Voices: Celebrating the Beauty and Diversity of America’s Literary Landscape will offer its third round of author readings on Thursday, Mar. 25, at 8 p.m. This virtual gathering is hosted by the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg and is designed to celebrate the richness of human lives and stories. The event is free and open to the public. Please register in advance at https://bit.ly/2021VoicesRegistration to receive a confirmation email containing the information needed to join the Zoom gathering.
The March reading will feature a Poet Laureate, a National Book Award finalist, an Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize winner, and the author of acclaimed literary crime novels that have won and been nominated for too many national and international awards to count, including the Grand Prix de Litterature in France. This line-up includes
International award-winning crime writer William Boyle, Mississippi Poet Laureate Beth Ann Fennelly, poet Nancy Krygowski, and National Book Award finalist Deesha Philyaw. Pitt-Greensburg student Krystal Keller also will read from her work.
"Our writers come from such diverse backgrounds—the deep South, Brooklyn, and of course, Pittsburgh,” said Lori Jakiela, MFA, professor of English and Creative Writing. “We'll hear stories of church ladies and criminals, mothers and daughters, families and orphans. One upside of the pandemic is that technology has allowed us to bring together writers from all corners of the United States and share these wonderful voices with a wide audience. This is something that we, as a small undergraduate writing program with limited funding, wouldn't be able to do otherwise. It's such a gift for our students and our entire literary community to have these writers virtually with us each month."
Building on the campus’s long-running Written/Spoken Series, Voices showcases Pitt-Greensburg's focus on experiential learning by bringing together undergraduate student-writers with award-winning authors. The readings are funded in part through Pitt’s Year of Engagement initiative as well as through the Pitt-Greensburg Office of Student Life, the Academic Village, and the Student Government Association. The series is coordinated by Jakiela, Sheila Confer, EdD, director of the Academic Village, and Albert Thiel, director of Campus Center and Student Engagement.
“One unique thing about the Voices series is that it pairs student authors with our visiting writers,” said Jakiela. “This month, Krystal Keller, a senior at Pitt-Greensburg, will share her work.” A creative & professional writing major minoring in psychology and sociology, Keller grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, somewhere known for a statue that gets hit by cars frequently. The recipient of Pitt-Greensburg’s 2021 Scott Turow Award for Excellence in Fiction, she likes to write stories about people that don’t normally get attention, like the LGBT+ community.
Biographies for the authors participating in the March 25 event:
William M. Boyle lives in Oxford, MS, but his books are frequently set where he grew up in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and the Bronx. He is the author of five novels (all at Pegasus.com): Gravesend, which was nominated for the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière in France and shortlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger in the UK; The Lonely Witness, which was nominated for the Hammett Prize and the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière; A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself, an Amazon Best Book in 2019 and winner of the Prix Transfuge du meilleur polar étranger in France; City of Margins, a Washington Post Best Thriller and Mystery Book of 2020; and, most recently, Shoot the Moonlight Out, which will be published in November 2021. Boyle is a contributor to several magazines and newspapers including the Clarion Ledger and the Oxford American. He has also served on panels at the Mississippi Book Festival since 2015.
Boyle earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at the State University of New York (New Paltz) and has been an adjunct instructor in writing and rhetoric at the University of Mississippi in Oxford since 2012. He also has worked at The End of All Music (Oxford’s great record store) since 2013.
Beth Ann Fennelly, Poet Laureate of Mississippi, is a 2020 Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow. She teaches in the MFA Program at the University of Mississippi, where she was named Outstanding Teacher of the Year. Fennelly has won grants and awards from the NEA, the United States Artists, a Pushcart, and a Fulbright to Brazil. She has published six books—three of poetry: Open House, Tender Hooks, and Unmentionables, all with W. W. Norton. Fennelly's poetry has been in more than 50 anthologies, including Best American Poetry, The Book of Irish American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the Present, Poets of the New Century, and The Penguin Book of the Sonnet, as well as in textbooks such as Contemporary American Poetry and Literature.
Her forays into prose include a book of essays, Great With Child: Letters to a Young Mother (Norton, 2006), a novel co-authored with her husband Tom Franklin, The Tilted World (HarperCollins, 2013), and Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-memoirs (W.W. Norton, 2017), which was named an Atlanta Journal Constitution Best Book of 2017 and a Goodreads Favorite for 2017. She is a contributing editor to The Oxford American and also is a freelance writer on travel, culture, and design for many magazines. Her recent nonfiction awards include the Orlando Award in Nonfiction from A Room of Her Own, the Lamar York Prize from The Chattahoochee Review, and the Porter Fleming Award for Excellence in the Essay. She’s the first woman honored with the University of Notre Dame’s Distinguished Alumni in the Arts Award.
Nancy Krygowski’s first book of poems, Velocity, won the 2006 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. It was followed 14 years later by The Woman in the Corner, released in 2020. Kristoffer Collins, writing in the May 16, 2020, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, noted, “As a longtime admirer of her work I can very happily say it was worth the wait. In the ensuing years since that first book, her work has mellowed at the edges and lost some of its formal austerity. What the poems have gained is an easy amicability, a voice so graceful and good-humored, even when writhing with anger and indignity, you feel its loss, like the absence of a truly dear friend, when you close the cover after finishing the last poem.” He describes her poems as being “full of sharp detail, chattily funny, sexy as a lace negligee, and almost surgical in their ability to showcase the strength and fragility of the human heart.”
Krygowski pulls her inspiration from her experiences growing up in Youngstown, OH, as well as living in Washington, DC, New England, San Francisco, and Nebraska. Today, she lives and writes in Pittsburgh, a city she loves. She notes that it’s the sensibility of the city--finding the beautiful in the grit, in the destruction—that guides her writing. When she’s not writing, Krygowski is teaching English to refugees and immigrants at Literacy Pittsburgh, specializing in low-level, often low-literate learners. A recipient of MA and MFA degrees, she also teaches poetry workshops in Carlow University’s Madwomen in the Attic writing program.
Deesha Philyaw debuted her first short story collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, in 2020 to critical acclaim. The book won the 2020-2021 Story Prize and was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction, the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and a 2020 LA Times Book Prize: The Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. The book focuses on Black women, sex, and the Black church. A starred review in Kirkus Reviews describes the book as, "a collection of luminous stories populated by deeply moving and multifaceted characters. . . . Tender, fierce, proudly black and beautiful, these stories will sneak inside you and take root." The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is being adapted for television by HBO Max.
Philyaw, a Fellow at the Kimbilio Center for African American Fiction and a Pushcart Prize nominee, has had her work published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, and more. Her personal essay writing topics include race, sex, gender, and pop culture. She cites among her literary inspirations Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Bassey Ikpi, and Tyese Coleman. Her first non-fiction book, Co-Parenting 1010: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce, was written in collaboration with her ex-husband, Michael D. Thomas, and was released in 2013. Raised in Jacksonville, FL, Philyaw earned a BA in economics from Yale University and an MA in teaching from Manhattanville College.
The spring 2021 Voices: Celebrating the Beauty and Diversity of America’s Literary Landscape will conclude with the following authors:
April 22 -- Beyond Hillbilly Elegy -- featuring voices of Appalachia: Novelist Damian Dressick; author, storyteller, and photographer Greg Clary; and poet Byron Hoot.