We hear a lot about sports stars and movie stars who visit Pittsburgh, but we don’t talk much about the famous literary figures who have stopped by for a visit. Here are a couple names you might recognize from your high school reading list whose visits to Pittsburgh left an impression.
In 1842, Charles Dickens, the author of greats like A Christmas Carol and Hard Times, voyaged to the United States. During his visit, he came to Pittsburgh for three days. Before his visit, he saw Philadelphia, which he deemed “distractingly regular…” However, the fair city of Pittsburgh reminded him of Birmingham, England, with the iron foundries.
On his way into Pittsburgh, he described the scenery as “…another dreamy place…”. Dickens was not as fond of the “ugly confusion of backs of buildings…” that always abut water, “whether it be river, sea, canal, or ditch.” It seemed Dickens was not a fan of crowded landscapes along the water. Regardless of his initial impression from the docks, he spoke kindly of its placement along the Allegheny River writing “It is very beautifully situated on the Alleghany (sic) River, over which there are two bridges; and the villas of the wealthier citizens sprinkled about the high grounds in the neighborhood, are pretty enough.” After his three-day visit, he continued his journey west on the steamboat Messenger to Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh saw visits from a few of the beatnik authors. In the 1940s, Kurt Vonnegut was a private in the U.S. Army, and they sent him to Carnegie Mellon University (then called Carnegie Institute of Technology. It’s rumored he wasn’t a great student and was shortly sent to Tennessee and then off to war. Though his time in Pittsburgh was short, it left an impression on him. The city appears in a few of his works, including his first novel Player Piano.
In an interview with Dennis Bartel, Vonnegut reminisced about flunking thermodynamics and how he felt about the city, saying, “As for Pittsburgh, I liked it except it was filthy because they hadn’t done anything about the soot and didn’t think they had to. Then after the war they found out they couldn’t get good people to come work for them because the city was so dirty. So they cleaned it up.” Vonnegut would return to the ‘Burgh to deliver talks and meet fans.
Pittsburgh was also visited by Jack Kerouac, another famous Beat author known for his book On the Road, a fictionalized telling of his travels with his friends across the United States.
Kerouac’s first trip to Pittsburgh was in 1949 when he was taking a bus to Chicago. While waiting for his bus, he grabbed lunch. It seems that Pittsburgh was a common stop on his adventures.
In On the Road: The Original Scroll, Kerouac mentions Pittsburgh as a pit stop on his odyssey to New York City from L.A. Unfortunately, he didn’t have enough money for a bus ticket to N.Y.C. and had to stop in Pittsburgh, where he planned to sort out the logistics of getting from there to N.Y.C once he got there.
Pittsburgh had left an impression on Kerouac, as he created a fantasy baseball team, the Pittsburgh Plymouths. According to the New York Times, his closest friends had no idea that he had created a fantasy baseball game that he wrote stories for, recapping the imaginary games and fictive contract disputes. He kept these articles pasted into a notebook for his viewing.
By Bianca Labrador
 Perdue, D. A. (2022). From Pittsburgh to Cincinnati in a Western Steamboat. Charles Dickens Steamboat Trip on the Ohio River. Retrieved June 2022, from https://www.charlesdickenspage.com/steamboat-trip.html
 Goodtimes, Johnny (2012). Charles Dickens Thought Philadelphia was Kinda Boring. Philadelphia Magazine. Retrieved May 2022, from https://www.phillymag.com/news/2012/02/07/charles-dickens/
 Dickens, Charles (1850). American Notes for General Circulation. Applewood Books, Carlisle, MA.
 Updike, John (2007). 1927-2007 Kurt Vonnegut. American Academy of Arts and Letters. https://artsandletters.org/tribute/kurt-vonnegut/
 Bartel, Dennis (N.D.). Interview – Kurt Vonnegut. DJBartel. https://djbartel.com/kurt-vonnegut/
 Kerouac, Jack (2004). Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954. Viking.
 Kerouac, Jack (2007). On the Road: The Original Scroll. Viking.
 McGrath, Charles (2009). Another Side of Kerouac: The Dharma Bum as Sports Nut. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/16/books/16kero.html