What to do tonight: Talk Western PA life with local author Stewart O'Nan
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Most modern authors practice their craft on computers. Pretty much the only time they literally put pen to paper is when they're autographing the finished product for a reader.
You'll have the opportunity to see a literary writer literally in action tonight when local author Stewart O'Nan appears at the Cooper-Siegel Community Library, 403 Fox Chapel Road.
Mr. O'Nan, a resident of Edgewood, was raised in Point Breeze, but in the early 1980s he decided to attend Boston University and become an engineer. While there, he became a fan of the Red Sox and struck up a friendship with author Stephen King. Years later, they collaborated on the book "Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season."
In addition to writing more than a dozen novels, a couple of nonfiction works and a screenplay, Mr. O'Nan has also found time to teach. His work has taken him to New York, Connecticut, Oklahoma and New Mexico.
In 2009, he returned to Pittsburgh.
"I wanted to live in a city," he explained. "It was a short list and Pittsburgh was on it. My family is here and it's great to be back."
Last year, he wrote a piece in support of The Lost Pittsburgh School project. It was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in July.
"For several generations, being a Pittsburgher was like living with a ghost," he wrote. "In the national consciousness, Pittsburgh was a joke, another rundown Rust Belt town, a destination inconceivable to those on the coasts. As David Byrne famously sang of rural America, 'I wouldn't live there if you paid me.'
"Pittsburghers who had to buy their groceries and raise their children couldn't be so blithe. The jobs were gone and the town they knew was bleeding out. The mills stood empty, the great machine sheds abandoned to pigeons, and then, at the stroke of a pen, flattened, the lots by the Mon graded, fenced black fields where nothing grew.
"This was George Romero's 'Land of the Dead,' victim of industry greed and parochialism, and the world was content to share that view. Move along, nothing to see here.
"For over 30 years, the city that made the weapons which defeated the Confederacy, the Kaiser and then the Nazis, that provided the steel for all the cars from Detroit and the beams for the Chrysler and the Empire State Buildings, that gave the world Gertrude Stein, Billy Strayhorn and Andy Warhol -- the city that endlessly inspired W. Eugene Smith -- was known exclusively as the home of a football team. Except to those who lived here, and even to many of them, the city itself was invisible."
Clearly, Mr. O'Nan saw more in us.
And you can see more of him tonight in Fox Chapel.
"We're planning for about 80 people," said Ann Andrews, the supervisor for the library's reference department and coordinator of the event. "He'll talk about his career and his writing. And then we'll have a question-and-answer session followed by a sell-and-sign."
"I'm going to read some selections from my novels, and I'm going to try to concentrate on stuff from Western PA," Mr. O'Nan said. "I think [the readings] should resonate with the audience."
Even though he started out as an engineer and got into writing "by a side door," Mr. O'Nan maintains that it is a labor of love. Not only the writing, but the background work it takes to produce his novels.
"My wife says that I only write the books so I can do the research," he said. "And she's right. It's a lot of fun."
The session begins at 7 p.m. and is free to the public.
If you can't make it tonight, consider dropping by at noon on Friday, when Oakmont resident Kathleen Shoop, author of "After the Fog," will be speaking.
First Published November 8, 2012 3:18 pm