Chain bookstores are dropping like flies. But from big speakers to grassroots reading series, fall looks especially promising for the written and spoken word.
Many of the heavy hitters line up at Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures' Literary Evenings Monday Night Lecture Series (formerly the Drue Heinz Lectures). Legendary reporter Seymour Hersh (Mon., Sept. 19) leads off, followed by actor and autobiographer John Lithgow (Oct. 3); Freedom author Johnathan Franzen (Oct. 17), arguably the country's premier novelist; food writer Mark Bittman (Nov. 7); Bel Canto novelist Ann Patchett (Nov. 21); and former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright (Dec. 12).
Arts & Lectures also co-sponsors a visit by another familiar name: Chuck Palahniuk (Oct. 27), author of Fight Club and Choke, at Pitt's Bellefield Hall.
Meanwhile, there's still time to buy a season ticket to Robert Morris University's Pittsburgh Speakers Series, whose package of eight Heinz Hall talkers include Washington: A Life historian Ron Chernow (Oct. 12).
Pittsburgh, of course, boasts resident literary heavyweights. National Book Award-winning poet Terrance Hayes (Sept. 19) begins the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series season. Acclaimed poet and Pitt professor Toi Derricotte follows, with Dawn Lundy Martin (Oct. 20). The series also includes critically acclaimed Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned author Wells Tower (Nov. 3).
On Oct. 6, author Shannon Cain visits the Carnegie Library Main Branch, in Oakland, for a free reading from her 2011 Drue Heinz Literature Prize-winning short-story collection, The Necessity of Certain Behaviors.
Among grassroots series, the Oakland Carnegie continues its monthly Sunday Poetry & Reading Series (Sept. 18, Oct. 16, Nov. 20 and Dec. 18), spotlighting local poets and writers. Also in Oakland, the Hungry Sphinx Reading Series hosts poets and other writers (mostly local) on Tuesday nights, at Sphinx Cafe. The TNY Presents poetry-and-fiction reading series continues, too, every third Thursday of the month at Garfield's ModernFormations Gallery. Meanwhile, Speaking Of … continues evolving. The reading series' Oct. 1 event, at the New Hazlett Theater, joins spoken-word artists with dancers, musicians and more for a one-night, multi-genre arts festival.
Looking for something brand-new? The Moth StorySLAM inaugurates its monthly Pittsburgh incarnation, at South Side's Club Café. Under the auspices of the cult-favorite New York-based series, 10 storytellers selected from the audience by lottery will get five minutes each before a panel of judges; additional rounds of this Pittsburgh GrandSLAM are slated for Nov. 15 and Dec. 13.
Bringing stories from abroad, meanwhile, is renowned natural-history photographer Mattias Klum (Nov. 6-7), speaking at the Byham Theater courtesy of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
Pittsburgh's supply of bookstores is dwindling, and with it their availability for readings. But one survivor, the Waterfront Barnes & Noble, hosts Alexandra Fuller (Sept. 22). Fuller visits with Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, the sequel to Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, her best-selling memoir of growing up among white expatriates in Zimbabwe.
Moreover, not every observer of the book trade is gloomy. In his new book, Rebel Bookseller, Amherst, Mass.-based author Andrew Laties says indie stores have a future both in business and community-building. Laties joins an Oct. 3 panel discussion at Polish Hill's Copacetic Comics.