Reflecting on Western Pennsylvania: Squirrel Hill as Setting
By Kimberly McElhatten
The essay collection Western Pennsylvania Reflections: Stories from the Alleghenies to Lake Erie features sixteen creative nonfiction selections with ties to Western Pennsylvania, two written by Squirrel Hill natives, Sue Kreke Rumbaugh and Marjorie Maddox.
In her essay, “Playing Among the Dead and Dying,” Rumbaugh recreates the Squirrel Hill of her childhood, moving the reader through memories of ice skating and sled riding in Homewood Cemetery and Frick Park to the darker reality of losing a parent. Her essay shows how Squirrel Hill shaped her early concepts of place, family and faith. Like many of the essays in the collection, Rumbaugh’s essay captures a complex nostalgia that focuses on both the beauty and darkness of place.
Grateful to call Squirrel Hill her childhood home, Rumbaugh says the diversity offered by the community in both its typography and people provided her at an early age the opportunity to contemplate the abundant metaphors that surrounded her.
Rumbaugh spent twenty-years writing for newspapers, as well as working in the marketing and public relations industries with a specific focus in the nonprofit sector. Her essays have been published in various journals and newspapers, including The Bicycle Review and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
After earning her MFA from Carnegie Mellon, she turned to teaching professional and creative writing. Now a retired Associate Professor from Carlow University, Rumbaugh resides in Florida.
Marjorie Maddox’s light-hearted lyric essay, “Squirrelly in Pennsylvania,” captures the everyday antics of squirrels—“the playful pranksters of our youth, the daredevils we no longer dream ourselves of becoming.” In an interview with Maddox, she shared her “hope is that [people] in all parts of PA and even in all parts of the country, will recognize the oak-lined suburban streets, the nearby bike trails, and especially the sometimes charming, sometimes annoying squirrels of Squirrel Hill and elsewhere.” Like much of Maddox’s writing, this essay presses day-to-day experiences to discover the universal. “Squirrelly in Pennsylvania” is forthcoming in Maddox’s first prose collection, What She Was Saying, to be published by Fomite Press in 2017.
Maddox has authored eleven poetry collections and two children’s books. She is currently a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University and lives with her husband and two children in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Both Maddox and Rumbaugh’s essays from Western Pennsylvania Reflections capture the affection we often have for the places we call home, showing pride in their Pennsylvania and Squirrel Hill heritage. As Rumbaugh shared in an interview, “I am grateful for having such a place to call home in my early days.”