Pittsburgh's People of the Year 2023: Lit | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh's People of the Year 2023: Lit

Virginia Montanez tackles Pittsburgh culture with insight and plenty of humor

click to enlarge Pittsburgh's People of the Year 2023: Lit
CP Photo: Mars Johnson
Pittsburgh writer Virginia Montanez

As a child, Virginia Montanez developed a keen sense of humor through watching The Carol Burnett Show and Marx Brothers movies.  She had a gift for making adults laugh, “not with 12-year-old humor,” but with pointedly funny observations and jokes.

She says that gift helped her deal with having a “hearing impairment” in a big chaotic family, where she competed with four sisters for attention.

“We’re all two years apart. On the one side, I couldn’t be part of conversations. I couldn’t constantly be saying, ‘What did you say, what did you say?’” Montanez tells Pittsburgh City Paper. “In those moments of family chaos, I tended to be little Ginny, and I grew this way, whereas everyone else tends to grow that way. So, I spent a lot of time in my head.”

She realized that her sense of humor and writing ability could be combined, and used her talents to become one of Pittsburgh’s boldest voices. 

Montanez, who published her debut novel Nothing. Everything. (Winding Road Stories) in June, first emerged in 2009 as the author of Burgh Blog. Writing under the pseudonym PittGirl, Montanez’s acerbic and wickedly humorous critiques, notably of former Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, drew thousands of readers.

When she admitted authorship of the blog, Montanez was fired as the director of marketing and communications for the nonprofit NEED, which had Ravenstahl’s support.

Montanez, who has written columns for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Magazine, is currently studying for a master’s degree in history. Recent essays on her substack, Breathing Space, range from musings on the single-use plastic bag ban in Pittsburgh to an open letter addressing controversial media personality Marty Griffin, part of which reads, “You’ve been doing some terrible things lately, and those are the ones I’ll focus on here.”

Despite going after local public figures, Montanez tries to stay balanced, explaining that she doesn’t “sit down and say, I’m going to trash this person, and it’s going to be epic.” For example, when Ravenstahl declined to seek re-election in 2014, Montanez wrote, “sometimes the good sneaks in and defuses the bad,” noting that he had dined at her family’s restaurant in Market Square and was kind and supportive.

“I kind of subscribe to the Ted Lasso school of thought, which is everyone has moments of redemption, everyone has moments of humanity,” she says. “And I look for those. I look for that in politics. I do feel, politically, there’s more bad than good, but I feel that politics corrupts good people. I think it’s hard to stay genuine in politics. Especially in local politics, I’m always on the lookout for the moment when things turned, and the person I may have admired became infected.”