June 2002


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Painful black splotches appeared on the neck, groin, and armpits. Within days, victims were choking on their own blood. Feverish men and women dropped dead while walking the streets. Doctors blamed infected air. Others blamed the wrath of God. In a five-year period, the Black Death wiped out about 25 million Europeans.

The Black Death is among the slices of daily life chronicled by Diana Childress in her book, Chaucer’s England, published by Linnet Books of North Haven, Connecticut. The book, written for high school and college students, looks at the life and times of the man who wrote Canterbury Tales.

Childress’ own story describes a passion for learning. She received her MA and PhD in English at the University of Pittsburgh before accepting teaching assignments at Brooklyn College and Fairleigh Dickinson University. Her first book dealt with the archeology of North America. Childress, now a nursery school librarian, is writing about the Hudson River. She describes herself as an eclectic writer. “I like learning new things,” she says.
— Kris B. Mamula

Judy Moody
Gets Famous

A small girl with a big attitude is roaring through children’s literature—and she grew up near the Pitt campus.

Now the star of three books (a fourth is on the way), third-grader Judy Moody is the creation of Megan McDonald, a Pittsburgh native who obtained her MS in library science from Pitt in 1986.

McDonald, who now lives in Sebastopol, California, refined her storytelling skills while working in the children’s department at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s main branch in Oakland. Her first children’s book—Is This a House for Hermit Crab?—grew out of a tale she used to tell during story hours.

She has since written 24 books, including last year’s Judy Moody Gets Famous. Critics compare sly, sassy Judy to Beverly Cleary’s Ramona. “That’s a high compliment,” she says. “I’m a big admirer of Ramona.”

While Judy Moody reviews have been positive, the most important critics to McDonald are the children who approach her after she reads from one of her books, and ask her to come outside and play with them.
— Jason Togyer

of Wonder

The boy grew up reading science fiction magazines. Later, he went to medical school. Then he became famous. The achievements of transplant pioneer Thomas E. Starzl proved every bit as futuristic as the pulp magazines he devoured while growing up in Le Mars, Iowa. In fact, organ transplantation first appeared in a science fiction magazine in 1927, says Pitt visiting lecturer Eric Leif Davin.

Davin, who received his MA and PhD in history at Pitt, is the author of Pioneers of Wonder: Conversations with the Founders of Science Fiction. The book—published by Prometheus Books of Amherst, New York—spotlights the early visionaries of science-fiction writing, including R.F. Starzl, the surgeon’s father.

“There has always been this connection between science fiction and science fact,” says Davin.

Writing science fiction was a second job for the senior Starzl, who also published the family’s newspaper, the Le Mars Globe-Post. Money from some 20 stories that he wrote before 1934 helped him gain sole ownership of the newspaper.

“He’s a forgotten great,” Davin says about the senior Starzl.


They fought. Marjory was 13. Big sister Jo Ann was 16. They agreed on one thing. They wanted another telephone in the house. Badly.

One day, their father came up with a deal: no fighting for 30 days and the girls could have another phone. The sisters made it to day 26. They started over. And over. In the end, they got the phone.

Today, Marjory is a psychologist. Jo Ann is a nurse and teacher. Their brother Joel is a management consultant. They haven’t forgotten about their fights, though. In fact they co-wrote Sibling Revelry, 8 Steps to Successful Adult Sibling Relationships, published by Dell Books. “Through this process, we were practically living in each other’s refrigerators,” says Marjory Levitt, who received her BA in anthropology and history at Pitt and now lives in Philadelphia.

Family or not, some relationships may never work, she says. It’s up to each person to decide when enough is enough. Still, she believes reconciling ancient hurts through compassion and forgiveness has powerful therapeutic value. The payoff, she says, is a new opportunity for personal growth.

The Chief

Books on Pittsburgh sports teams and legends have become the domain of Pittsburgh-based author Jim O’Brien. Yet his 16th book—and latest—nearly wasn’t written. It’s a biography of the late Steelers’ owner Art Rooney Sr., entitled The Chief. O’Brien tells the story through personal reminiscences and anecdotes.

Several members of the Rooney family were reluctant to see the story told, says the author, for fear it would focus on the patriarch’s early days in gambling. While O’Brien does give an honest portrayal of The Chief’s boyhood in Coulter, Pennsylvania, and on Pittsburgh’s North Side, he places those events in the context of the times. “He’s almost a Damon Runyon character,” he says of Rooney. “He was a loveable rogue.”

A bit of a boy wonder himself, O’Brien began covering Pitt sports for a weekly newspaper at the tender age of 14. A Pitt graduate (CAS ’64) and former sports information director for the University, he says, “Pitt remains a very magical place for me. People take certain things on the Pitt campus for granted, like the Commons Room (at the Cathedral of Learning), but if you came from Hazelwood, you’ve never seen anything like that on Second Avenue.”

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