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Dear Zoe

For years, a headstrong 15-year-old girl named Tess fought to get out of Philip Beard’s head. She wanted the world to know her story.

Tess recently got her wish. So did Beard (LAW ’88), with publication of his novel, Dear Zoe (Viking Books). Tess’ story is an extended letter to her little sister, Zoe, who died in a car crash. Beard says he took many writing courses during his undergraduate years. In law school, Beard again indulged his interest by taking two workshops with Pitt’s Lewis “Buddy” Nordan, a professor of English and award-winning fiction writer.

Despite his love for writing, things did not go smoothly for Beard. Dear Zoe was rejected by 27 publishers, so he decided to publish the book on his own. Exactly one day before he was to pay $15,000 to have 5,000 copies printed, the president of Viking called with an offer.

Months earlier, Beard had given the manuscript to John Towle, owner of Aspinwall Bookshop in his Pittsburgh-area neighborhood. Towle showed it to his Penguin sales rep, who loved it and gave it directly to Viking’s president. Not only did Viking buy Dear Zoe, but it also snapped up Beard’s first book manuscript.

These days, Beard only practices law part-time and is hard at work on a new book.
—Kris B. Mamula

How Lawyers Lose Their Way

With all the lawyer jokes, who can blame attorneys for being a frustrated bunch? Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado, professors in Pitt’s law school, attempt to discern the source of what they call the “pervasive unhappiness among practicing lawyers” in How Lawyers Lose Their Way (Duke University Press).
The authors point to formalism, which they say devalues free thinking and creativity in favor of conservatism and consistency. Through Archibald MacLeish, they illustrate the idea of law as constricting for intellectual and creative thinkers.

MacLeish graduated from Harvard law school, practiced law for several years, then abandoned the profession to pursue poetry and play writing. He received three Pulitzer prizes for his verse. Delgado and Stefancic explore MacLeish’s friendship with poet Ezra Pound, who was charged with treason after WWII for his support of Italy’s Fascist dictator Mussolini. MacLeish took up his mentor’s case to resolve the trial and have Pound returned home to Italy.

The story is used to draw larger conclusions about those in positions of power whose creative inclinations remain unfulfilled. The authors end on a hopeful note, suggesting ways that dissatisfied lawyers can find fulfillment in their work.
—Sarah Wexler

Memory of Steel

Hunks of concrete and metal are being dismantled from the defunct steel mill on Pittsburgh’s South Side as Edward F. Stankowski Jr. (FAS ’95, CAS ’87) watches from his bedroom window.

He spent five years, 1978 to 1983, working in the fiery furnaces of the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation’s South Side Works. The steel mill also employed his father, grandfather, and other relatives before him.

He glances away from the window and tries to concentrate on his computer screen. It’s the early ’90s, and instead of running a jackhammer at the mill, he’s operating an industrial-gray IBM that reads floppy disks and is corded to a hulky keyboard.

The cursor blinks, urging him to rebuild the steel mill with words.

He types memories of the sweaty, sooty, steely work: the lava-hot atmosphere, the tough workmen, the charm of the neighborhood where he grew up. He writes about the union, the management, and internal politics. The recollections fill his book, Memory of Steel (Wyndham Hall Press).

Today, the smokestack view from his old bedroom has changed. He can see the Monongahela River, Cathedral of Learning, and the neon lights of a trendy entertainment area that suggests nothing of its smoky past.
—Cara Hayden

Skilled Hands, Strong Spirits

When word of the attacks spread through New York City on September 11, 2001, the city’s union construction workers immediately stopped what they were doing and converged on the World Trade Center. By quickly organizing work teams and rounding up the equipment necessary to shore up the site, these workers meant the difference between life and death for many at Ground Zero.

Grace Palladino (FAS ’83), an author and historian, was fascinated by these unsung heroes. Their actions are depicted in the opening of Skilled Hands, Strong Spirits (Cornell University Press), Palladino’s fourth book.

The labor movement first captured Palladino’s attention during a history class when she saw The Inheritance, a documentary about immigrant garment workers on strike. “There was something about watching people stand up for themselves against all odds that seemed inspiring to me,” she says.

In her book, which took three years to research, she reveals the stories behind the long and conflicted history of union labor in America and the problems it faces today. Palladino remains upbeat about its future. “If Pinkerton guards and the Great Depression didn’t kill the labor movement, today’s hostile environment won’t kill it, either.”
—Rob Markowski

72 Hour Hold

It took three years before she revealed her secret. Her friend knew someone who could help. You need to call her, the friend said. It took another year before Bebe Moore Campbell (CAS ’71) mustered the courage to call. The conversation lasted more than six hours.

The secret: a family member had a mental illness. What Campbell discovered, beginning with that phone call, is that talking about mental illness helps to begin the healing. And, she was not alone.

That six-hour conversation led to other conversations, then the creation of a local support group, then educational courses provided by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, then NAMI teacher-training, then the formation of a NAMI affiliate in Campbell’s Los Angeles neighborhood.

“All of a sudden,” she says, “instead of one person with a terrible secret, there was a group of Black women sharing this together. Once I untied my tongue, the next step was to write about it.”

Her just-released novel, 72 Hour Hold (Knopf) illuminates the realities of mental illness in families: the treatment roller coaster, the emotions, the gut-churning tensions, even the balm of humor. It’s important, says Campbell, to get the issue out in the open: “Own up to it, and get the help and support you need.”
—Cindy Gill


 
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