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Fallen

Six times the comic novel went off to a new publisher; six times it came back. Kathleen George (FAS ’88, ’75, ’66; CAS ’64) couldn’t look at it anymore. She decided to practice plot writing. Maybe after that, renewed, she could revise her manuscript once more. With plot, she says, “it’s a matter of getting assertive with your personality. You choose to have characters do something major, and the somethings have consequences.”

She started by jotting down notes. One paragraph led to another. Then, 100 pages into her exercise, she felt she needed more information to advance the plot. “Pretty soon I was doing research,” she says. More than 200 pages later, she realized, “I’m writing a mystery.” When Taken was published, The Washington Post called it “a thinking-person’s thriller ... a fine piece of work.” Others praised it, too. “It really wasn’t planned,” she says, “but now I see how much mystery writing is tied to theater’s lying and pretending.”

George—a producer-director, short-story writer, novelist, and Pitt professor of theater arts—has just published her second mystery, Fallen (Bantam Dell), where grief, deception, and obsession intersect in the neighborhoods of Pittsburgh as a widow seeks the truth about her husband’s murder.
—Cindy Gill

Healthy Teens, Body and Soul

Two teenage girls awkwardly shift their weight in plastic chairs. They keep their eyes glued to the floor and speak softly. After some gentle conversation, their social worker understands why. Both girls are pregnant; but because nobody has discussed sex or pregnancy with them, they’re clueless about their bodies, their situations, and their options. They don’t know what to do, and they’re scared.

Teens like these motivated Betty Rothbart to write her book, Healthy Teens, Body and Soul (Simon & Schuster). Through her work as a social worker and director of prevention programs in New York City schools, Rothbart (SOC WK ’75G, EDUC ’73) realized the necessity of a book to “lay out what happens to kids during adolescence”—which can last from age 8 through the early 20s.

Healthy Teens, Body and Soul focuses on parental roles and addresses issues like proper nutrition, common health problems, substance abuse, and sexuality. But communication is Rothbart’s main objective. She wants children to make decisions based on open, honest discussions with their parents rather than on schoolyard gossip. When parents are “empowered” to be honest, Rothbart says family relationships improve, and children make decisions that don’t have dire consequences like unwanted pregnancies.
—Megan Dunchak

Reactor

All her life, Judith Vollmer heard about nuclear power, whether from Cold War rhetoric or the opinions of her father and uncles, who worked with the volatile energy source. Her father especially was concerned about whether a safe place for nuclear waste could exist.

As Vollmer (FAS ’81, CAS ’73) was working on her latest poetry manuscript, her friend Lynn Johnson, a photographer with National Geographic, was preparing for a trip to the Nevada Test Site to take pictures. Johnson and Vollmer had worked together on The Green Edge of Westmoreland, a poetic and photographic exhibition of Western Pennsylvania’s Westmoreland County. Recalling the power and mystery of nuclear power, Vollmer asked Johnson to go as an assistant to the magazine to see the site—and she hoped to finish her book.

The experience in the desert at the base and inside of Yucca Mountain yielded a series of poems in Reactor (The University of Wisconsin Press).

“It’s a book about the dangers and pleasures sleepwalking inside personal and larger landscapes,” says Vollmer, English professor and director of the Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg. The complex themes and personal voice helped Reactor garner a National Book Critics Circle Award nomination.
—Meghan Holohan

The Scorpion’s Weather

Fantasy offers a powerful lure for children growing up in the heart of Amish country. “It’s a release from the grind of rural Pennsylvania, where there’s not much to do,” says Jeffrey Whitehead, who was raised in a small town near Allentown, Pa.

Whitehead (CAS ’03) was among the youngsters who found escape in the fantastic. He began writing stories at age 8 or 9 and published his first story in the fifth grade. It was called Siphon, and it was a “terrible little fantasy,” he says, laughing. Terrible or not, Whitehead was hooked.

Years later, Whitehead found inspiration at a summer job in a paint factory. Born that summer was the idea for Whitehead’s first published novel, The Scorpion’s Weather (PublishAmerica), which came out last year. In the novel, a Scrooge-like protagonist is visited by a ghost, which allows him to relive his past. Much of the novel is based loosely on stories told by Whitehead’s grandparents, who lived on New York’s Staten Island during the Great Depression.

Whitehead is working on film scripts and pursuing a master’s degree in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. But he says he’ll always return to his first love, fantasy writing: “It’s freeing.”
—Kris B. Mamula

The WPA History of the Negro in Pittsburgh

A roomful of Pitt undergraduates huddled over heaps of paper. They were trying to make sense of a project nearly 70 years old: the history of the Negro in Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh Professor J. Ernest Wright started compiling the history in 1936 through the Works Progress Administration, which was a New Deal program designed to give work to people during the Depression.

Congress terminated funds for the program in 1939, stranding the project. A few decades later, Clarence Rollo Turner, a Black studies professor at Pitt, began editing the manuscript, but when he died in 1993, the project stalled again.

A few years later, enter Larry Glasco, an associate professor of history at Pitt. He decided that the nearly illegible manuscript was too valuable to sit any longer. With the help of his huddling students, he triumphed by completing an edited compilation of The WPA History of the Negro in Pittsburgh (University of Pittsburgh Press). Through historical accounts, transcripts of letters and newspaper articles, and personal recollections, the book provides comprehensive information about African American culture in Pittsburgh—from the aftermath of slavery to the heyday of Wylie Avenue jazz clubs.
—MD


 
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