One writer who never forgets his roots
Of all the potential career choices I considered in my youth (cartoonist, inventor, Lego architect, Ninja Turtle), I never thought I would have become a journalist, especially since I used to avoid reading and writing at all costs. At first, I’d fake sick or claim senility, but over time, somehow, I developed a certain skill that enabled me to successfully cruise through any elementary school writing assignment, college admissions essay and undergraduate thesis paper: the timeless art of B.S.-ing.
It’s important to note that with such a skill, I could’ve been successful in a number of highly prolific fields such as law, politics or maybe even the rabbinate (I was that good).
In fact, I was so good that I B.S.-ed my way into unemployment when I graduated college. To my surprise, nobody had any use for philosophy majors.
Luckily, I eventually settled on journalism, a field that has almost completely exorcised all B.S. from my system. And thanks to the Los Angeles and Pittsburgh Jewish communities, I think I’ll have plenty of material to keep me B.S.-free for a while.
Expatriate Pittsburgher and author David Slater also understands the value of substance, especially when writing about Pittsburgh. His recent novel, “Selfless,” takes place in the ’Burgh and revisits much of his childhood nostalgia.
“I love Pittsburgh and it was neat to me to see it on paper,” says David, who also teaches seventh-grade English in Portland, Ore., where he lives with his wife and son.
A Squirrel Hill native, David grew up across the street from Tree of Life Congregation and attended Falk and Allderdice before majoring in psychology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and earning his master’s in English from Carnegie Mellon University.
Though his most recent book falls under adult fiction, David started his professional writing career authoring several children’s books, followed by a teen novel.
As a teacher, David says he enjoys “getting kids start to thinking in new ways and watching them change over the course of the year.”
But as a children’s book author, he’s mainly interested in laughs, as evident from some of his titles, “Cheese Louise,” “Ned Loses His Head” and “Seven Ate Nine.”
His teen fiction, entitled “The Book of Nonsense,” is the first of its series, with the second book, “The Book of Knowledge,” set to be released in October.
“It’s like a Da Vinci Code for teens,” described David.
David was first inspired to pursue writing after taking a realism class at CMU. On a whim, he scanned the optional reading syllabus and was intrigued by the work of writer Jorges Luis Borges, whose creative “book reviews of books that don’t exist and fiction described as scholarship,” helped sculpt his desire to become an author.
“I probably wouldn’t have pursued writing otherwise,” says David.
His first adult novel and latest book, “Selfless” follows the life of the seemingly put together young Jonathan Schwartz, whose family twists him in every direction.
“It’s a book about where you get your identity,” says David. “I think it’s your typical first novel and you write what you know. Jonathan Schwartz lives near me, went to Allderdice and went to Michigan.”
Drawing from his memories of Pittsburgh, David says he didn’t have much trouble getting in touch with his younger self. Of course, he’s also quick to admit that Jonathan’s dysfunctional family hardly resembles his own family.
Though his family no longer resides in Pittsburgh, David says he’s hoping to make it back there for a potential book tour and expects that some day he’ll “probably write more about Pittsburgh.”
And judging from the amount of Pittsburgh references in his recent novel, I don’t think he’s B.S.-ing us.
(For more information on David Slater’s book collection, visit his Web site at davidmichaelslater.com. Jay Firestone, a Pittsburgh native and staff writer for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, writes about Pittsburghers who now live somewhere else. He can be reached at