What to Read Before You Head to Pittsburgh


Of the 10 plays August Wilson wrote — two of which won him the Pulitzer Prize — nine were based in and around the Hill District in Pittsburgh; he chronicled the city’s changing landscape over decades. He is not the only writer to have chosen the Steel City as a backdrop. Below, one book explores the places that influenced Mr. Wilson’s plays, and two others reimagine Pittsburgh’s people and culture.

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AUGUST WILSON
Pittsburgh Places in His Life and Plays
By Laurence A. Glasco, Christopher Rawson
146 pp. Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation (2015; second edition).

For a visual tour of the historical sites that figure in Mr. Wilson’s work, turn to this book. It includes photographs of places like the apartment where he lived on Bedford Avenue, and locations name-dropped in his plays like West Funeral Home and what used to be Lutz’s Market. The guide also features essays that contextualize his work, as well as personal introductions written by his niece Kimberly C. Ellis and another by Sala Udin, a lifelong friend. The foldout maps make it an ideal companion for a traveler. (For further insight into Wilson’s life and works, keep an eye out for the first biography of the American icon by Patti Hartigan, a former theater critic for The Boston Globe, which is in the works and set to be released in 2019 by 37 Ink, an imprint of Atria Books.)

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THE STORIES OF JOHN EDGAR WIDEMAN
By John Edgar Wideman
432 pp. Pantheon Books (1992).

Mr. Wideman is another Pittsburgh native who has set many of his novels and short stories in Homewood, a primarily African-American inner-city neighborhood. This volume brings together three short-story collections, including “Damballah,” the first of what critics call the Homewood books, “Fever” and “All Stories Are True.” “Damballah” begins in Africa and follows the family of John French through slavery and settlement in the North. “All Stories Are True,” on the other hand, contains more autobiographical work, such as “Backseat,” which digs into his family’s past and recounts Wideman’s memories of seeing a former girlfriend when he returns home for his grandmother’s funeral. The stories build upon one another, slowly putting together an image of Mr. Wideman’s Homewood: its churches, street corners and playground basketball courts.

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THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH
By Michael Chabon
297 pp. William Morrow & Company (1988).

Mr. Chabon’s first novel is a coming-of-age story about Art Bechstein, the son of a gangster who confronts both his family and his sexuality over the course of a summer in Pittsburgh. This exploration is helped along by the materialization of a new group of friends — a woman named Phlox and a gay man named Arthur Lecomte, both of whom become his lovers — and Cleveland, Arthur’s best friend. Art learned about his father’s nefarious business dealings as a teenager and resolved to reject his way of life. Yet “the barrier that stood between my family and my life” is breached when Cleveland begins to be mentored by his father. Mr. Chabon’s writing is elegant and vivid, as are his descriptions of Pittsburgh.

Correction: August 16, 2017

A previous version of this article included a reference to an outdated edition of “August Wilson: Pittsburgh Places in His Life and Plays,” by Christopher Rawson. The most recent edition was published in 2015, not 2011. The article also mischaracterized features in the same book that were written by Kimberly C. Ellis and Sala Udin. They each contributed personal introductions, not essays.

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