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Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Dr. Nancy McCabe
BRADFORD, Pa. -- As a twentysomething, Dr. Nancy McCabe, director of the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford’s writing program, wanted to write a book just for fun. She was writing a lot of serious pieces and wanted a diversion. The rough draft of her novel “Following Disasters” was that something fun.

“Following Disasters” tells the story of Maggie Owen, a young woman who has been running from her past since she graduated high school, hopping around the United States to establish temporary insurance offices in the wake of disasters. She inherits a house from her estranged aunt on her 21st birthday, and, when she returns home to decide what to do with the house, she ends up living in it.

The novel, published by Outpost19, was released on Oct. 1. The Friends of Hanley Library will hold a release party at 7 p.m. Oct. 19 in the Mukaiyama University Room in the Frame-Westerberg Commons. McCabe will give a talk and a reading and light refreshments will be served. This event is free and open to the public.

“The book is very grounded in the concerns that I was dealing with in my 20s,” McCabe said. “Every decision you make is ruling out every other decision you could make.”

Since writing that first draft, McCabe has been busy. Although “Following Disasters” is her first novel, she has published four memoirs since 2003 that cover topics from adopting her daughter from China to revisiting the books she loved as a child.

She is a prolific essayist, featured in multiple anthologies, and she posts monthly for the Ploughshares blog. In addition to directing the writing program at Pitt-Bradford, she is also a professor of creative nonfiction and fiction at Spalding University’s low-residency Master of Fine Arts program.

Her work has won the Pushcart Prize for memoir and two awards from Prairie Schooner, a literary magazine. She also has been featured on the notable list for Houghton-Mifflin Best American anthologies six times.

Despite all her other work, she never forgot “Following Disasters.”

“Every now and then I came back to it and worked on it some more,” McCabe said, “and it gained more layers.”

Through years of revision, the novel that was originally intended to simply be a fun project turned into something more serious. While she still drew on some of the conventions of romance and ghost stories, McCabe says that her book is a literary novel that deals with some of the more complicated issues of young adulthood.

“I wanted to write about the choices that we make and how they’re influenced by so many other factors,” McCabe said. She said that she wanted to capture how very few decisions or endings in real life are simply happy or simply sad and are instead a combination of negatives and positives.

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