John Edgar Wideman was born in Washington, D.C., but his family relocated to Pittsburgh just before he turned one. Wideman grew up in Homewood, and that became the setting for many of his works of fiction, such as his acclaimed Homewood trilogy Hiding Place(1981), Sent for You Yesterday (1983), and the short-story collection Damballah. Wideman excelled academically and was one of a few Black students to enroll at the University of Pennsylvania, after being offered the Benjamin Franklin Scholarship.
Wideman has written almost 20 books, both fiction and nonfiction, and is the only writer to have been awarded the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction twice. First for his novel Sent for You Yesterday in 1984 and again in 1990 for Philadelphia Fire.
Brothers and Keepers is his 1984 memoir about the contrasts between him, an Ivy League-educated author, and his street-wise brother who is serving time for murder.
What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young
Damon Young is the cofounder of Very Smart Brothas, a blog that offers opinions, cultural criticism, and news through a Black lens. For Young, just existing as a Black person is an activity that needs constant attention and in his debut memoir, What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker, he chronicles his "efforts to survive while battling and making sense of the various neuroses his country has given him."
This Juneteenth, White Whale Bookstore is hosting Young and Deesha Philyaw (see below) for a book reading and conversation via Zoom. Signed copies of their books are available through White Whale's website.
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw
Deesha Philyaw's writes about race, gender, parenting, and culture, and her works have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, and Brevity, among others. In December, Philyaw published TENDER a literary anthology & book of spells: evidence with artist vanessa german, to give a voice to over 15 Black femme writers and visual artists. For some of the women, it was their first time being published.
In September Philyaw releases her first solo novel, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies. Over nine stories, Philyaw features "four generations of characters grappling with who they want to be in the world, caught as they are between the church’s double standards and their own needs and passions."
The Skin I'm In by Sharon Flake
Sharon Flake was born in Philadephia but settled in Pittsburgh after earning her BA in English from the University of Pittsburgh. She got a job working in foster care after graduation and eventually became part of the public relations staff at the University of Pittsburgh Press. It was while working there that Flake wrote her bestselling debut young adult novel, The Skin I’m In. The novel was well-received, earning Flake a Detroit Free Library Author of the Year Award, the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent, the YWCA Racial Justice Award and was named one of the Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Books of the Year, among others.
Since then, Flake has published 10 more YA novels, almost all dealing with
Brian Broome holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University and is a K. Leroy Irvis Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh. His work has been published in The Guardian, Creative Nonfiction, Public Source, and more. He is currently working on an upcoming book of essays about Black masculinity. You can read a sample of his work in this 2019 story he wrote for Pittsburgh City Paper after the acquittal of the police officer who killed Antwon Rose II.
Christiane Dolores' work is rooted in cultural questioning. She looks at what she calls "social-cultural anthropology" through textual, visual, and musical pieces.
Terrance Hayes received his MFA from the University of Pittsburgh in 1997 and
Christina Springer dabbles in many artistic mediums such as sculpture, textile design, and paint. In 2018, she released The Splooge Factory, a collection of poetry that came from her experiences as the fill-in receptionist at an "adult services" massage parlor in Pittsburgh.
Cameron Barnett holds a BA in English from Duquesne University and an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. At Pitt, Barnett was the poetry editor for Hot Metal Bridge Literary Magazine, co-coordinator of Pitt’s Speakeasy Reading Series, and currently serves as an editor for Pittsburgh Poetry Journal. His poetry explores the "complexity of race and the body for a Black man in today’s America."
Barnett recently created this thread on Twitter, highlighting some of his favorite Black voices.
August Wilson grew up in the Hill District and wrote numerous plays about the area, many of which weave in the neighborhood's rich jazz history. Each of his plays in the Pittsburgh Cycle focuses on Black American life in different decades of the 20th century. Wilson won Pulitzer Prizes for two of the plays, Fences and The Piano Lesson. The August Wilson African American Cultural Center Downtown is named after him.
Melony McGant is an ordained Interfaith Minister, and author of novels Sunshine & Olivier: A Parable of Love, The Healing Adagio: A Love Symphony In Five Parts and the empowerment workbook Seeker Dreamer: Amazing, Brilliant, Compassionate YOU!
Bonita Lee Penn is poet, editor, curator, and author of the chapbook Every Morning A Foot Is Looking For My Neck. Her work has appeared in JOINT Literary Magazine, Hot Metal Bridge Journal, The Massachusetts Review, “The Skinny” Poetry Journal, Women Studies Quarterly, Voices from the Attic Anthology and her poem "When Lightning Rides Thunder Bareback" was the Solstice Editors' Pick for the 2018 summer issue of Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices. A curator of various poetry events, she is a member of the Pittsburgh Black Feminist Reading Group and Managing Editor of the Soul Pitt Quarterly Magazine. Penn is also co-curator of “Common Threads: Faith, Activism, and the Art of Healing,” a Pittsburgh-based art exhibit that examines the political, social, cultural, and aesthetic priorities of women of varying faith traditions.
Sandra Gould Ford was the founder and former editor of Shooting Star Review, a now-defunct Pittsburgh-based literary magazine whose mission was to explore the Black American experience through literature and art/ In 1998 she published Faraday's Popcorn Factory, a novel where romance and magical realism meet.