Skip to content

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 where 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, to be held Saturday, May 14, in several venues throughout Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood.

More than 30 local and national authors and poets will speak during the daylong event, running from 10 am to 6:30 pm Described as “paying tribute to Pittsburgh’s rich literary community and love of reading,” the festival’s theme is “Pittsburgh Through the Pages .” It will also feature hands-on children’s activities and entertainment, and exhibitions from bookstores and publishers. All events are free with online registration required at pittsburghbookfestival.org.

The festival’s star attraction is performer Billy Porter, the Pittsburgh native with Emmy, Tony and Grammy awards to his name. He will be discussing his new memoir “Unprotected” at noon in the Kelly Strayhorn Theater — but reservations for his session were filled within hours of its announcement.

“Billy has not forgotten his roots, and his love of 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 inOakland.

Novelist Jennifer Haigh, a Cambria County native, will speak about her seventh and latest book, “Mercy Street,” which has been receiving rave reviews across the nation, including the cover of the New York Times Book Review. Set at a women’s reproductive health clinic in Boston, “Mercy Street” is ever-so timely for its “exploration of the precarious status of safe, legal abortion,” as reviewer Ron Charles said in The Washington Post. Haigh speaks at 3:30 pm at the Kelly Strayhorn.

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

“There is so much literary talent here,” Cohen said. “The support we’ve received from the literary community has been wonderful.”

More than 1,500 people have registered so far.

The activities for kids and teens make up a large part of the festival, with a puppet show from Pittsburgh Puppet Works and the “Biggest Bedtime Story” presented by Fred Rogers Productions. Winners of a slam poetry workshop at Propel Andrew Street High School will present their work. Writers of young adult fiction will speak in the afternoon. Shuttle service is provided for youth from Homewood and the Hill District.

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

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

Courtesy of Judith Robinson

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

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

Judith Robinson of Oakland will present her newest 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 from the early 20th century. King, a Ligonier resident who is the former head of the Heinz Endowments and Pittsburgh Foundation, is the author of the “The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers.” Lippincott is a former curator of fine arts at the Carnegie Museum of Art, where she managed its Kane collection.

5018753_web1_ptr-bookfestival-kane-2

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 that the festival will become an annual event. Pittsburgh is a “book city,” King said. “To be able 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 through a grant awarded by 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 youth through May 23, launched by Grable Foundation.

Book festival events will be taking place at 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 whole event is inspired by the joy of books. “There is beauty in physically turning pages of a book,” he said. “It’s about saving your place, with a bookmark. You don’t get the same feel of an illustration when you see it on a screen. Kids can interact with a book. There is a tactile 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, jharrop@triblive.com or via Twitter .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.