Musician turned essayist to read in Carnegie

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Patricia Prattis Jennings is well-acquainted with performing on stage in front of audiences all over the world.

For 42 years, she was a member of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, where she played piano, harpsichord organ and celeste -- a small keyboard instrument that produces bell-like sounds -- before retiring in 2006 as principal keyboardist.

The Rosslyn Farms resident is not the kind of person to fade into a quiet retirement. She'll now face a different kind of audience as she does readings from her self-published book of essays, "In One Era and Out the Other."

The first reading will be at 7 p.m. today in the Reception Hall at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie. The venue is a familiar one for her -- she appeared there on June 1, 2008, in a concert, "An Afternoon With Patricia Prattis Jennings."

Writing and music are linked in her life. Her writing career began in 1994 when she wrote a four-part series for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette while on a European tour with the symphony. She continued to write for the P-G and other publications such as the Symphony magazine and the Phoenix of Western Pennsylvania Mensa. Online, she writes Pat's Ponderings at patsponderings.squarespace.com.

Writing is arguably in her genetic makeup. Her father, the late P.L. Prattis, was a longtime editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, once the largest circulation African-American newspaper in the country.

In 1956, Ms. Jennings became the first African-American woman to perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

"I describe my book as a kind of buffet," she said, offering a broad array of topics, including food, cars, typewriters, music, falling down and Barack Obama.

Ms. Jennings worked on the Illinois senator's first presidential campaign. She worked the phones in the Mt. Lebanon campaign office along with "all these students from all over the country," she said.

"In One Era and Out the Other" takes readers from the second half of the 20th century into the first decade of the 21st.

The 77 essays in the book take a warm and humorous look at cultural shifts and "don't shy away from serious issues," according to a news release from the Carnegie/Carnegie library. Ms. Jennings "takes readers on several decades of time travel, with commentaries on politics, technology, culture, race and entertainment."

Maggie Forbes, executive director at the library, said, "We are so happy to welcome Pat back. I can't persuade her to play the piano, but we are so proud to present a very local author."

Tonight's program is free. Following her reading, Ms. Jennings will answer questions and sign books.

wOne dollar from each book purchased will be donated to the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council. A free reception will follow, with jazz musicians Phil Salvato and Haywood Vincent providing music.

A second reading will be Sunday in the Mendelson Gallery in Shadyside.

Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-722-0087.


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