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'Pittsburgh Anthology' records an interesting journey

| Monday, Sept. 7, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
University of Pittsburgh professor and poet Terrance Hayes
'The Pittsburgh Anthology'
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Robert Yune, author of 'Eighty Days of Sunlight'

When editor Eric Boyd was going through submissions for “The Pittsburgh Anthology,” he was determined to avoid sports.

One sports-themed piece did slip through — Jody DiPerna's essay about sandlot football and baseball — but the other works in the collection of essays, poems and art from Belt Publishing adhered to Boyd's vision.

Sort of.

“I would bet that nearly every piece contains some mention of sports,” Boyd says. “Someone is wearing a Steelers' hat, or someone is waving a Terrible Towel. It's almost so ubiquitous that it doesn't need to be mentioned. It's sort of like trying to focus on the air that you breathe; you just breathe it.”

A reading for “The Pittsburgh Anthology” takes place Sept. 10 at Brillobox in Lawrenceville.

The collection features a diverse array of talent. The contributors include Terrance Hayes, a National Book Award winner for poetry and recipient of the MacArthur genius fellowship; painter Robert Qualters, the 2014 Pennsylvania Artist of the Year; and Robert Gibb, the Homestead-based poet whose awards include a Pushcart Prize.

There also are unknown, emerging writers included, notably Jess Craig, a University of Pittsburgh student, and Nico Chiodi, a 15-year-old who performs with and writes about the Pittsburgh Banjo Club.

“Though they may be diverse voices, I was interested in how many things they would say in common,” Boyd says.

That commonality manifests itself as a different take on Pittsburgh, avoiding the cliches — however true, or once true — of the city as a working-class, blue-collar area.

“A lot of people have been saying the book's a different Pittsburgh, a current Pittsburgh,” says Boyd, a writer and the author of the short-story collection “Brownfields.” “Or, it's cynical at times. I didn't necessarily set out for that. These are just voices all across the spectrum, so for them to all to be fitting into that kind of tone was what I was interested in, how many of these different voices would say something like that.”

While essays and poetry account for most of the pieces in the anthology, Boyd has chosen to include other forms. There are 16 color pages of paintings by Qualters and Rebecca Morgan; photographs of Braddock by LaToya Ruby Frazier, and photographs taken with an old Polaroid camera by Lisa Toboz; a graphic novel-style essay by J.J. Lendl; and Arielle Teer's “Shopping Is Your Warholian Duty,” a mash of prose and graphics that pays homage to Andy Warhol.

Robert Yune, who teaches composition and creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh and contributed the essay “Time Capsule, 2005,” thinks the book's atypical viewpoints are illuminating.

“It would have been easy to compile a thick volume of boosterism and local color,” Yune says, “but Eric chose to go beyond that and pick stories, poems and art that were more nuanced and complex. The depth and variety helps the anthology serve as a record of the past and — as a record of our city's interesting and difficult journey into the present — helps show how the city might change and who we might become.”

Rege Behe is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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