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 classics like A Christmas Carol and Hard Times, voyaged to the United States. During his travels, he visited two cities in Pennsylvania—Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Pittsburghers will be delighted to know that Dickens did not think very much of the eastern city, deeming it “distractingly regular…”. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, reminded him of Birmingham, England with the iron foundries.
Today, Pittsburgh is the only city in America with an entrance, and it must have been true in Dickens’ time as well. As he approached the city, Dickens referred to the scene before him as “…another dreamy place…”. However, he was not very fond of the crowded landscapes along the rivers. He called his view from the docks an “ugly confusion of backs of buildings…” Despite this negative—albeit fair assessment, Dickens thought kindly of the city’s position along the water 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.”
In the 1940s, Kurt Vonnegut was a student at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (CIT), now known as Carnegie Mellon University. As a private in the U.S. Army, he was sent to CIT, and then was transferred to the University of Tennessee, to study mechanical engineering. In 1944, Vonnegut unit shipped off to war in Europe. Though his time in Pittsburgh was short, it left an impression on him. Pittsburgh appears in some of his works, including his first novel Player Piano.
In an interview with Dennis Bartel, Vonnegut reminisced 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 visited the ‘Burgh many times since his CIT days to deliver talks and meet fans.
Pittsburgh likewise makes a literary appearance in one of Jack Kerouac’s greatest works. Jack Kerouac is a pioneer of the Beat Generation, a literary movement which explored and influenced American culture and politics post-WWII. His first visit to Pittsburgh was in 1949, a pit stop on his way to Chicago. Though he wasn’t in the city longer than it took him to have some sandwiches and coffee, Pittsburgh seems to have held a special place in his heart. In On the Road: The Original Scroll, a fictionalized telling of Kerouac’s travels with friends across the country, Pittsburgh is once again a pit stop on a larger journey. Kerouac’s character in On the Road, Sal Paradise, doesn’t have enough money to take a bus all the way to N.Y.C from L.A.. so he gets off in Pittsburgh. From there, Paradise’s plan is to hitch hike the rest of the way home. However, a literary appearance is not the only indication of Kerouac’s interest in our fair city.
Kerouac manifested a fantasy baseball league in which we served as the manager of the Pittsburgh Plymouths. For years Kerouac created sports-style write ups and drawings that depicted scorecards, player cards, and statistics for his fictional team. He kept his The Daily Ball reports pasted into a notebook for his viewing. According to the New York Times, his closest friends had no idea that he had created a fantasy baseball league that he wrote stories for.
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.