The Daily


An Editor Abroad: Pittsburgh

October 1, 2010 | by

Inspecting Winifred Lutz's Garden Installation through hole in wall. Photograph by David Keaton.

According to the timetable of the Capitol Limited, I spent exactly twenty-four hours and one minute in Pittsburgh. It felt, I am pleased to report, more like a week.

In the first place, I met one of my literary heroes, Chuck Kinder. Chuck is a legend in Pittsburgh. Among other things, he is the real-life inspiration behind Michael Chabon's Wonderboys. If you've seen the movie, he's Michael Douglas. Only Chuck's funnier and better-looking and West Virginian. Also, in real life his manuscript doesn't blow away (it, Honeymooners, was the first novel I ever signed up for FSG). After years of phone discussions and sheafs of correspondence, he more than lived up to his reputation for hospitality. In fact, he and his wife, Diane Cecily, and their friends were so hospitable, I almost missed my midnight train. And would hardly have minded if I had.

I cannot tell you all the things we did. The day’s events, included, in no particular order, a guided tour of the magical Mattress Factory (pictured above and below); a leisurely rooftop interview with the charming Guatemalan journalist Silvia Duarte; two fiction readings; a lively staged talk with the book critic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, including the by-now requisite opinions on Jonathan Franzen qua bestseller; a studio visit with Diane Samuels, who is copying Fagles’s Odyssey (in a tiny, elegant hand) onto a large painting of the street behind the house where she lives with Henry Reese, director of City of Asylum (I can’t even begin to describe City of Asylum!); and a multigenerational farewell party at Chuck and Diane’s, where I learned much that I had never guessed about the moped scene in Cincinnati (it’s coed, and it’s hopping), the early history of the nickelodeon, how to roast a groundhog (use a corn cob), the difficulties of writing closed captions for girl-on-girl pornography [moans intensify], and the Depression-era practice of using textbooks for fuel. About which last factoid I remain skeptical.

With Henry Reese and photographer David Keaton in Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Dots Mirrored Room. Photograph by David Keaton.

Also in Pittsburgh I was told by an Amtrak ticket agent—for the second time in exactly two days—“You won't make your train,” then sent running down a platform while somebody woke up the sleeping-car attendant, who was cheerful and informal about it and made up my berth in his boxers.



  1. Susan | October 1, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    My city, though I don’t live there now. I miss it. Thanks for not saying, “Wow, I can hardly believe Pgh is so great.” Of course it is. Cheers.

  2. Amy | October 2, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    I see that my work was seriously misrepresented by my significant other once again. I’m glad two years of work toward reclaiming the value of textbooks as objects of meaningful historical inquiry into education’s influence on social and cultural constructions of identity has translated to him as a rousing conversation about book burning. It’s not your fault that Dave gets constantly hung up on the one incidental anecdote about a book that may or may not have been burned.

  3. John Lithgow's Preacher in Footloose | October 2, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    You know who could answer the question whether books got burned or not? Me.

  4. Lorin Stein | October 6, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Amy, don’t blame your s.o. The self-immolating textbook is to textbook publishers what the unified field theory is to quantum physics. I heard “burn their own textbooks” and got carried away.

  5. sally anne | October 6, 2010 at 2:56 pm


  6. M.M. | October 12, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    Hang on, your tongue’s not out in that first photo, is it?

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