ALCStudies Journal

Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies Web Site & Blog

Monthly Archives: April 2010

In This Corner, from Southwestern Pennsylvania —

The 20-something guy who runs the coffee shop I go to is headed for Canada for training to become a professional wrestler. I’ll call him Lance. Lance flies out of Pittsburgh next week to spend three months in Calgary, the Wild West of the Great White North. Lance will work with a mentor who does this sort of thing (kind of a Yoda of the mat); joining other hopefuls to hone his skills as a grappler. Then he’ll return to the ‘burgh and try to make a go of it. Speaking of the faces we show in the workplace! I wonder who he’ll wrestle as:  Juan Valdez? The Steel King? The Three Rivers Kid? If you’ve seen Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, you know the profession can be pretty gritty. When I pointed out it’s popular in Japan and South America, Lance replied, “Oh, it’s huge world-wide.” I wish him luck. We all have our dreams.


Reinventing Ourselves and Our Communities

I’m conducting a free community storytelling workshop on the changing face of labor in Southwestern Pennsylvania this Wednesday April 14th at 7 PM. The location is ArtSpace 105, a gallery run by the Steel Valley Arts Council near the Homestead Gray’s Bridge in Homestead. Homestead lies across the the Monongahela river from Braddock, PA.  Braddock’s Mayor, John Fetterman, was interviewed last week on PBS’ Now.

On Friday at 8 PM and Saturday at 2 PM in the same location I’m performing a spoken-word presentation sharing stories on the history of work in the region. Admiission is $7. Drawn from my interviews with contemporary workers and personal reflections on labor and identity, the program includes selections from Thomas Bell’s Out of this Furnace, Willa Cather’s Paul’s Case and Michael O’Malley’s Miners Hill (set in a fictionalized Braddock of the 1930s and 1940s).

During the days of the steel industry run by Carnegie and Frick, Braddock and Homestead epitomized a description of the region as ‘hell with the lid off’. Though Sandcastle and the Waterfront Mall lie nearby today, neither Braddock nor Homestead are garden spots on the Mon. The residents and communities suffered with the decline of the steel industry in the 80s. They are suffering now in the midst of economic challenges that face us all.  Folks who live there know this, of course.. They also know that with the leadership of people like Mayor Fetterman, the engagement of residents and organizations like SPSAH, both towns are making incremental progress in reinventing themselves. But what does it mean to remake ourselves as communities and individuals? A recent film reported in the Post-Gazette on April 7th purports to explore this.

I’m interested in the reality beyond the sound bites and stereotypes and easy-sounding advice. I invite you to come share your story and listen to others share theirs on Wednesday. On Friday and Saturday come see the images and hear the stories I’ve collected to present on Pittsburgh’s working past and present.

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