Author Mark Kurlansky speaks at Pitt

By Gretchen Andersen

Author and journalist Mark Kurlansky came to Pitt last night, but he had other things to discuss… Author and journalist Mark Kurlansky came to Pitt last night, but he had other things to discuss before reflecting on his successful writing career.

“Wasn’t it a beautiful thing to see the Red Sox ruin the Yankees?”

Kurlansky cracked a number of jokes while he spoke in front of about 70 students and faculty members in the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium. His lecture, which covered his past and upcoming writing projects, was part of the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series, sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Book Center and University of Pittsburgh Press.

Pitt’s English Department named Kurlansky its 2010-11 William Block Senior Writer.

The New York Times best-selling author has written several books including “Cod,” “Salt,” “The Last Fish Tale” and the most recent, “The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macoris.”

Jeff Oaks, managing director of the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series and an English professor at Pitt, said they brought Kurlansky to the University because “he is someone who is an esteemed writer and has done excellent work.”

The Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series brings free readings and emerging writers to Pittsburgh for the benefit of students and the community.

“Last year we brought around 1,200 people to the series over the course of the year,” Oaks said.

During the speech, Kurlansky discussed his most recent work, a book about how professional baseball has shaped a small town in the Dominican Republic.

“The town of San Pedro de Macoris has produced 79 major baseball players,” Kurlansky said. “And now that the book will be on paperback, I have gone back and now that number is 86.”

The town, San Pedro de Macoris, is located on the eastern part of the Dominican Republic. Many people living in the area earn less than $1,000 per year, whereas baseball players have an average annual salary of $3 million, Kurlansky said.

That disparity was in part what peaked his interest in the town and baseball.

“It’s a story about making it, and like other stories, about not making it,” Kurlansky said.

Kurlansky also read an excerpt from his upcoming book, “Edible Stories: A Novel in Sixteen Parts,” which will be released Nov. 2.

The audience listened attentively, and often chuckled aloud, as he read about a bean curd and Thanksgiving turkeys.

Kurlansky said the book is about people and their relationships with food. He said all the chapters in the book, with titles like “Hot Dogs,” “Muffins” and “Icing on the Cake,” build into a compelling tale.

He also read a chapter called “Americans Have Cinnamon on Their Buns.”

Kurlansky said he works eight to 12 hours a day, and his work has taken him to many places across America and the Caribbean.

After the readings and lecture, Kurlansky took questions from the audience and signed copies of his books.

Madeleine Barnes, a CMU student, asked what Kurlansky’s favorite food is.

“My favorite food is one that tells me where I am — where I happen to be. Food that reflects the agriculture, history and people of the place,” Kurlansky said.

The next writer to speak at the University as part of the Pittsburgh Contemporary Writers Series will be Kimiko Hahn at 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 4 in the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium.