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Black Days, Black Dust

Not long after Sharon Gardner (EDU ’84) moved to Bluefield, West Virginia, in 1991, she felt as if some voices were calling her. The pleas were coming from the coal fields about 50 miles away. She explored the sites, the waste collecting in ravines, and listened for the buried stories of old miners.

After Gardner wrote articles about coal camps for a local newspaper, Robert Armstead contacted her for help with his memoir. An African American coal miner from 1947 to 1987, he was captivated by the underground world. Gardner spent hours listening to his stories. Together they toured towns and abandoned mine sites, where Armstead’s memories rose from the dust.

The University of Tennessee Press published Black Days, Black Dust, but Armstead never saw it. He died of a lung tumor before its completion.

Gardner continues to write about the mines. She’s in awe of people like Armstead, who chose to be a coal miner even after watching his father collapse at the end of the day. The miners came up coughing dust, but they could never rid the part of them that woke up the next morning eager to do it all over again.

—Misty Frey


Iowa. That’s where she wanted to go.

The reason Jan Beatty (FAS ’90), a part-time writing instructor in Pitt’s English department, wanted to go was to study with Pitt alumnus and acclaimed poet Gerald Stern. He was teaching at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She applied. She was rejected.

A few years later, Stern was reading at the Three Rivers Arts Festival, and Beatty approached him, shoving some of her poetry into his hands. She thought this was her last chance to go to Iowa.

A few days later, while she was waiting tables at a Pittsburgh restaurant, she got a phone call. It was Stern. He was going to help her get into Iowa.

So she went, only to find Stern wasn’t there. He was on sabbatical. Beatty never felt like she fit in at Iowa, so she left. She felt bad about leaving, about disappointing Stern. If he was disappointed or upset, he must have forgiven her, because Stern’s words of praise appear on the back cover of her new book, Boneshaker, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press:

“There is a school of poetry where the poems have content, where they communicate, where beauty is not forgotten. It is about work, family, and the lost towns. Grief. Jan is a central figure in this school.”

—Meghan Holohan

Double Yoi!

Writing is hard work,” says Myron Cope, the long-time Pittsburgh sports personality and color commentator for the Steelers. Fortunately for us, reading his book Double Yoi! A Revealing Memoir by the Broadcaster-Writer (Sports Publishing LLC) isn’t hard at all. It’s a pleasure.

Before becoming a radio and TV celebrity, Cope (CAS ’51) was a writer, known nationally for his portraits of up-and-coming athletes and oddballs published in the Saturday Evening Post, Sports Illustrated, and other magazines. Now, he’s turned the same eye for detail on his own life, creating a breezy book by turns funny and touching, but never maudlin.

While Double Yoi!—named for one of Cope’s trademark expressions—is filled with anecdotes from 50 years of rubbing elbows with the famous and infamous, it’s more than name-dropping. Cope was there as the Steelers went from being perennial doormats of the NFL to four-time Super Bowl champs. He wrote early on about the potential for greatness in people like young boxer Cassius Clay.

Typically self-effacing, Cope brushes off his success as being “extraordinarily lucky.” If that’s true, then sports fans have been extraordinarily lucky, too.

—Jason Togyer

Quest for Liberty

Joshua Atherton has a problem. Most residents of Amherst, New Hampshire, including the local judge, are demanding a war that Atherton believes will be ruinous. He’s determined to speak his mind, even if he loses his livelihood as a lawyer and government official—and his freedom.

Although Quest for Liberty (Peter E. Randall) is set in colonial New England, the novel by Robert H. Rowe (BUS ’56) arrives at a time when Americans are again involved in a fight to preserve their freedom. It serves as a reminder that different concepts of patriotism and loyalty have always stirred passions, and sometimes disagreements, among Americans.

A retired municipal judge and attorney and a Pittsburgh native, Rowe has lived in Amherst for 32 years. He indulges his interest in history by writing books and a local newspaper column, and there’s plenty of material in his adopted hometown.

Quest for Liberty, tells the story of two men—Atherton, who wants peace with the British, and Thompson Maxwell, a farmer inspired to join the militia by “those troublemakers” John Hancock and Samuel Adams.

The characters are drawn from history, says Rowe, who used contemporary diaries and histories to recreate events.

—J T

Tiffany Desk Treasures

The gaze of two Buddhas caught his eye. They were cast bronze beauties with a dark patina and made by Tiffany Studios. He spotted them at a show in Pittsburgh and thought the sculpted bookends were priced sensibly at about $200. There was no reason to haggle.

The artistry of the bookends had captured his imagination. An engineer more at home firing rockets, George A. Kemeny had discovered art in an American craft.

Two decades earlier, in 1954, Kemeny, a native of Vienna, Austria, received an MS in electrical engineering from Pitt.

He joined retired art critic Donald Miller in writing Tiffany Desk Treasures: A Collector’s Guide, which was published earlier this year by Hudson Hills Press. Miller received two Pitt degrees: a BA in creative writing in 1956 and an MA in art history in 1975. Kemeny met Miller at a Pittsburgh exhibition about 10 years ago.

Kemeny received 72 US patents during his engineering career at the former Westinghouse Electric Corp. Bronze desk accessories, like the bookends, have become his passion since retiring in 1989. Although the Tiffany name is best known for stained-glass windows and lamps, the company also made paper racks, inkwells, and letter openers from the late 1800s until the early 1930s.

Kris B. Mamula

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