Arts, Entertainment, Living

Thoughts on 9/11, Fred Rogers, Hope and Pittsburgh

Tuesday, 13 September 2011 05:52 AM Written by

Watching the anniversary coverage on 9/11 real time as it played on MSNBC with Matt Lauer and Katie Couric took me back to that mourning time in a way few things have.  It is odd because ten years ago I was at an English department meeting at the University of Pittsburgh occurred, having just moved to Pittsburgh from Los Angeles for what my wife Natalie and I believed would be a one year sabbatical.   I had never been to a department meeting of any sorts before, having spent the past two decades as a screenwriter and TV writer/producer, and, had not lived in Pittsburgh since I left for college in 1978.

When the department head Dave Bartholomae announced that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center—all I could think of was that I had once heard that some relative of Screech-- Dustin Diamond, the actor from “Saved By the Bell”—had crashed a small plane into the Empire State Building.   Having not seen the images, I was making nervous jokes as I walked out of the meeting down the stairs of the Cathedral of Learning, the tallest education building in the country.   I noticed that others were walking with us—almost the whole building.  And then I got a call from Natalie, telling me in no certain terms that she was on her way—picking me up with our small daughter in the backseat.  I could tell from Natalie's tone that something bad had happened in the way that we had experienced Earthquakes in LA.  She said that a plane had gone down in Pittsburgh and it only made sense that the Cathedral, the tallest building in Oakland, might be a target.

We had not realized then, back for only a couple of weeks, that Pittsburgh these days would be an unlikely target, compared to NY, D.C. or even L.A.  That the Pittsburgh I had come back to was one that was largely off the map in terms of the national stage—even as a terror target.

But, ten years later, I am struck at how this city of three rivers seems to find itself, even in hard times, at the center of things.   Ten years later, Shanksville, which is identified with the heroic efforts of the passengers and crew of Flight 93, is often described as the Pittsburgh area.  It is one of the few hopeful  things one can feel in reliving that day of 9/11, in watching the MSNBC anniversary program-- as we watch hoping, like when watching a movie, that somehow the outcome will be different, that those who were forced to jump out the flaming towers-- that that part was not true, but something we imagined-- that the second  plane won’t hit-- that the people in Tower 2 won’t have been told to stay in the building as the building is secure, that the Towers won’t collapse. That this was all just like a movie, but it wasn't a movie.  It wasn't a dream you can wake up from and everything is okay. 

And one wonders about one's own life and the country, and these past ten years, and whether we have spent them right, given the tragedy that occurred.  

My wife and I were already in somewhat mid-life crisis mode by moving here from L.A., even for a year—a move which my L.A. friend Jenji called “brave.”   A couple years later our mid-life crisis was officially sanctioned in that we ended up as a guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” on a show called “What Should I Do With My Life?” for of all things, leaving Hollywood and moving to Pittsburgh.  Shortly after that appearance, Pittsburgh lost its favorite neighbor, Fred Rogers, and then other bad things happened here, including the city being the first major American city of the new Millinium being declared “financially distressed.”   We questioned often then, did we do the right thing in coming here?  Will Pittsburgh--as city which people talk about like it were a person-- be okay?

But, as one wonders about 9/11 and what if, as I look back, I cannot help wonder if there is a destiny, a reason, a guiding force in the universe.   And not just for one person’s life, but for a city, a country, a planet.

The journey to Pittsburgh led us not only to Oprah, but to a feature documentary, “My Tale of Two Cities”, which tells the tale of the unlikely Pittsburgh comeback story.   In the movie, we use the metaphor of Fred Rogers and Mr. McFeely, the delivery man in “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” who used to show Fred films of things we make.  Many of those factories they visited are closed-- the things they made are no longer are made here.   Though told in a personal way, the film is really about a once great city that built America with its steel, conquered polio, and invented everything from aluminum to the Big Mac, which is now being challenged to reinvent itself.

Much to our own amazement, we have watched, and been part of with many of Fred Rogers’ real life neighbors, an amazing Pittsburgh comeback story—as companies like Google have come to Pittsburgh and expanded; as Steelers have won unlikely Super Bowls not once, but twice; and as “the new” Pittsburgh which has been the setting for a world G-20 summit, how the city that struggled to retain young people, is now hosting the World’s Youth Summit.  Even Hollywood’s largest franchise, Batman, has decided that Pittsburgh is cool and has filmed here.  In these tough times, Pittsburgh is doing all right. 

So, is life random or is there a destiny involved? 

Some do not know this, but Fred Rogers came back to Pittsburgh (he actually grew up in Latrobe) during the 1950s after working at NBC in New York to both study to be a minister and with the deep held belief that this new technology called television could be used for “good” in the world.   He was a behind the scenes floor manager in New York, working on early pioneering television shows where if he stayed he probably could have done quite well.  Instead, he came back to Pittsburgh to study theology and would end up being part of the world’s first community supported public television station, WQED.    Fred went from being a behind the scenes puppeteer on a show called “Children’s Corner” to a man who influenced millions of children’s and adults.  It would be hard to argue that Fred’s journey was anything but destiny.

How does this tie to 9/11’s anniversary and all of our destinies?   

When Fred was inducted into the television hall of fame, he said to the audience of television producers that “our greatest challenge was to do (programs) that would make good attractive.”  And he had spent his live dedicated to that mission. 

Among the things which Fred Rogers helped pioneer through television was helping children deal with traumas—whether they small like getting a haircut or a goldfish dying—or large like the assassination of Robert Kennedy and the Gulf War.  

Over and over, I have heard commentators this past weekend saying that 9/11 took our innocence, made us as a country less naïve.  In that way, we were all children who experienced trauma.  And our job, as Fred perhaps would see it, is to heal.

Now that my wife and I are back in Pittsburgh much to our own surprise for ten years, we continue to wonder if it is destiny that we are back here, or just some randomness of the universe.  But I now work in an office across from the Fred Rogers Company, and every day, I think about what Fred said, and hope that we are doing something which might build on his legacy, and “make good attractive.”   For it seems, after all the words are done, that this is perhaps the best response to the horrible events of 9/11-- to do what we each can to remind the world that is possible, even in the face of great tragedy.  

I guess it should also be noted that Pittsburgh is a place which shines best when everyone works together-- whether it be the Steelers, Dr. Jonas Salk and his team at the University of Pittsburgh who pulled together with the city and the country to conquer polio, or Fred Rogers and his neighbors who began public television.  And that this also was the spirit of America right after the 9/11 attacks.  

Most people who watched "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" had no idea it was set here.  Fred's wife, Joanne Rogers, once told me that Fred would come back from trips observing how many wonderful "neighbors" there were-- and keenly observing that "we are more the same than we are different."   In trying to move forward even ten years after 9/11, it might be good to remember that the whole world really is "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."  

SPECIAL NOTE:  On Friday, September 16, 2011, at 3:30 p.m. at the William Pitt Union Ballroom at the University of Pittsburgh, there will be a program on "The Making of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" featuring producers and actors who worked with Fred Rogers to create this influential and iconic television program.  This event is Free and Open to the Public, but seating is limited so please RSVP to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .  See for more information.  




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TV review: NBC's light-on-comedy comedies

Tuesday, 13 September 2011 12:00 AM Written by

up_all_night_copy_copyNBC puts its shakiest foot forward by previewing two new comedies Wednesday after the “America’s Got Talent” season finale. Neither one is a home run and both may be doomed by unforgiving regular time slots that kick in next week.

And then there’s a new reality show about people hating on (mostly) deservedly disliked celebrities.

Read  more after the jump. ...

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If you follow BlueNotes at all (I know, you have a life to live too), you know that I write about a lot of albums by new or newer artists, who pledge allegiance to the blues, but whose music can range in all directions from that base. And that's okay.

Many of them seem to start out by covering classic blues songs, and move quickly into writing their own songs. I know we all get tired of  bands who just give us endless covers, but I also know it's very hard to create new music that's original and worth a listen.

John Hammond, for example, has made a career of reinterpreting classic material -- while also writing his own tunes that channel the masters he loves. But sometimes, it seems to me, new players create songs that are just shallow imitations of the music they say the love. And the results often are not so good.

And yes, I know that there are also a lot of talented newer artists who are writing good, even great, material. Soul and harp man John Nemeth comes to mind as a creator of songs that can stand on their own, but he's also not afraid to recast older material in a fresh way.

I was reminded of all this last night as I listened to a 1999 CD by Odetta, "Blues Everywhere I Go." Odetta, who died in 2008, was not your average singer, by any means. She  was probably mostly identified as a folk singer, but her tastes were broad and her talent was huge. On this album, she sings glorious covers of great blues songs, and it all sounds great -- no, it sounds almost sublime, and you couldn't care less who wrote these songs. You just get lost in fine music-making. Which is really all that matters.

So I guess my point is that not every singer or musician can write great, or even good, songs. A huge amount of blues or bluesy songs have already been written, and many of them could use a little daylight. I wish some young performers, and even some older ones, would think about that instead of writing weaker songs that make them sound less talented than they otherwise are.

And I haven't forgotten Carolyn Hester (see headline above). She was a folk singer back in the '60s one of the vanguard of folkies who made their headquarters in Greenwich Village -- where I saw her in 1964 at the Gaslight Cafe (where I also first saw Mississippi John Hurt, one of my all-time favorites). I also caught Odetta in a little Village club late one night, where she'd come to sing for fun after a concert, but that's another story.

I once owned Hester's third album, from 1962, titled "Carolyn Hester" on Columbia (on which a very young Bob Dylan played harmonica). On that album was the traditional tune, "Dink's Song," and it was the first time I'd heard that elegantly mournful song about lost love, first recorded in the field by John Lomax in 1908.

I hadn't heard the song in decades, but it turned up again on the Odetta CD mentioned above. As well as being a beautifully done song, it brought back a lot of those memories, which I offer here at no extra cost.

It's worth noting, for historical purposes, that Hester married, for a very short time, Richard Fariña, who later married Mimi Baez, Joan Baez' younger sister. Farina died in a motorccyle crash a ffew years later. Joan's song "Sweet Sir Galahad" was written as a tribute to Mimi's second husband, Milan Melvin, noting Farina's death, and Mimi's courtship by Melvin -- apparently he used her bedroom window a lot during that process -- and their marriage. (Earlier when I described this I left out the part about Melvin. A kind email from J. Michael Shea pointed out my oversight.) 

Hester, who sadly faded rather quickly from the folk scene (she had a gorgeous voice), turned down the chance to join a folk trio with Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey, who took up with Mary Travers as -- yes, Peter, Paul & Mary.

I saw Hester once after that, in Worcester, Mass., in the late '60s, when she tried psychedelic folk-rock for a while, but I couldn't get the sweet-singing folkie out of my mind, and wrote a rather caustic review, which I probably shouldn't have done. She was just trying to find herself and her music. But as far as I know, she's still alive and performing.

Here's a video/audio of Odetta singing a very great song from "Blues Everywhere I Go"

And here's Carolyn Hester

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Lindell, Allison at Moondog's Friday night

Monday, 12 September 2011 04:28 PM Written by

Breaking Blues News from Mr. Moondog, Ron Esser:

"I have a late entry I want people to know about...This Friday the 16th at 8:00 Eric Lindell and Bernard Allison are playing together at Moondog's... Unreal....two GREAT not miss 412-828-2040 for tix....Moon"

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TV review: The CW's 'Ringer'

Monday, 12 September 2011 12:00 AM Written by

ringerFans of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” are advised to temper their expectations when approaching the new CW series “Ringer,” which stars “Buffy” alum Sarah Michelle Gellar.

Where “Buffy” was smart and sophisticated, “Ringer” (9 p.m. Tuesday, WPCW) is lame and hokey.

The premise – Ms. Gellar stars as twin sisters, each caught up in a web of lies and intrigue – is not bad but the execution is downright laughable at times.

Read more after the jump. ...

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Meet the ModStylists

Monday, 12 September 2011 12:00 AM Written by


(ModStylists: Mandy, Jess, Amy, Chelsey, and Nicole)

Online shopping can be quite tricky. Trying to find the right garment in a size that fits is always a challenge.   And there are always countless other questions of concern: Will the garment be the same vibrant color in person as it appears online? Will it fit me the same way it does on the model? And, my personal favorite, What am I going to wear with it?

All of these questions and more can be answered when shopping at with the ModStylists, a team of five twenty-something women ready to answer styling and fit questions.

The ModStylists concept was created in 2009 by ModCloth Chief Creative Officer and co-founder, Susan Koger, as a shopping resource for customers who had questions when ordering products.  This may sound like customer service, but it is much different.

Be sure to check out the PG's Living section on Tuesday, September 20, 2011, for more about the ModStylists.

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Weekly Menu for the Week of Sept. 12

Friday, 09 September 2011 11:18 PM Written by

Welcome to my weekly menu!

The school years is in full swing and the after-school activites are kicking into gear as well. Needless to say, there will be a few nights where I will need to pack dinner to go. Remember - you can pack any meal to to with the right containers. The Mac and Cheese this week is the perfect example. We have to race between CCD and the ice rink for hockey practice. The mac travels well and my son will be able to eat on the way to the rink. If you need to pack the Roast Chicken, just roast them early in the day and remove the chicken from the bone to pack for eating on the go. Purchase Chinese Take-out containers from Michael's and serve up the Panko-crusted Pork Chops restaurant style! The taco soup can be place in a thermos for the soccer field and the pizza roll-ups and calzones are perfect sliced and wrapped in foil. This little extra effort will help you avoid the drive-thru and save you lots of money!

If you would like to receive an email notification when the menu has been published please follow the link below and sign-up!

You can also follow the menu on Facebook and Twitter!!! Go to Kristen Kill Reisinger's Menus That Save on Facebook and click like!!! You will receive updates and pics throughout the week. Also follow the menu on Twitter - @menusthatsave.

ALWAYS check your coupons!!! Not only the ones we receive in our newspapers and mid-week mailers but also online! Check out

Follow the plan so you can save time, money, and a few calories! Remember – cooking our own food is healthier than ordering in and eating out any day!!! Your family, wallet and waistline will thank you!

I hope you all enjoy your week, the recipes and the savings!


Macaroni and Cheese
Steamed Broccoli

Macaroni and Cheese (the ooey, gooey, stick-to-your-ribs kind of mac-n-cheese your grandma made)

1 box of elbow macaroni
1 stick of butter
4 cups of shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack blend – I usually buy the big bag at Costco
8 oz. Velveeta, cubed
2 cups of ½ and ½
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350˚.

Cook the macaroni according to its directions. Place the butter in the pot and return the macaroni once the butter has melted. Stir the macaroni until it is covered with butter. Add the cubed Velveeta and stir until it just starts to melt. Pour the macaroni into a large casserole dish that has been lightly greased. Add the shredded cheese about 1 cup at a time and the ½ and ½ and mix together. Season with salt and pepper. Place it in the oven and bake for about 40 minutes.


Italian Herb-Roasted Chicken – Double Duty Meal
Wild Rice
Balsamic Glazed Carrots

Italian Herb-Roasted Chicken (Adapted from Southern Living)

2 (4 to 5 lb.) roasting chickens
1 lemon, halved
2 T. olive oil
4 sprigs each of fresh rosemary, thyme and oregano (May use dried herbs in place of fresh)
6 garlic cloves, peeled
½ t. salt
¼ t. of pepper

Remove and discard giblets from chicken; rinse under cold water and pat dry. Squeeze ½ lemon over each of the chickens and rub with olive oil. Place ½ of squeezed lemon, 2 sprigs of each herb, and 3 garlic cloves into the cavity of each chicken (if using dried herbs rub on the skin of the bird). Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

If desired, tie ends of legs together with heavy string. Lift wing tips up and under chicken. Place chickens, breast side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. (Some people like to cook theirs breast side down. Just be sure to turn it breast side up for the last ½ hour of cooking so they can get nice and browned.) Bake at 375˚ for 1 hour and 50 minutes or until juices run clear or a meat thermometer inserted into the thigh registers 180˚ or follow the directions on the package of the chicken.

Serve one roasted chicken and cover and refrigerate the other for later use.

Balsamic Glazed Carrots

1 pkg of baby carrots
Olive or Canola oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 450˚. Place carrots on jelly-roll pan. Drizzle with oil and vinegar, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Roast in the oven for approximately 20 minutes. The carrots will be slightly glazed and firm, not mushy.


Panko-Crusted Pork Chops
Steamed Rice
Sugar Snap Peas

Panko-Crusted Pork Chops (Adapted from Cooking Light – this is one of our favorites and can be used with fish)

2/3 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
4 boneless center-cut loin pork chops (about 1/2 inch thick)
1 t. canola oil
Cooking spray
1/8 t. salt
1 T. grated fresh ginger
1/3 cup chicken broth
2 T. cooking sherry
2 T. soy sauce
2 t. sugar
1 t. wasabi paste
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions

Place panko in a shallow dish. Place egg white in another shallow dish. Dip pork in egg white; dredge in panko.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat; add pork. Cook for 4 minutes on each side or until done. Remove pork from pan; sprinkle with salt.

Reduce heat to medium. Add ginger to pan; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Combine broth and the next 4 ingredients (through wasabi) in a small bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add broth mixture to pan, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Stir in green onions. Spoon sauce over pork.


Chicken Taco Soup
Tortilla Chips

Chicken Taco Soup

½ cup diced onions
½ cup diced green peppers
1 T. minced garlic
Vegetable Oil
2 cups of leftover cubed chicken
15-oz. Can of corn, drained
15 oz. Can of hominy, drained
15 oz. Can of black beans, partially drained
8 oz. Can of tomato paste
8 oz. Salsa (medium)
1 package of taco seasoning
2 - 14 oz. Cans of chicken broth

In a large pot, sauté onions, peppers, and garlic in vegetable oil until slightly soft. Add remaining ingredients and heat to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer for about 45 minutes. You could also put all of the ingredients into a crock-pot and cook on low all day.

Serve over rice or with tortilla chips. Add cheese, sour cream, and sliced green onions on top if desired.


Pizza Bread Rollups OR Chicken and Artichoke Calzones
Carrot Sticks

Pizza Bread Rollups (adapted from Southern Living and one of our favorites!!!)

1 can of refrigerated pizza crust dough
1 large egg slightly beaten
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 pkg of sliced pepperoni
1 t. of dried Italian seasoning
¾ cup of pizza sauce

Preheat oven to 375˚. Unroll dough onto lightly greased jelly-roll pan and pat or roll to ¼ inch thickness. Brush lightly with egg. Sprinkle with cheese and pepperoni. Roll up, jelly-roll fashion, pinching ends and seams to seal. Curl dough into a circle (think really large doughnut), pinching ends together to seal. Brush with egg and sprinkle with Italian seasoning.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden. Cut into 2 inch thick slices and serve with pizza sauce.

This is a great recipe for the kids to get involved. My kids love to paint on the egg and sprinkle the cheese.

Chicken and Artichoke Calzones – adapted from Cooking Light

2 small jars of marinated artichoke hearts, drained and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ chopped roasted red peppers
2 cups thinly sliced fresh spinach leaves
1 1/4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded cooked chicken breast
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 teaspoons parmesan cheese
1 (13.8-ounce) can refrigerated pizza crust dough

Preheat oven to 425°.

Combine artichokes and garlic in a large bowl. Add spinach, cheese, and chicken; toss gently to combine.

Brush oil over a baking sheet; sprinkle with parmesan. Unroll dough onto prepared baking sheet; cut into 6 equal portions. Cover and let rest 5 minutes. Pat each portion into a 6 x 5-inch rectangle. Spoon 2/3 cup spinach mixture into center of each dough portion.

Fold one corner of each dough portion over spinach mixture to form a triangle. Press edges together with fingers to seal. Bake at 425° for 12 minutes or until golden.

And now for the shopping list. As always, double check your pantry, fridge and freezer to see if you already have any of the items listed below. This will reduce your spending and create less waste! And NEVER shop without a plan!

Most of the items listed below are on special at Giant Eagle as well as many other supermarkets. Please check your local grocery for its weekly specials. Also, many of the items can be purchased at Costco or Sam's Club at great prices!

Baby carrots
Fresh thyme, rosemary, and oregano – poultry mix of fresh herbs – or use dried
Baby carrots – 2 pkgs
Green onions
Green pepper

Parmesan cheese

Olive oil
Canola oil
Balsamic vinegar
Cooking spray
Cooking sherry
Italian seasoning

Canned Goods/Ethnic Foods/Dry Goods
Box of elbow macaroni
Wild rice
Rice – white or brown
Panko Breadcrumbs
3 cans of Chicken broth
Soy sauce
Wasabi paste
15-oz. Can of corn, drained
15 oz. Can of hominy, drained
15 oz. Can of black beans, partially drained
8 oz. Can of tomato paste
8 oz. Salsa (medium)
1 package of taco seasoning
Pizza sauce
2 small jars of marinated artichoke hearts
Roasted red peppers

Seafood/Meat Case/Butcher
2 whole roasting chickens or fryers (they are smaller)
4 boneless, center-cut pork chops

Frozen Foods
Sugar snap peas

Shredded cheddar Jack blend – need 4 cups
8 oz. Velveeta
Refrigerator pizza dough – 2 cans if you need it!
Shredded mozzarella cheese


Tortilla chips

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Fridays: Fashion, Film, and Fred Rogers

Friday, 09 September 2011 05:44 AM Written by

 Tonight, Friday September 9th, the 8th annual Pittsburgh Fashion Story celebrates Film and Fashion at the Jay Verno Studios which s benefits the Allegheny Children’s Initiative.    Models will be wearing outfits from local designers inspired by various Pittsburgh-related films including "Flashdance", "Batman", and even "Night of the Living Dead."  You can rest assured you will not be worst dressed as that I am the honorary chair.  Come help prove the recent GQ article that Pittsburgh is the 3rd Worst Dressed City, wrong. This event is almost sold out, so if you are planning to attend, buy tickets at

 And next Friday, September 16th, the Steeltown Entertainment Project and Pitt In Hollywood present a truly special afternoon about “The Making of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” where those producers and actors behind the show will talk about the process of how this legendary program was made.   

Children and adults around know the iconic sweater and sneakers of Fred Rogers and his program “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”, but on Friday September 16th at 3:30 p.m. at the William Pitt Union at the University of Pittsburgh, the audience will get a rare “behind the scenes” look at how this influential television show that changed the lives of millions was made.   Producers and actors from “The Neighborhood,” including Pitt alum and actor David Newell (aka “Mr. McFeely”), Pitt alum and Associate Producer Hedda Sharapan who both worked with Fred from the earliest days of the show, will be joined by Fred Rogers Company President Bill Isler, producer Margy Whitmer, and actor and writer Elizabeth Seamans (aka “Mrs. McFeely) for this very special program.   They will be sharing their own stories of how the 895 episodes of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” were produced along with less known details about how the show came as well as less well known details such as how Fred had lunch each week with Pitt Child Development Professor Margaret McFarland to help inform the program and be true to the emotional lives of children.

This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited so guests are asked to RSVP to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .     It is co-sponsored by the Steeltown Entertainment Project and Pitt In Hollywood in association with the University of Pittsburgh’s Film Studies and Children’s Literature programs.  For more information, go to   


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