Karen Lillis loves to write about place. For 12 years, the Virginia-raised writer lived what she calls the "working-bohemian life" in New York City, and set many poems and pieces of fiction in her adopted city.
Now she calls North Oakland home, and she finds she really likes being a Pittsburgh writer. She and her boyfriend bought their house last year after spending three years in Squirrel Hill.
"We love it on this side of town because we can walk to almost everything we want to do," she writes via e-mail.
But more important to Lillis is the city's literary scene. She has found it "very vibrant. Very welcoming, open-minded, enthusiastic. And diverse in terms of the writing."
When her book The Second Elizabeth came out, in 2009, Lillis was too busy with library school to do an out-of-town reading tour for the experimental novel that plays with language and repetition. Instead, she planned a "recession-proof reading tour" around Pittsburgh by Port Authority bus, reading at events including the Té Café Series, Poetry Caravan and Six Gallery Showcase.
"Many of us here agree -- Pittsburgh has some impressive audiences!" writes Lillis (who recently earned her MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh). "These reading series often get full houses; people really listen to the readings and are responsive."
The city has even found its way into her work; she recently adapted "No Man's Land," a short story set in North Brooklyn, into a powerful narrated-video piece using shots of industrial Pittsburgh to stand in for New York (www.vimeo.com/10682544).
On Sat., June 19, at ModernFormations Gallery, Lillis reads fiction from a book-in-progress, for the third installment of the new Seasonal Shorts Reading Series, which she helped found.
The series was born casually this past fall, when Lillis joined writer Savannah Schroll Guz for lunch. They discovered they had a mutual friend in Ben Tanzer, a Chicago writer who was due to visit Pittsburgh in November.
Schroll Guz (who's an occasional CP contributor) and Lillis organized a reading for him, but what was meant as a one-time event has grown into a quarterly series. Featured readers have included local writers such as Adam Kavulic, who writes for the online New Yinzer, and Molly Gaudry, who is working on a novel in tweets.
"I called the series Seasonal Shorts: Literature with Legs because a long time ago, I had a German professor who said one of my essays had 'hands and feet,' a German colloquialism that means something has great substance," says Schroll Guz, who runs the series. "I wanted to bring that same idea to the reading series. The stories told are powerful and enchanting enough to walk around on their own."
Karen Lillis, Margarita Shalina and Margaret Bashaar read at Seasonal Shorts. 7:30 p.m.. Sat., June 19. ModernFormations Gallery, 4919 Penn Ave., Garfield. $4. seasonalshorts.blogspot.com