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Sign of the Cross

Chris Kuzneski sits in his office long into the night, fingering photographs and maps of European streets. He sifts through his notes, marking the names of Roman buildings and small coves in the Netherlands. Kuzneski (EDUC ’93G, CAS ’91) compares the visual clues to his notes and is surprised at how easily his historical research fits into his geographic material. The scenes of a vivid story pour from his mind, melding together seamlessly as each new factoid slides into the plot.

It was in a Pitt “Bible as Literature” course, as Kuzneski dug deeper into stories he’d absorbed from childhood, that he developed his interest in writing about religion and history.

Even then, the premise of a novel began simmering in the writer’s mind.

Stories can be reshaped, he thinks, as he sifts through research on his desk, trying to craft a world rich in detail, partly historical, partly his own creation.

Kuzneski created his story over several years, leaving his teaching job to write full-time. The resulting thriller, Sign of the Cross (Jove), is the culmination of a lifelong fascination with faith and stories of revenge. The story plunges readers into a fast-paced adventure through Europe in search of longheld secrets about sacred mysteries.
—Katy Rank


Tough Heaven

There is a city deep inside Jack Gilbert (CAS ’54), part vibrant urban landscape, part ruins. It thunders with locomotives barreling through lashing rainstorms. Its alleys double as playgrounds for children, and its riverbanks sag under the weight of massive, crumbling mills. It wears a girdle of bridges, and an old man drives a horse-drawn wagon through its streets, shouting “Iron! Iron!” as he seeks castaway bedsprings and stoves.

The city is the Pittsburgh of Gilbert’s youth and memory, the place where, as a child and later a student at the University of Pittsburgh, his poetic sensibilities were forged in the same environs as countless tons of steel.

Once a steelworker himself, Gilbert has since published several books of poetry, placed as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and won the National Book Critics Circle Award, among other honors.

Gilbert now has taken the Pittsburgh within him and transformed it into his latest book of poems, Tough Heaven (Pond Road Press). We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars, Gilbert writes, and in doing so, discovers a Pittsburgh that’s Sumptuous-shouldered,/sleek-thighed, obstinate and majestic, unquenchable. / All grip and flood, mighty sucking and deep-rooted grace. / A city of brick and tired wood. Ox and sovereign spirit. A city of poetry.
—Bo Schwerin


The Pacific Between

The house is almost empty, except for the few boxes still sitting in the dark basement. Raymond Wong (SLIS ‘95, CAS ‘88) flips the light switch and descends the narrow staircase. At the foot of the stairs are his parents’ remaining belongings, left behind when they moved to California.

Wong crouches down to sort through old photos and souvenirs. The bent edge of a worn envelope peeks out from the pile. Taking it out of the stack, Wong discovers a two-page, handwritten letter tucked neatly inside. He runs his fingers along the faded ink as his eyes curiously trace each word. The letter is from an old girlfriend. It was mailed 14 years ago, yet he had never encountered it until now.

The discovery of the mysterious letter inspired Wong’s novel, The Pacific Between (Behler Publications). It tells of a young man who one day finds a bundle of letters suggesting an affair between a former lover and his late father. Wong, a professional actor who has worked with the likes of Julianne Moore, Peter Falk, and Sarah Jessica Parker, was recognized nationally at the 2006 Independent Publisher Book Awards when his novel was voted a finalist in the Multicultural Adult Fiction category.
—Rachel Hayes

Public Radio

As a girl in Newtown, Conn., Lisa Phillips (FAS ’98) listened, enthralled, to her father’s radio. The radio was outfitted to pick up stations from New York City, 75 miles away, and the syncopated jazz riffs broadcast from Columbia University’s WKCR delighted her almost as much as the encyclopedic knowledge of the station’s DJs. While doing homework on Sunday evenings in high school, she listened to the familiar voices, wondering what their off-air lives were like.

She learned some of the behind-the-scenes details when she worked for KTPR in Fort Dodge, Iowa, soon after college. In the dead of winter, Phillips plowed through snow squalls to fire up the station’s transistors at 4:30 in the morning.

During a train ride home for Christmas, she discovered in conversations with fellow passengers that others shared her fascination with the unseen characters of public radio, and the seeds of her book-to-be were planted.

Public Radio: Behind the Voices (CDS Books) details the lives and personalities of 43 public radio DJs. Phillips brings readers to the set of Whad’Ya Know? with host Michael Feldman, talks puzzles and spirituality with Liane Hansen, and discusses weeping over artwork with host and musician Bill McGlaughlin—all while recreating the intimate listening experience that drew Phillips to her father’s rigged-up radio.

The Pentium Chronicles

A helicopter hovers 10 feet above the tarmac, orbiting in circles as Robert P. Colwell watches from a distant window. The whirling aircraft is a welcome distraction from the engineering project he’s laboring over in an office building nestled between cornfields and a small-town Oregon airport.

On Colwell’s monitor, lines of dull yellow code appear in choppy spurts, generating feedback about his new electronic chip design. Turning away from the looping helicopter, he analyzes the feedback code. So far, the chip design is showing promising potential to handle multiple programs simultaneously while still operating much faster than the 386-processor in his computer. It turns out to have more capabilities than he can fathom.

That was the early ’90s, and as a computer architect with Intel, Colwell (ENGR ’77) was just beginning to invent the technology that processes software in many of today’s speedy and smoothly operating machines.

A few years after he ran those simulation tests, he was managing hundreds of engineers, and his office building was dwarfed by an industrial Intel campus. The chip became the foundation for the popular line of Pentium, Xeon, and Centrino microprocessors. Recently, Colwell’s book about his experience was published—The Pentium Chronicles: The People, Passion, and Politics Behind Intel’s Landmark Chips (Wiley-Interscience).
—Cara J. Hayden

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