New Stories

A Q&A with Karen Dietrich, Reader for the Pitt Greensburg Written/Spoken Series

by Kara Goughnour

On April 27, Karen Dietrich read at Pitt Greensburg’s Written/Spoken Series. She was introduced by Shelby Newhouse and Sam Cook, who are both seniors currently enrolled in the Creative and Professional Writing Capstone.

Karen Dietrich is the author of The Girl Factory: A Memoir (Globe Pequot, 2013), Understory (dancing girl press, 2013), Girl Years (Matter Press, 2012) and Anchor Glass (Finishing Line Press, 2011). She is currently a substitute teacher and a member of Essential Machine, an indie-folk band made up of Dietrich, her husband, and their son.

Question: I saw on your website that you actually work for or have worked for a non-profit organization, and I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit more about that.

Answer: I kind of like to jump around to different endeavors. I’ve worked for two different non-profits pretty recently but now I just actually quit my most recent in January. I worked for Blackburn Center for a couple of years. I really enjoyed that work. I was actually a victim’s advocate.

My main job was to come and meet with women in the hospital, so if a woman had experienced rape, sexual assault, or domestic violence, I was the one to come meet them and offer some support.  Sometimes they’re like “Thanks, I don’t want you to be here.” but for the most part they appreciated the company and I was able to be there and offer some informal counseling and get them connected with what Blackburn Center could do.

I enjoy working for non-profits because I have a hard time working in the corporate world. I have a hard time working a day job where the only point of it is to make a product or make somebody money. I think that’s why I’ve been drawn to work in education where your product is knowledge and learning.

Q: A lot of writers chose to leave Pennsylvania, or at least leave and return some time later. Could you share what compelled you to stay and maybe a reason or two as to why you love Pennsylvania and Westmoreland County?

A: I think that it’s absolutely the people. Obviously, I grew up here, so maybe I’m a little bit biased. I have lived other places. I lived in Florida for about eight years, but there’s something about Southwestern Pennsylvania where there’s just a sense of community and sense of ownership.

The people feel really fiercely attached to this place, I think, there’s a lot of loyalty. There’s a lot of pride. I think that it has a lot to do with the fact that most people were born and raised here and a lot of people decide to stay in the area.

When I was down in Florida there were people from everywhere, and the way that the cities were arranged, everything was so spread out. The thing that a lot of people love about Pittsburgh is the fact that it has all of these little neighborhoods. It’s a city, but each neighborhood has its own character and vibe to it.

Q: How did you decide that you wanted to become a writer?

A: English was always my favorite subject. I loved writing, I loved reading, and I knew that I wanted to do those things and so I knew I wanted to study English in college.

I was more interested in writing and working on my craft, because in high school the only writing I got to do were essays for English class and things like that – not a lot of creative stuff. So when I realized that you could go to college, write stories and study fiction and write poems, I was like, alright, this is where I want to be.

Q: In Girl Factory, the one extreme situation that occurs is the shooting at your parents’ factory, and throughout the entirety of the memoir you talk about your younger self having a fixation on death and crimes such as that, so I was wondering if the gun culture and almost constant shootings of 2018 still affect your mental state in the same way.

A: It absolutely does. You probably won’t be surprised to find this out, but a mass shooting actually factors into my [upcoming] novel in some way. It obviously is something that affected me very deeply as a child with it happening so close to home and happening at this place where I expected my parents would go every day and come home in one piece.

It continues to impact me, it always has. Anytime I hear of any tragedy, really, any random act of violence – and unfortunately it seems in America that most random acts of violence involve guns at this point – I’m still deeply affected. I think of how we could’ve prevented it. I think about how those people were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those things really do keep me up at night.

To add to all of that, my son is in high school. He’s a junior now, and it’s really difficult sometimes just to say goodbye to him in the mornings knowing that I’m sending him into a place where, in our country, anything can happen it seems.

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