Novelist and Pitt-Oakland professor Kathleen George spoke before 35 people April 2 as part of the Western Pennsylvania Literatures Conference.
George, speaking from a podium in Heritage Hall, told listeners how she arrived at her 2014 novel “The Johnstown Girls,” which is about two twins in the 1889 Johnstown flood.
She began with two anecdotes describing how her parents could tell she would be a writer.
Living through the 1977 Johnstown flood and the panic of searching for her mother solidified her inspiration, she said.
“There were tractors in trees,” she said, describing the flood’s carnage.
Another reason for the story’s setting was her familiarity with the area, since she is a native.
“When I need a place for criminals to go, I generally send them to Johnstown,” she said.
Johnstown residents have a certain spirit that appeals to her, she said.
“We’re tough,” she said. “We can bounce back from anything and stay nice while we do it.”
She described how she developed her characters through interviewing real survivors, talking to experts and acting her characters out.
George has directed at least nine productions and has written eight novels. Her next challenge is to combine the two and adapt one of her mysteries into a play, she said.
Before George’s speech, students presented 33 papers on topics such as identity, gender and religion. There were also presentations from award winners and ones concerning identity and Marxism.
Presentations were grouped into nine different panels according to subject. Several panels ran concurrently, so people had to decide which to attend.
Students from St. Francis University and Pennsylvania State University’s Altoona campus also presented. Presenters also came from Saint Vincent College, Duquesne University and Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Indiana sophomore Alyssa Long presented “Existentialism and Marxism in Politics: An Analysis of ‘Man’s Fate.’”
She wrote the paper in her critical theory class, she said, and reworked it several times for the presentation.
Though this was her first conference, she said she would like to attend another.
She said her favorite presentation was Pitt-Johnstown junior Jacob Williamson-Rea’s analysis of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” because Williamson-Rea had access to original manuscripts.
Indiana sophomores Anna Lang and Mary Cooper also attended the conference.
The conference was their first but it was a good-sized conference with which to start, Lang said.
Lang said she wishes she had presented during the conference. She had papers that would have applied to several topics discussed, she said.
Lang said she hopes to present in the future.
Pitt-Johnstown junior Meagan Ruefle said her favorite presentation was Emily Paonessa’s “Erasure, Exile, and Emigration in Desai’s ‘The Inheritance of Loss.’”
Paonessa had a similar topic as her own presentation, “The Generation of an Idealized Identity,” so Ruefle said she was able to connect with the material.
Her presented paper was derived from professor Ann Rea’s world literature class last semester, she said.
It was her first time presenting, but she would consider getting involved in a conference again, Ruefle said.