and harassing these people for an essay? “Said Gwin. “I didn’t really know what to do. So it was interesting. “

But despite Gwin’s initial reluctance to fill the anthology with essays and stories, he reached out to local Pittsburgh writers he knew and spread the word across the community. He also sent a public call for contributions through Belt for anyone interested in participating.

Brian Broome, a native of Pittsburgh and writing teacher in Pitt’s English department, had one of his pieces published in the East Pittsburgh section of the book. His short story “79”, named after the 79 bus, focuses on the East Hills neighborhood.

The East Hills on the very edge of town are a predominantly black neighborhood that the news often forget According to Broome, unless it’s about a recent crime or the creeping threat of gentrification. Broome said he wanted to write about the East Hills and the people who live there because the media often only shows it one way.

“I wanted to highlight the fact that the people in this neighborhood are real people,” Broome said. “Not only can people be seen as a monolith, I mean, there are really good people in the East Hills, but it just seems like the negative is on the news.”

There are many pieces in the book that portray the neighborhoods of Pittsburgh in this raw and unabashed way. Gwin said it was one of his favorite parts about the stories. These writers conveyed what life was like “before” the pandemic that is now dominating everyone’s life – the good and bad parts of it.

“I think it’s interesting to come out of one of the most eventful and turbulent years we’ve ever had and it’s all just” before “summed up,” said Gwin. “You know, things still haven’t been great for a lot of people either. But it’s also a good time capsule for where things were before it all came to a head. “

But the anthology also contains some exploitative pieces in a more joyful light. One of them – “The Squonk of Beltzhoover” by Almah LaVon Rice – plays with fantastic and speculative fiction in the surroundings of her own neighborhood Beltzhoover in the south of Pittsburgh.

Her story focuses on a sighting of the American cryptids, the squonk, a small boar-like creature covered in warts that is said to roam the wooded forests of northern Pennsylvania.

LaVon Rice said she was initially surprised that her piece was included in the anthology because of its more unusual subject. LaVon Rice said she identifies as a “fairy swamp monster” because she has always felt an affinity with the magical and mysterious aspects of the world that are often misunderstood. She said this piece was simply an extension of her lifestyle.

“For me, speculative fiction is not something that I write, but something that I live. I said, “Okay, that’s how I live in my neighborhood, probably won’t work for you, but let’s go,” she said. “And I was actually surprised that he enthusiastically accepted it.”

However, this connection with nature goes beyond LaVon Rice’s possible encounter with a squonk. She said Pittsburgh itself is more integrated into the wild than people might think, and she’s had encounters with wild turkeys, foxes, deer, and even her favorite hummingbirds.

“We have this big park across from my street … but I could be downtown in a few minutes,” she said. “I read a while ago that it is quite compact compared to many cities in the US. So you will have a lot of wild creatures in the city like there is one Bear in Penn Hills last year. ”

Not all parts of the book focus solely on neighborhoods within the city. Bowie Rowan, who will be part of Friday’s kick-off event, wrote his play of the suburbs of Pittsburgh through the lens of local school shootings.

Rowan said it wasn’t what they originally wanted to write when Gwin asked them if they could contribute to the anthology, especially because it has a dark subject. But they felt compelled to write it after realizing how vulnerable their open campus was, especially with Mass shootings on the rise in recent decades.

“The more I researched the campus, the more I thought about and remembered mass shootings, but also did research into shootings that took place in the Pittsburgh area,” they said. “I have to write about it. I haven’t read anything related to Pittsburgh that really speaks about it outside of some of the news I cited. “

According to Rowan, her story focuses more on empathy and a call for compassion in the face of these shootouts, and shows a truer and rougher Pittsburgh – especially when compared to the way the city is advertised as a shiny, up-and-coming place to live for people who are unfamiliar with the area.

Rowan said while reading the anthology they hope people can understand more about what it means to come to Pittsburgh as someone unfamiliar with the area, and specifically how it affects the neighborhoods where they want to live.

“I think in cities like Pittsburgh where a lot of people come … for a cheaper cost of living and maybe to start their own business and all of that, it’s really easy for people to lose sight of the community they are becoming part of when they are having a transplant, “they said.

Broome also said he wanted the book to truthfully represent Pittsburgh – its good and its bad. Hopefully, he said that while reading the book, people will come across not only the community of writers who refer to it as their home, but also the general population who all lead very different lives in the same city.

“I also see that it is a city that is changing,” he said. “And although we are often referred to as the most livable city in the world, we have to ask ourselves, who is it most livable for?”

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