Monday, February 11, 2008

Pittsburgh: Food Journey through a Literary Landscape

I was in Pittsburgh for a wedding a few weeks ago (yes, Pittsburgh in January; yes, it snowed!). While there, I had the chance to take a quick visit to the old market area, the Strip District. After we ate at Pittsburgh’s famous (since the 1920s) Primanti Brothers (where the French fries are served ON your sandwich; yum!) we checked out the market area, popping into sausage shops, Italian food stores, Greek food stores, bakeries, a candy store, and a grocery store with a man playing an accordion outside the door. After I asked him if he would switch to a polka, everyone who came by literally danced through the electric doors, instead of walking. After we, too, danced through the doors, we bought some great natural-casing hot dogs to take home and a giant jar of my favorite brand of Polish sauerkraut. On our way back to the car, we stopped at the Polish Catholic church to buy some homemade prune pierogis (my grandmother’s favorite) from two ladies at a card table, one Polish-American, one a Filipino woman who, we were told, “is practically Polish.” She showed off the results of her Polish language lessons…pretty impressive, at least to me, who speaks not a word of Polish despite my exciting last name with the challenging Z.

In the midst of this neighborhoods were nightclubs and fancier restaurants featuring “small plates” and so on. Clearly this neighborhood is in flux—which is the way healthy, vibrant cities are, always dynamic and changing. Even so, I felt as though we had stumbled into a glimpse of the past that you just don’t get at a suburban mall.

So, how does this relate to anything? All the while, I was thinking about what a great setting Pittsburgh would be for a literary work (or a TV show or a movie). I longed to know more about the area so I could write about it, though I recognized that it’s definitely the kind of place where you don’t just show up and think you know everything about it. It seemed like a city where people’s roots run deep, where there are secrets and secret ways that people from the outside wouldn’t guess. (For example, at the wedding, there was a traditional Pittsburgh “cookie table”: friends and relatives of the bride bring homemade cookies that are set up on a huge table…guests can nibble during cocktails, during dinner, and if there are any left, during dessert!)

I’m not the only one who suspects that Pittsburgh offers great potential for literary exploration. Here’s a call for submissions that I wish I could follow up on! Maybe I could write about my fascination with the cookie table??

Call for Submissions: Pittsburgh in Words

Creative Nonfiction is seeking new essays about Pittsburgh, its people, its heritage and its potential. These essays will be published online and in print in fall 2008 as part of “Pittsburghin Words,” a celebration of the city’s 250th anniversary.

Essays will be selected through a competitive process. The deadline for submissions is March 15, 2008. Please send a one-page abstract of the proposed essay, accompanied by a writing sample of no more than ten (10) pages and a cover letter with complete contact information to:
Creative Nonfiction
Attn: Pittsburgh in Words
5501 Walnut Street, Suite 202
Pittsburgh, PA 15232
Electronic submissions may be sent to

In addition to publication, writers whose essays are selected will receive mentoring from Creative Nonfiction editors and a scholarship for a Creative Nonfiction Writing Institute in fall 2008.

Examples of the type of work that will be selected for “Pittsburgh in Words” may be found in Creative Nonfiction Issue #15: “Lessons in Persuasion,” which included essays by well-known Pittsburgh writers such as Peter S. Beagle, Diane Ackerman and Hilary Masters. Other examples might include excerpts from Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood, John Edgar Wideman’s Hoop Roots, and Gerald Stern’s What I Can’t Bear Losing: Notes from a Life.

Please email any questions to

Creative Nonfiction is an internationally distributed literary journal based in Pittsburgh, PA, and edited by the award-winning author Lee Gutkind. Creative Nonfiction publishes personal essays,memoir, and literary journalism by established authors such as Diane Ackerman, Annie Dillard and John McPhee, as well as showcasing emerging talent. Each issue wraps itself around a meaningful topic, resulting in thought-provoking, high quality, accessible prose.

“Pittsburgh in Words” is generously supported by the Heinz Endowments.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.