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The Chess Artist

J.C. Hallman frequents the pool hall in the William Pitt Union. He likes to immerse himself in the field of green tabletops bathed in fluorescent light.

For Hallman, a transplant from San Diego, this place provides sanctuary. Growing up, he spent hours playing pool in the basement of his home. Like then, he now moves easily between the pool table and the card table, favoring bridge, gin, and poker.

Several years after graduating from Pitt and a stint at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, Hallman (CAS ’89) took his love of games to the next level, working as a casino dealer in Atlantic City. There he discovered chess and befriended a chess master, Glenn Umstead. There, too, he stumbled upon the premise for The Chess Artist: Genius, Obsession, and the World’s Oldest Game (St. Martin’s Press). His account of various chess adventures with Umstead, who aspired to be the world’s first Black grand master, amounts to the story of a friendship shaped by chess and its often-enigmatic subcultures.

“Ultimately, it’s not a book about chess,” says Hallman. “It’s a literary endeavor first, a book about everything that chess reflects. Chess serves as a prism. You look into it and see the rest of the world refracted.” —Cindy Gill


Beyond the Golden Door

A young Italian immigrant stands on the lawn, hand clasped tightly with her father’s as she looks up at the newly built Cathedral of Learning. She is searching for the stone she paid for with a dime.

“Which stone is mine Papa?” she asks as she nearly falls, trying to see the top of the building.

“The one at the very top,” he answers in Italian.

“Can I come to school here someday Papa?”

“If God wills,” he says.

Well, God willed. “I never dreamed when I gave that dime that not only would I get to come to this University, but that I’d get to teach part-time [English electives] since 1975,” says Alice Sapienza Donnelly (CGS ’74, FAS ’83). The University is also the birthplace of Beyond the Golden Door (self-published), a book about how her family, Italian immigrants, adapted to the American culture and her outrage at the discrimination they faced. The book was born in a Pitt genealogy class, where her professor encouraged her to publish it. She said that many ethnic groups responded positively to it by saying, “Just change the names and places, and you’ve written my story.”
—Ellenmarie Agnew



The Forever Factor

Only the Christmas tree lights twinkle as James J. Barber (CAS ’71) tiptoes upstairs to his 21-year-old daughter’s bedroom. He has one last gift—a chain with a heart charm—to give her before Christmas ends at midnight.

Lying underneath the gaze of four cherubs carved into her bedposts, Brooke isn’t surprised when her father comes in. She’s been expecting him. Each Christmas, Barber saves a special gift for last because he doesn’t want the holiday to end.

Barber doesn’t want life to end, either. As a plastic surgeon, he has established The Millennium Institute for Aesthetic Surgery, which is in Sewickley, Pa., along with two satellite offices in suburban Pittsburgh.

One of his biggest problems is that many of his clients believe that a facelift or a tummy tuck alone can make them younger and happier. So he wrote The Forever Factor (New Horizon Communications), a book in which Barber discusses ways for people to improve their lives through proper nutrition, nutraceutical products, and positive attitudes.

“It’s about trying to get that feeling back into life when you were 10 years old, and you couldn’t wait to get up Christmas morning,” he says.
—Cara J. Hayden


The Mighty Experiment

It was in childhood, sitting at the Passover Seder table, that Seymour Drescher first learned about the anguish of slavery. As is the Jewish holiday tradition, while retelling the story of the Israelites’ enslavement and liberation, he would almost feel like he was experiencing persecution and the Exodus from Egypt.

“It had a deep psychological impact on me,” says Drescher, a Pitt professor of history and sociology, “the idea of moving from one position to another, from ‘social death to life.’”

This childhood influence also played a role in Drescher’s selection of African slavery and abolition as a field of study, a subject on which he has written four books. His latest, The Mighty Experiment: Free Labor Versus Slavery in British Emancipation (Oxford University Press), involves the movement to end slavery in the British colonies. Through exploring the views of scholars and politicians of the time, he argues that emancipation was more a matter of national honor than a simple desire to move toward capitalism.

The book won the renowned Frederick Douglass Book Prize, an annual award for nonfiction administered by Yale’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition.
—Cynthia Gordy


Where the Evidence Leads

Law is his life. It shaped his career as an attorney in private practice and, later, guided him during a remarkable life of public service.

But in the end, Dick Thornburgh (LAW ’57) says the law will never be enough, because the law means little without values. “Values are not merely private guides to individual behavior,” Thornburgh writes in his book Where the Evidence Leads: An Autobiography (University of Pittsburgh Press). “They are what will settle the great conflicts of our time, for better or worse.”

Take terrorism. Thornburgh says we will never win the war on terrorism unless we win the battle of values. “Terrorists have values, but they are not productive to civilization in the long run,” he says. Only the triumph of the values we hold dear—freedom of speech, due process, the right to vote—will vanquish terrorism.

Thornburgh’s career included two terms as Pennsylvania’s governor and service in the Department of Justice under five presidents, including three years as attorney general in the cabinets of presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. He was also undersecretary-general of the United Nations, the highest-ranking American in the organization. Throughout his public life, Thornburgh has been a man of the law, mindful that values inspire laws—not the other way around.
—Kris B. Mamula




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