Inaugural Greater Pittsburgh Festival of Books will bring stories to life

“Books take you to places you could never go. Books can also take you away from places you don’t want to be. A book can be like a best friend.”

That’s how Laurie Moser feels about the printed word — and what motivated her to serve as co-chair for the inaugural Greater Pittsburgh Festival of Books, held at various locations in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood on Saturday, May 14.

More than 30 local and national authors and poets will speak at the one-day event, which will run from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Described as “a tribute to Pittsburgh’s rich literary community and love of reading,” the festival’s theme is “Pittsburgh Through the Pages.” It will also provide hands-on activities and entertainment for children, and bookstore and publisher exhibits.All events are free with online registration required at pittsburghbookfestival.org.

The festival’s star attraction is Emmy, Tony and Grammy award-winning Pittsburgh artist Billy Porter. He will be discussing his new memoir “Unprotected” at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater at noon at noon — but reservations for his session were filled within hours of the announcement.

“Billy hasn’t forgotten his roots, and his love for Pittsburgh is good for the soul,” said Moser, who is also a co-founder of the Komen Pittsburgh Race for the Cure and creator of the Biggest Bedtime Story at the Petersen Events Center. in Oakland.

Born in Cambria County, novelist Jennifer Haigh will speak about her seventh and final novel, “Mercy Street,” which has received critical acclaim across the country, including the cover of the New York Times Book Review. Set in a Boston women’s reproductive health clinic, ‘Mercy Street’ is always so apt for its “examination of the precarious status of safe, legal abortion,” as reviewer Ron Charles said in The Washington Post. Haigh speaks at the Kelly Strayhorn at 3:30 PM.

The festival’s founder is Marshall Cohen, a Shadyside native who returned to the city in 2018 after a long career as a public affairs manager. Cohen has an extensive personal library and an unwavering passion for books. For example, he said he recently drove to Cleveland to meet a writer who was hosting a book signing because “being able to talk to the author is invaluable.” He and the other organizers plan to make the festival an annual event.

“There’s so much literary talent here,” Cohen said. “The support we have received from the literary community has been amazing.”

More than 1,500 people have already registered.

Kids and teen activities are a big part of the festival, featuring a Pittsburgh Puppet Works puppet show and the “Biggest Bedtime Story” presented by Fred Rogers Productions. Winners of a slam poetry workshop at Propel Andrew Street High School will showcase their work. In the afternoon writers of children’s literature have their say. A shuttle service is available for youth from Homewood and the Hill District.

Harrison resident Paola Corso will speak about her latest collection of poetry, “Vertical Bridges: Poems and Photographs of City Steps,” inspired by Pittsburgh’s many public stairways.

“It is a thrill and an honor to be a part of this event, which for me is literary history,” said Corso. “I wanted to give the stairs in the city I grew up in a personal perspective. I have an emotional connection with them.”

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Thanks to Judith Robinson

“Buy a Ticket: New and Selected Poems” by Judith Robinson

A host of poets will be presenting throughout the day in the “Poetry Allowed Tent” in Bakery Square. A keynote event will be led by Toi Derricotte, the longtime professor at the University of Pittsburgh, whose many national awards include the Academy of American Poetry Prize and the 2021 Wallace Stevens Award.

Judith Robinson from Oakland will present her latest collection ‘Buy a Ticket’. “This book festival is part of the cultural life of this great city,” said Robinson. ‘Buy A Ticket’ is dedicated to Pittsburgh: beautiful, rugged, nurturing city; my place in the world.”

Maxwell King and Louise Lippincott will speak about their book “American Workman: The Life and Art of John Kane,” about the self-taught Pittsburgh artist of the early 20th century. King, a native of Ligonier and former head of the Heinz Endowments and Pittsburgh Foundation, is the author of “The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers.” Lippincott is a former fine arts curator at the Carnegie Museum of Art, where she managed the Kane collection.

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Courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh Press

A page from “American Workman: The Life and Art of John Kane,” written by Maxwell King and Louise Lippincott.

King hopes the festival will become an annual event. Pittsburgh is a “book city,” King said. “To be part of a long literary tradition in Pittsburgh is just wonderful.”

Pittsburgh has more independent bookstores, relative to population, than any city in the country, according to 24/7 Wall St., a financial news website.

The festival is made possible by a grant from Community Infrastructure and Tourism through Allegheny County Economic Development, and support from Google Pittsburgh, Duolingo, University of Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Library System, Bakery Square, First National Bank, UPMC Health Plan , First National Bank, The Heinz Endowments, University of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County Library Association, Miller/McCurry, Edgar Snyder & Associates, NuGo Nutrition, as well as private donors.

The festival also coincides with the Pittsburgh-born Remake Learning Days – a national festival for families and young people through May 23, launched by Grable Foundation.

Book festival events will take place in Bakery Square, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh-East Liberty, Duolingo, East Liberty Presbyterian Church, the Kelly Strayhorn Theater and the Maverick hotel.

For festival founder Cohen, the entire event is inspired by the joy of books. “There’s beauty in physically turning the pages of a book,” he said. “It’s about saving your place, with a bookmark. You don’t get the same feeling from an illustration when you see it on a screen. Children can communicate with a book. There is a tangible part of the design. They can feel the story and be part of the journey.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062, [email protected] or via Twitter

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