Hempfield native, 22, publishes with local independent press

| Friday, April 18, 2014, 6:46 p.m.

If Hempfield native Maggie Donohue were in a booth with some of the best contemporary young writers, author Lori Jakiela is convinced she would have no problem holding her own.

“Maggie is fearless, edgy, exuberant. Her voice is fresh and engaging,” says Jakiela, who teaches in the undergraduate writing program at Pitt-Greensburg, where Donohue, 22, studied and was awarded the university's prestigious 2013 Scott Turow Prize for excellence in fiction writing.

“Her vision of the world is sharp and true and dark, a little Kerouac, a little Kafka, absolutely all her own,” says Jakiela, who founded the annual Writers Festival at Pitt-Greensburg and teaches in the Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing at Chatham University.

Donohue's vision is showcased in her fiction chapbook “Ruiner,” the debut release by Katie Pagano of Crafton on her new independent Focal Tension Press. (A chapbook generally refers to a small book, usually an artfully made one, consisting of 20 to 40 pages of poems or 40 to 60 pages of prose.)

“These presses really are saving literature in America. I'm glad Katie (who she also taught at Pitt-Greensburg) and Maggie are part of that,” Jakiela says.

Pagano wants to continue the press beyond a classroom project at Chatham, where she is in the Master of Fine Arts program in poetry.

She hopes to find manuscripts of lesser-known, and perhaps first-time published, writers and produce a work of art from their manuscripts via the chapbook form.

Pagano crafted 50 copies of Donohue's book entirely by hand, including binding it with red thread and sanding down the edges and gluing it and the cover together.

The outlet Pagano, 23, is providing is a much needed one for writers to “get their work out there, make connections, develop and build from it,” Donohue says. “I'm thrilled to be part of it, and I can't wait to see where it goes. Katie is very driven.”

Donohue, who now lives in Houston, took inspiration for her title from the Nine Inch Nails song “Ruiner.” She wanted to use the word in the context of a person who habitually exhibits a desire to spoil or ruin things.

“My main character throughout all the stories in the book is morally a little skewed. The title refers to him, but also I guess the generally already-ruined type of feel of the Rust Belt,” she says.

Donohue believes her ability to tell stories that convey a surreal quality is a strength. “I like weird. I like bizarre happenings. I just want to write things that I like. I want other people to see what I see, to perhaps puzzle over it a little.”

Donohue is most comfortable writing fiction.

“I was drawn to it because it allows me to bend the shape of a story,” she says, “to make something what I want it to be, a freedom you don't get in nonfiction.”

Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or rrutkoski@tribweb.com.

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