Greensburg woman publishes memoir of growing up in Fayette in 'The Girl Factory'
While her parents worked long hours producing bottles at a Fayette County factory, their 8-year-old Karen Dietrich progressed through the personal assembly line she metaphorically dubbed the “girl factory.”
Dietrich, now 37, recently published her memoir, “The Girl Factory,” chronicling factory life's intersection with her coming-of-age experience as a precocious girl in small-town Connellsville.
“ ‘The Girl Factory' — it's like a tunnel that you enter when you come to a certain age as a girl,” she said. “There's a sense of being processed and assembled.”
Dietrich's consciousness was marked by a shooting rampage on March 16, 1985, at her parents' workplace — Anchor Glass Container Corp., a now-defunct factory in South Connellsville — when an employee killed four supervisors and himself. Both of her parents were safely at home in Connellsville, the city Dietrich describes in her work as “the town that time forgot.”
Her narrative, replete with superstitions and complicated teenage pressures, is told through the lens of factory work.
“Even the thickest glass is transparent, filtering light like a prism when you hold it to the sun,” she wrote in the memoir. “Glass can make rainbows. You can look through glass to see the world outside. You can look through glass to see yourself.”
Page after page details crisp, vivid, sometimes dark memories she dredged from years of scenes stored in her mind.
“Those kinds of memories were always very close to the surface for me,” she said. “I live in my head so much and always did.”
She even documents Southwestern Pennsylvania's vernacular, explaining to readers that Yough River is pronounced “Yock” and Dunbar Creek is pronounced “crick.”
Dietrich recorded her transformation from childhood in Connellsville to teenage years in Pittsburgh, “the city that always loomed so large,” to adulthood in Florida where the book is left open-ended.
In Florida, Dietrich tried her hand at a variety of jobs — office worker, high school teacher, Blockbuster clerk, restaurant hostess — before deciding to pursue writing.
“I always loved English, words, writing,” she said. “Writing is my passion.”
She lives in Greensburg with her husband, RJ Dietrich, and son Robert.
“The Girl Factory” published in October after several years of work.
Dietrich said she prefers to work alone “in a bubble” — holing up in her home writing studio or at DV8 Espresso Bar or at the Greensburg-Hempfield Area Library.
The memoir tackles some of the same experiences she once characterized in poetry during her master's degree study.
“Memoir is a better way to paint a picture of a certain time period in life,” she said. “(Memoir is) the best way for me to convey the emotional experience I wanted the reader to have.”
High school classmates have contacted her to offer positive remarks about the work, calling it “a trip down memory lane.”
Dietrich earned an English writing degree from the University of Pittsburgh in Greensburg and a Master of Fine Arts in poetry from New England College.
She now passes on her writing savvy to students as an adjunct English instructor at Pitt-Greensburg and at Westmoreland County Community College. In addition, she works a faculty member at the University of Arkansas, guiding Master of Fine Arts students through the specialized online program.
Dietrich has also published two small books of poetry and a book of nonfiction essays.
In addition to writing, she and her husband are members of the acoustic-indie-folk band Essential Machine. She plays the drums.
She's now embarking on a novel told from the point of view of an adolescent girl whose father is on death row.
“(I'll) explore girlhood and coming-of-age through fiction,” she said. “It's such a fragile time.”
Rossilynne Skena Culgan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.