For a book about Pittsburgh to be done well, it has to feel like the author knows the city.
“I love it when they can capture the feeling of the city,” said Rachel Ekstrom Courage, a founder of Littsburgh, a resource for local readers and writers. “The city can feel different based on what time period you are in, what neighborhood you are in.”
Sometimes that’s the little things, like knowing what neighborhood a certain street is in, said Dan Hensley, adult programming coordinator for Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. “It has to ring true.”
And when it comes to writing about Pittsburgh while living in Pittsburgh, the ability to do research — whether it’s historical or re-living a personal experience — is all right there, several authors said.
Consider this a starter’s guide to local authors and their Pittsburgh stories, since, of course, the number of Pittsburgh books is too many to count or include. What’s here are recommendations from local experts and authors, as well as some sneak peeks into not-yet-released titles. As always, though, if your favorite book by a local author is missing, email us.
Books by Pittsburgh authors
Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict
If you like historical fiction, this one is for you. Benedict used her research about Andrew Carnegie and her own family’s story of Irish immigrants who came to Pittsburgh in the 1800s to create this narrative and shape its main character. Most immigrant stories from this time are about men, so this story is a way to give women a voice, Benedict told The Incline.
Childcare in Black and White by Jessie Ramey
Ramey, associate professor at Chatham University, wrote this non-fiction book to examine institutional childcare from 1878 to 1929 using two Pittsburgh orphanages — the all-white United Presbyterian Orphan’s Home and the all-black Home for Colored Children.
The Doorposts of Your House and on Your Gates by Jacob Bacharach
A twist on the Biblical tale of Abraham, this book takes place in Pittsburgh and New York City instead. “It hit a good note [and is] a funny read,”Hensley said.
Eat Your Feelings by Lindsey Smith
While emotional eating isn’t just a Pittsburgh thing, there are some ties to the city in this book, Smith told The Incline. For example, the book includes a recipe for a salad with roasted potatoes on top. For Pittsburghers, it might come with a side of nostalgia, she said.
Emily Alone by Stewart O’Nan
This novel tells the story of Emily Maxwell, a widow living in Highland Park, who dreams of seeing her grandchildren and laments changes in the neighborhood. The portrayal of Emily is “spot on,” Hensley said.
Gateway to Love by Chloe T. Barlow
Actually a book series, these romance novels set in Pittsburgh — and with very Pittsburgh titles like “Three Rivers” and “City of Champions” — are popular and light, Hensley said. They’re more about character development and safe to recommend to Grandma.
Gluten-Free Revolution by Caroline Shannon-Karasik
If you like reading that turns into eating, this locally written cookbook is filled with gluten-free recipes as well as fitness tips and DIY beauty ideas.
Hemming the Water by Yona Harvey
For poetry lovers and poetry novices alike, Harvey’s collection is inspired by Mary Lou Williams, a jazz composer and pianist from Pittsburgh.
Just Between Us by Rebecca Drake
Drake’s latest book is getting a lot of buzz, Ekstrom Courage said. The thriller chronicles a group of friends living idyllic lives in Sewickley, but each has a secret she’s keeping. Then, a murder forces the group to decide how far they’ll go for a friend.
The Odds by Kathleen George
Part of a series, these mystery novels are not for the faint of heart, Hensley said. The book follows the work of Pittsburgh homicide detectives and has an “old Pittsburgh feel” that makes it clear that George knows Pittsburgh, he said.
The Oven by Sophie Goldstein
A graphic novel, this book explores what happens when a lack of resources forces people to stay in cities where population control is strict. “Gorgeous and haunting,” Hensley called Goldstein a local rising star.
Their Life’s Work by Gary M. Pomerantz
This book includes hundreds of interviews about the 1970s Steelers and dives into that dynasty. It’s “pretty much the definitive book of the quintessential team,” Hensley said.
When Skateboards Will be Free by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh
The author grew up in South Oakland, and this memoir tells the story of his childhood while his parents were active members of the Socialist Workers Party. It’s both funny and poignant, per Hensley.
The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch
Out on Tuesday, this murder mystery set in 1997 Western Pa. explores time-travel and its possible negative consequences associated.
Untold by Leon Ford
Not out yet but available for pre-order, Ford tells his story of overcoming adversity after he was shot and paralyzed during a traffic stop.
Voices of Hope by Kristine Irwin
More than a decade ago, Irwin, then a freshman at Point Park, was raped during a trip home to Johnstown. Irwin returned to campus struggling to find a new normal. The book, which will be released in March, tells the story of her experience and trauma, as well as the experiences of her family and friends as she told The Incline.
A few additional ways to find local authors and books about Pittsburgh:
- List of Pittsburgh writers and their works by Duquesne University
- Carnegie Library’s “Pittsburgh Born and/or Bred” list
- Go to the main Carnegie Library (4400 Forbes Ave. in Oakland), where a second-floor reading room collection is filled with books about Pittsburgh.
- Check out Littsburgh, a resource for readers and writers with events, book excerpts, an author list and more.