Friday, June 26, 2015

SCOTUS ruling legalizes same-sex marriage nationwide

Posted By on Fri, Jun 26, 2015 at 1:13 PM

City Paper's 2014 cover when same-sex marriage was legalized in Pennsylvania. - PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL
  • Photo by Heather Mull
  • City Paper's 2014 cover when same-sex marriage was legalized in Pennsylvania.
In a 5-4 decision, The Supreme Court of the United States ruled this morning that laws banning the rights of same-sex couples to marry are unconstitutional.

In the opinion Judge Anthony Kennedy wrote:

"The history of marriage as a union between two persons of the opposite sex marks the beginning of these cases. To the respondents, it would demean a timeless institution if marriage were extended to same-sex couples. But the petitioners, far from seeking to devalue marriage, seek it for themselves because of their respect—and need—for its privileges and responsibilities, as illustrated by the petitioners’ own experiences.

"...Decisions about marriage are among the most intimate that an individual can make. ... This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation. ...There is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle, yet same-sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage and are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would find intolerable. It is demeaning to lock same-sex couples out of a central institution of the Nation’s society, for they too may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage."

The ruling today is obviously a huge win for members of the LGBT community, however, there is still plenty of work ahead for legislators and activists, especially in Pennsylvania. As we've reported many times, Pennsylvania, while offering same-sex marriage, doesn't actually have any laws on the books preventing discrimination against LGBT individuals. Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf mentioned that fact in a statement this morning:

"On the heels of the Supreme Court’s action today, the Pennsylvania legislature should stand-up and pass non-discrimination for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians, so that they can no longer be discriminated against in employment or housing for being who they are.”

Below are local and state reactions to SCOTUS' ruling:

Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf: “Today, the Supreme Court affirmed that no American can be denied the right to marry because of who they love. This historic ruling is a victory for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians and allies. ‘Gay marriage’ is now simply marriage and the pursuit of happiness will no longer be denied for same-sex couples." 

Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania
: “This is an historic and joyous occasion. We know from our experience here in Pennsylvania that no one is hurt when people are allowed to marry the person he or she loves. We should all be proud of this victory for equality, freedom, and love. It is an important step on this country’s journey to full acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.”

Michael Morrill, Executive Director of Keystone Progress: "This morning’s Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges is the last hurdle for same sex couples seeking marriage equality. The justices found that the Constitution guarantees equal treatment under the law for LGBT Americans, which is a right extended to state-issued marriage licenses. All Americans can marry whomever they love no matter what state they live in; when they travel from state to state the legal status of their marriage is recognized by law everywhere. This is a great day for all of Pennsylvania's families."

Democratic state Sen. Daylin Leach: “I am overjoyed. The Court's historic decision granting marriage rights to same-sex couples is a triumph for values that all Americans hold dear: liberty, justice, and equal treatment under the law. In the decades since Stonewall, Americans have fought, bled, and even died in their pursuit of this historic achievement. We have them to thank and remember as we celebrate this momentous decision with the people we love.”

Pa. Lt. Gov. Mike Stack: “I applaud the United States Supreme Court for ruling in favor of equality and human rights, and I congratulate members of the LGBTQ community for winning the fight they have waged for so long. “Love prevailed in the Supreme Court decision. The pursuit of happiness is a fundamental right that dates back to the very founding of this nation. LGBTQ rights are human rights, and everyone deserves to be able to marry the person they love. “I’m proud to support marriage equality in Pennsylvania and beyond.”

Many folks also took to Twitter to celebrate the ruling today:
gay_marriage_tweets.jpg

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Magnetic Chart of 2016 Primary Awesomeness Welcomes Bobby Jindal

Posted By on Wed, Jun 24, 2015 at 2:56 PM

magnet_jindal.jpg


The field of Republicans vying for the presidential nomination just jumped to Lucky 13! Louisiana's governor Bobby Jindal made it official today. (In both parties, there are now seven current or former governors in the running, with still two more waiting in the wings.)

As of today, Jindal's Twitter page header features a photo of the governor posing shamelessly with the Duck Dynasty dudes, but for us, the winner is this earlier snap from May in which the gov is being photobombed by a bear, a.k.a. the "state mammal."

magnet_bear.jpg


Stay tuned to City Paper for updates to the Magnetic Chart of 2016 Primary Awesomeness, as well as upcoming coverage of Election 2016.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Pittsburgh 350 climate activists march ahead of Paris talks

Posted By on Tue, Jun 23, 2015 at 12:43 PM

Pittsburgh 350, a climate activist group, marched along the Allegheny River this weekend. - PHOTO BY AARON WARNICK
  • Photo by Aaron Warnick
  • Pittsburgh 350, a climate activist group, marched along the Allegheny River this weekend.

On Sunday, Pittsburgh 350, a local chapter of the climate-activist group 350.org and which is supported by numerous other groups, led a Climate Action Rally at Allegheny Commons East Park.

Concerned Western Pennsylvanians gathered to air grievances over dirty air, to preach against oil over the sound of a bomb train — the name given to trains carrying crude oil at risk of derailing — on the nearby track, and to caution about climate change as the crowd baked under a hot Pittsburgh summer sun.

“This is the most important issue of this century” said Thom Crown of Lawrenceville. “Well, actually, it’s the most important issue of the last century … but now the conversation is beginning to change and things may actually happen.”

Crown came to the event with his wife JoAnne Buchanan and 15-year-old granddaughter Hope. Crown and Buchanan are members of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy organization.

“I just wish I had seen more younger people,” Buchanan said. “That generation is the one that is going to be stuck with this. We’re really at a critical point."

Attendees ranged from the neighbors of industrial sites in Pittsburgh to homeowners from Greensburg who fear they’re brewing their morning coffee with frack water.

The event was attended by “around 200 throughout the day” estimated Peter Wray, a member of Pittsburgh 350’s steering committee.

“Our next goal is to get the word out to a much broader populace,” Wray said by phone on Monday.

The day started with about 30 people taking a very hot 6-mile hike from the Shenango Coke Plant to the park on the “Walk for Paris,” named for the upcoming United Nations climate summit to take place in France later this year. Afterwards, the group rallied and gained numbers at Allegheny Commons East Park to hear some speakers before a small cohort marched along Allegheny River Walk.

Mayor Bill Peduto opened the event with remarks, calling for his electorate to push Pittsburgh into being a model for environmental change.

"We have to decide locally whether we take up [clean energy initiatives] and become a model for other cities to follow and show that it can work or if we decide to be left behind in the 21st century and simply become irrelevant," Peduto said.

Video by Aaron Warnick

City Councilor Dan Gilman followed Peduto’s speech to read a proclamation that made June 21 “Climate Action Day” in Pittsburgh.

“These challenges start with very local efforts,” Councilor Dan Gilman said before reading the proclamation. “This is a truly global effort.”

Several other leaders of other local environmental groups took the stage to advocate different approaches to climate action afterwards. Many speakers referred back to Pope Francis’s newly released encyclical on climate change which was cited as a the precursor to the actions on Sunday

After the event, Wray said he was impressed with the “exceptional speakers” and the climate action solutions they presented.

“From here, we need to keep the pressure on state legislation for support of green energy” Wray says.

Pittsburgh 350 says their goal is to influence U.S. diplomats in pushing for climate action at the summit in December. 

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Friday, June 19, 2015

From Rome to Pittsburgh: Local groups rally for Climate Action after Pope's remarks

Posted By on Fri, Jun 19, 2015 at 3:22 PM

Pittsburgh 350 launch - PHOTO COURTESY OF PITTSBURGH 350
  • Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh 350
  • Pittsburgh 350 launch
On Thursday, Pope Francis, in an address to all people of the earth wrote that “the earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”

The Pope’s words had been anticipated and local environmentalist group Pittsburgh 350, a chapter of the national group 350.org, organized a rally and procession for this Sunday in advance of the edict to go green from his Holiness. With a major climate summit to be held in Paris later this year, Pittsburgh 350 felt that an event coinciding with the Pope’s declaration was opportune.

“It gives us a moral basis for strong actions in Paris in December. That is our main focus at the moment,” Peter Wray of Pittsburgh 350’s steering committee says. “We want to provide support and encouragement for the U.S. to take a very strong role there.”

Pittsburgh 350 has partnered with over 30 other environmental, civic and faith groups to organize the events. Information on the event, including a list of participating organizations, can be found here.

While there is a higher purpose involved, the events will dually serve to give locals the opportunity to march and express their concerns and listen to local leaders and academics give lectures on the importance of climate action.

In the morning, Pittsburgh 350 is leading a “Walk for Paris.” While the walk isn’t nearly the 3,886 mile gap between Pittsburgh and Paris, it is still a quite long 6.5-mile march from the Shenango Coke Plant to the East Allegheny Commons, where a rally will be held.

City Councilor Dan Gilman will open the event by proclaiming June 21 as Climate Action Day. Several speakers will follow, and Mayor Bill Peduto will close the event with remarks.

The rally will be held rain or shine. If skies looks like they will rain on the parade, Wray says they'll move the rally indoors to a nearby church.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Organ convention comes to Pittsburgh, highlights St. Paul's Cathedral instrument

Posted By on Thu, Jun 18, 2015 at 3:36 PM

organ.jpg

There’s a famous Mozart quote in which he calls the organ “the king of instruments.” The French composer Hector Berlioz went a little deeper with it, referring to the organ and orchestra as “pope and emperor,” respectively. Less majestically, Bach said of playing the instrument, “There’s nothing to it.”

For a longer, more verifiable quote, ask Nathan Laube. He’s the assistant professor of organ at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and an elite organist who spends time between classes performing all over the world.

“In this instrument you have this incredible crossroads of so many different crafts, of instrument building, of acoustic, of architecture, of sound, of the repertoire of music history,” says Laube, 26. “When people ‘get the organ’, so to speak, they’re hooked for life.”

This Sunday, Pittsburgh will host the American Guild of Organists Mid-Atlantic Regional Convention, a four-day celebration of the instrument with performances, panels and workshops, spread across Pittsburgh’s wealth of churches. The event isn’t strictly religious, as with the organ it’s more or less impossible to separate the instrument from its religious origins. But the agenda is pretty robust, ranging from classes on “handbell techniques” to a live scoring of Charlie Chaplin’s The Immigrant, to a trip on the Gateway Clipper.

Joining Laube on the marquee of featured performers are renowned organists David Briggs and Ann Elise Smoot, as well as the Grammy-award winning male chorus group, Chanticleer.

Pittsburgh, whether you know it or not, is a good place to be an organist, says Larry Allen, the convention committee chair and organist at Mt. Lebanon United Lutheran Church. AGO’s National Convention is held every other year, so in the off-years, cities apply for the opportunity to host its regional counterpart. After winning the bid for 2015, Allen and the Pittsburgh AGO committee have spent the past two and half years planning this week’s convention.

”If you look at AGO chapters around the country, I think Pittsburgh would come up in the top group very easily,” says Allen. Besides the city’s abundance of churches, (”Let’s face it, most organs are in churches, so that’s where you have to go,” says Allen), Pittsburgh is home to the Organ Artists Series, a program founded by AGO’s Pittsburgh chapter that has been bringing international stars of the craft to the city to perform for over 30 years.

But the real star of Pittsburgh’s organ scene is, fittingly, an organ. St. Paul’s Cathedral in Oakland is home to one of the most unique organs in North America, built by the 
The von Beckerath organ in St. Paul's Cathedral in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood - PHOTO COURTESY OF ST. PAUL'S CATHEDRAL
  • Photo courtesy of St. Paul's Cathedral
  • The von Beckerath organ in St. Paul's Cathedral in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood
German builder Rudolf von Beckerath in 1962. The von Beckerath is an icon in American organ music and one of the first instruments of its kind in the United States, says Allen.

“It has tracker action, which means that the keys which the organist plays directly control the opening and closing of the pipes and therefore the speech of the pipe can be altered by the type of touch the organist plays,” Allen wrote in an email. “The organ and the acoustic at St. Paul are one of the finest combinations in Pittsburgh.”

That’s the draw that makes the von Beckerath, and by extension, organs so special. It’s all about the marriage of the instrument and the space, how the two interact. While they are not “permanent” in the strict sense — they can be removed or replaced — organs are generally built for the spaces they’re in. The venue is part of the instrument.

”What we have that’s so unique at St. Paul’s is an instrument that has a crystalline clarity and very poetic individual instrumental stops within the instrument,” says Laube, who will perform on the organ Monday. “It’s framed by such a beautiful architectural and acoustic context and that brings yet another dimension to the experience of listening to that music.”

With that kind of versatility, Laube is planning a program that plays to the organ’s many strengths, including pieces from modern American, late Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance, and German Romantic music.

The theme for the 2015 AGO Mid-Atlantic Regional Convention is “Bridges to the Future” and Laube, at 26, represents something of a generational ambassador for the music. Considering its religious context and dependence on physical space (which doesn’t really translate to YouTube), bridging the gap to younger generations is a tall order, says Laube. But he’s not deterred.

“It isn’t going anywhere,” says Laube. “As long as we have people who will play it well, who will take care of them and people who will respect what they mean to our musical society.”

Kicking off the convention is David Briggs, who’ll perform a live, improvised score to Charlie Chaplin’s silent film The Immigrant on Sunday night. That event, as well as Chanticleer’s close-out performance on Wednesday, will be open to the public. The rest of the events require registration, which is closed. A full program for the convention can be found here

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Officials say East Liberty is among best examples of city's 'renaissance,' residents disagree

Posted By on Thu, Jun 18, 2015 at 1:21 PM

PHOTO BY ALEX ZIMMERMAN
  • Photo by Alex Zimmerman
East Liberty residents, businesses owners and activists gathered in Bakery Square this morning to protest a conference hosted in Pittsburgh by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, which is championing the neighborhood as a model of equitable development.

The goal of the conference, titled "Policy Summit on Housing, Human Capital, and Inequality," is to highlight "the latest research and field initiatives on topics related to equitable development." It will feature the voices of heavy-hitters in politics (including Mayor Bill Peduto, whose office did not immediately comment), academia, and the development community.

But some are raising concerns that the conference is treating East Liberty as the paradigmatic example of urban redevelopment and ignoring its history of displacement and larger affordable housing problems.

The conference includes a panel called "Reversing Decline: How East Liberty Became One of Pittsburgh’s—and the Nation's—Most Up-and-Coming Neighborhoods" and supports the idea that "economic revitalization strategies transformed this neighborhood" and "benefited existing residents while attracting new development."
Alethea Sims - PHOTO BY ALEX ZIMMERMAN
  • Photo by Alex Zimmerman
  • Alethea Sims


That narrative doesn't jive with Alethea Sims, an East Liberty resident who was displaced from the East Mall high-rise which was razed about a decade ago. "I can't shake the feeling that a lot of this is deliberate," says Sims, who adds that she was "fortunate" to stay in the neighborhood while many other tenants were not.

"When you're building housing [low-income people] can't afford, that's not a model," she says.

Sims was joined by roughly two dozen others who walked around Bakery Square, where summit members toured this morning.

Helen Gerhardt, who sits on the housing committee of the city's Commission on Human Relations and organized the protest, provided statistics from the Coalition of Organized Residents of East Liberty that show that over the last 15 years in East Liberty, 764 "deep subsidy" units were lost and replaced "mostly with shallow subsidy, for-sale and market rental units."

Darrell Robinson, East Liberty resident - PHOTO BY ALEX ZIMMERMAN
  • Photo by Alex Zimmerman
  • Darrell Robinson, East Liberty resident
"We want development strategies that are truly equitable," says Gerhardt, who emphasizes that she doesn't speak for the commission. "We want to call out the institutions [and] developers who are making a profit ... we are calling in all of the people concerned about these issues."

Throughout the day, Gerhardt says, they will engage with members of the policy summit to share residents' stories about how development has affected them. There will be a second rally this afternoon at 5:30 p.m. in Mellon Square Park followed by a screening of East of Liberty, which captures "the most recent damages of East Liberty resident and small business displacement." The film, by Chris Ivey,  will start at 7:30 p.m., in the human services building, One Smithfield Ave., Downtown.

Update: After this story was published, city Housing Manager Kyle Chintalapalli responded to a City Paper inquiry through a spokesperson:

While we have made progress on affordable housing developments in Uptown and East Liberty, and the development momentum in our city has drawn national and international attention, we have much work to do to realign our approach to development in priority communities. Our administration is working to eliminate the long backlog of housing vouchers and to convert vacant and abandoned homes to livable neighborhoods. We are also collaborating with neighborhood partners before, during, and after development occurs. We look forward to having a robust, productive community discussion on these issues in the coming months through the work of the Affordable Housing Task Force in close consultation with the Building Inclusive Communities Work Group through the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania.

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County Health Department debuting new 'Healthier Allegheny' plan at community meetings

Posted By on Thu, Jun 18, 2015 at 12:03 PM

IMAGE COURTESY OF THE ALLEGHENY COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT
  • Image courtesy of the Allegheny County Health Department
The Allegheny County Health Department is taking its Plan for a Healthier Allegheny on a small, four-stop tour.

The plan, introduced in May, seeks to educate county residents on the most “critical” facets of health care in the region.

“The foundation of good public health is to understand where you are and identify where you want to go,” ACHD Director Dr. Karen Hacker says.

The primary areas of the plan are: access to health care; chronic-disease health-risk behaviors; environmental dangers; maternity and child care; mental health; and substance abuse. The areas were chosen after a "fairly rigorous process," Hacker says, that included: an online community-health survey, 14 community meetings, an examination of existing data and input from an advisory committee. More information on that process can be found here.

While the larger plan seeks to address these primary concerns, the open-house events will operate more like health-care fairs, Hacker says. The ACHD and its community partners will set up tables to showcase online resources and introduce attendees to the master plan.

"The whole point here is to get a community consensus going to really drive change," Hacker says. "Having a plan that we can all get behind and work together on is the first step."

The greater vision of the initiative is set to roll out over a five-year period. Hacker says ACHD introduced the plan to “lead health improvement” by “[giving] everyone common goals.” Additionally, she says, the health department is seeking accreditation, and the plan is a step in the process toward that status. 

"I think the main thing is [that] the accreditation provides a real road map for improvement as a health department, and [the plan] was a very helpful organization strategy for us here at ACHD," Hacker says.

The open houses begin next week. 

Meeting dates and locations:

6:30-8 p.m. Mon., June 22. Castle Shannon Library, 3677 Myrtle Ave., Castle Shannon. 412-563-4552

6:30-8 p.m. Tue., June 23. Allegheny Intermediate Unit, 475 E. Waterfront Drive, Homestead. 412-394-5700

6:30-8 p.m. Tue., July 7. Baierl Family YMCA, 2565 Nicholson Road, Sewickley. 724-934-9622

6:30-8 p.m. Mon., July 27. Thelma Lovette YMCA, 2114 Centre Ave., Hill District. 412-315-0990

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lucy Spruill, transit/disability rights advocate, dies at 70

Posted By on Wed, Jun 17, 2015 at 5:12 PM

Not long after the Americans With Disabilities Act took effect, Port Authority was contemplating reducing some of its paratransit service to help finance the cost of making its bus fleet accessible under the new law.
Lucy Spruill - PHOTO COURTESY OF COMMUNITY LIVING AND SUPPORT SERVICES
  • Photo courtesy of Community Living and Support Services
  • Lucy Spruill


It was Christmas Eve — “We were down to the deadline,” as Paul O'Hanlon remembers it — when Lucy Spruill picked up the phone and called then Port Authority CEO Bill Millar to try to persuade him to find another solution.

“Port Authority said, ‘OK, let’s try a cooperative approach,” says O'Hanlon, a disability rights activist. "As a consequence, Port Authority was the first major bus provider to become ADA compliant in the country. She was instrumental in getting the very first paratransit system up and running here."

To those who worked with Spruill, who lived in Squirrel Hill and died last night at age 70, the story is emblematic of much of her career: a relentless effort to advocate for those who are often marginalized. She served as the city's first ADA coordinator, was a founding member of PAT's Committee for Accessible Transportation and was among the first to sit on the city-county task force on disabilities. She most recently served on the city's planning commission, as an adjunct professor at Pitt and as the director of public policy and community relations for Community Living and Support Services (CLASS). She retired from that post in February.

Born with spina bifida in Washington, D.C., Spruill lived in Greene County before moving to Pittsburgh, where she received her bachelor's degree and master's of social work from the University of Pittsburgh. Her experience with a disability "created a lived experience for her about the discrimination and sometimes devaluation that sometimes happens with people with disabilities," says Al Condeluci, CEO of CLASS, who notes she spent much of her life in a wheelchair. "I think that was the corpus of [her] passion."

“It was part of her success story – overcoming these barriers for herself and other members of the community,” adds Jim Spruill, Lucy Spruill's son, who declined to discuss her cause of death. “Really her first political activism was in the civil rights movement.”

Her colleagues at CLASS, an organization devoted to advocating and caring for people with disabilities, say she was instrumental in developing its Attendant Care Program starting in 1998, an effort to provide in-home care that has since served well over 1,000 people. "She totally turned the whole system on its ear," says Jeff Parker, a former colleague at CLASS, noting she wasn't interested in a one-size-fits-all approach and instead wanted to "find out exactly what the person needs and how they need it."

And she wasn't afraid to make her principles known — in no uncertain terms — to those in power. “I remember very early on being at a meeting with [Spruill] and mayor Murhpy when Murphy was just elected," recalls CLASS CEO Condeluci. "Murphy could be very caustic ... All I remember is Lucy went toe to toe with the mayor and wouldn’t back down." He later hired her to work on ADA issues for the city.

And even later in life, she "was still watching what was happening at the state [level] and how that will affect people with disabilities," Parker says. “There won’t be another Lucy.”

Update: After this story was published, Mayor Bill Peduto released the following written statement:

I knew Lucy for twenty years. During that time, she was a mentor, a friend and an advocate. She was a leading voice in educating Pittsburgh about the critical ways we could be more open to people with needs. She was a fearless fighter and a gracious leader. She will be missed.

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Steel City Folk School offers variety of free classes

Posted By on Wed, Jun 17, 2015 at 4:31 PM

In the Google age, where any question can be solved with a click and a short YouTube video can walk one through installing a water heater, we can forget the value of gathering together in a classroom and sharing the experience of learning.

But if you’re itching to discover something new or just want to meet some new faces, then Steel City Folk School may be for you.

This Saturday, at the Waldorf School of Pittsburgh in Bloomfield, the Steel City Folk School offers 11 distinct free courses taught by qualified faculty. Made possible by a grant from the Sprout Fund, the Folk School's goal is to create a community of learning that nurtures mind, body and heart.

Courses offered this Saturday include “Human Awareness: Buddhist Teaching on Simplicity and Dynamism,” taught by Buddhist minister and Harvard doctoral candidate Adam Lobel. The six-hour class will break down the distinctions between psychological terms such as mind, thought, consciousness and awareness using the Buddhist tradition, and introduce meditation practices.

“Introduction to Practical Tile Installation” is taught by Julie Stunden, a former University of Pittsburgh professor and owner of Studen Studios Tile Installation. Participants will learn everything from planning installation and using the necessary tools to the makeup of the ceramic and how to treat and fix cracks.

So whether you want to learn about the basics of soil ecology in the urban environment of Pittsburgh (from Molly Mehling) or how to get the most out of your vinyl record-player (from record collector Mac Howison), the Steel City Folk School is a great way to satisfy a curiosity or learn a new skill and connect with the community.

All courses require pre-registration, and all are free except for materials. 

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Hilary Masters, 1928-2015

Posted By on Wed, Jun 17, 2015 at 2:50 PM

Leslie McIlroy studied under Hilary Masters about 30 years ago, when she was a student at Carnegie Mellon University. She remembers him as a great teacher. But while Masters taught fiction, and McIlroy went on to focus on poetry, she says, until recently he still came to all of her book launches.

“He’s continued to be hugely supportive of my work,” she says.

Hilary Masters - PHOTO COURTESY OF KATHLEEN GEORGE
  • Photo courtesy of Kathleen George
  • Hilary Masters
That experience seems typical of Masters, the noted novelist, memoirist and essayist who died this past Sunday, at his home on the North Side, after complications from surgery. He was 87.

Masters was an award-winning writer who might be best known for Last Stands: Notes From Memory, his critically acclaimed 1982 memoir about growing up as the son of author and Spoon River Anthology poet Edgar Lee Masters. But he had a long and varied career in the arts, journalism and academia.

The native of Kansas City, Mo., worked as a press agent in New York in the 1950s, and later owned and edited the Hyde Park Record, a newspaper in Hyde Park, N.Y. In the late 1950s, Masters and his former wife ran a theater, the Hyde Park Playhouse. He was also a freelance photographer with gallery exhibits to his credit, says his wife, Kathleen George. 

Masters’ writing appeared in Best American Short Stories, Best American Essays and Pushcart Prize anthologies. His awards include an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature.

Masters taught at several other universities before becoming a professor of English at CMU in 1983. He loved teaching, says George, herself a novelist and University of Pittsburgh theater professor. Masters taught at CMU through this past fall.

“He was an awesome fiction teacher. I recall him being patient. He had standards. He didn’t let anything sloppy get by,” says former student McIlroy. “He paid attention. He paid a lot of attention. And you don’t find that in a lot of teachers.”

George met Masters in 1988, at the Squirrel Hill home of Chuck Kinder, the novelist and former longtime head of the University of Pittsburgh’s creative-writing program. George and Masters married in 1994. The couple frequented local readings and gatherings of the literary community.

Masters was also a gourmand who early in their marriage would take solo trips to France, largely for the food and wine. “He’d call me and tell me what he was eating,” George says.

At home, she says, “He was very happy in the kitchen. Very competent in the kitchen.”

Food also played a role in their courtship. “He started cooking for me right away, so I thought that was really cool,” she says.

Masters’ later fiction included the clever satiric 2011 novel Post. And here’s an interview I did with him on publication of his Pittsburgh-set 2006 novel Elegy for Sam Emerson.

In 2009, Masters published the fine essay collection In Rooms of Memory. (Here’s my review for CP.)

George tells CP that until his final illness, Masters was still writing, most recently revising a pair of novellas. He was also researching a novel about a photographer.

“He’s just such a great writer and such a grounded man,” says McIlroy, Masters’ former student.

“He was the most wonderful man,” says George. “He was so kind to everybody. If you look at his checkbook, all he ever did was give money to people.”

“I feel a big loss,” says McIlroy.

George says that Masters did not want a visitation. CMU plans a memorial service in the fall. Contributions can be made the CMU English Department specifying the Hilary Masters Fiction Award Fund.

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