Author, Photographer, Literary Activist
Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
Paola Corso is the author of seven poetry and fiction books set in her native Pittsburgh where her Southern Italian immigrant family worked in the steel mills. Her books include newly released VERTICAL BRIDGES: POEMS AND PHOTOGRAPHS OF CITY STEPS, THE LAUNDRESS CATCHES HER BREATH, winner of the Tillie Olsen Award in Creative Writing, ONCE I WAS TOLD THE AIR WAS NOT FOR BREATHING, winner of the Triangle Fire Memorial Association Award, and CATINA'S HAIRCUT: A NOVEL IN STORIES, a Sons of Italy National Book Club Selection.
Honors include a NEW YORK FOUNDATION FOR THE ARTS POETRY FELLOWSHIP, a SHERWOOD ANDERSON FICTION PRIZE, inclusion on the PENNSYLVANIA CENTER FOR THE BOOK'S CULTURAL MAP, and National Endowment for the Arts WritersCorps Artist Residency.
A literary activist, Paola Corso is co-founder/resident artist of STEPPIN STANZAS, a grant-awarded poetry and art project celebrating city steps, and co-founder/poet activist of THE FERLINGHETTI GIRLS. Corso exhibits her photographs as a member of PARK SLOPE WINDSOR TERRACE ARTISTS.
She divides her time between New York City’s grid and Pittsburgh’s grade.
“Corso’s unforgettable steps are the slow climb to Heaven. This is a remarkably imaginative book replete with stunning photographs by Corso herself.”
A Tillie Olsen Award Winner
"Corso draws us into the grimy world of factory and clothesline, diner and lung disease with extraordinary skill. Her collection is in fact breathtaking."
—SANDRA M. GILBERT
A Triangle Fire Memorial Association Awardee
"These essential and heart-breaking poems are pure oxygen. Breathe deeply and learn from this wise poet."
A Sons of Italy
National Book Club Selection
"Corso follows an Italian family through four generations from the Calabrian town of San Procopio to Pittsburgh in this fable-like follow-up to Giovanna's 86 Circles.... The stories, individually, find moments of inspired, ethereal revelation."
A John Garnder Book Award Finalist
"...memorable and entrancing...powerful in the moment thanks to the imagery's dream-like density."
with photos by George Thomas Mendel
Debut Book of Poetry
"Few books address the anxiety of moving between classes and the assimilation of second-generation immigrants with such urgency and poetic capability as Paola Corso's Death by Renaissance."
—THE INDIANA REVIEW
“Pittsburgh is a confluence of three rivers, but then came a day I looked up from the valley to the hills and saw what’s between: public stairways—more than any other city in the country. City steps and steps in the city. Steps to admire for their architectural beauty. Steps my grandfather, a stone mason from Sicily, built. Steps my Calabrian father climbed to and from the steel mill. The more I saw, the more I realized what I had overlooked since childhood. Steps are vertical bridges, and I want to cross them in my poetry and photography. As connections in the landscape. Connections we make with each other. That middle ground where we meet.”
From Paola Corso's book, VERTICAL BRIDGES: POEMS AND PHOTOGRAPHS OF CITY STEPS
Paola Corso's photographs, bookmarks, and magnets of city steps are available for purchase. Visit her GALLERY and ARTIST STATEMENT.
Steppin Stanzas is a grant-awarded poetry and arts project celebrating Pittsburgh public steps and the city’s heritage, diversity, and distinctive geography. Along with its three rivers, Pittsburgh’s hills and nearly 750 public stairways are its most defining characteristics. Steppin Stanzas events take place on city steps to offer a new way for residents to experience the landscape of their neighborhood and bring art to a venue that few other cities can offer.
CO-FOUNDERS AND RESIDENT ARTISTS Paola Corso, a poet, photographer, and literary activist, and Andrew Edwards, a multi-lingual poet, launched Steppin Stanzas in 2016 by creating original poems inspired by city steps and performing them with GUEST ARTISTS Sahra DeRoy, a belly dance artist, and guitarist Aaron LeFebvre along the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association’s Annual PITTSBURGH STEPTREK route. They were awarded a SPROUT FUND SEED GRANT to launch the project.
In subsequent years, Corso and Edwards performed with percussionist Koku Kuwanu at the Polish Hill Arts Festival in Pittsburgh, organized a STEP QUOTE CONTEST, as well as produced the video, “ON THE WAY UP: CITY STEPS, CITY IMMIGRANTS, a mix of poetry, music, dance, and art that pays tribute to early immigrants who built city stairways and those who now care for them as well as new immigrants to Pittsburgh. Corso and Edwards are joined by Michael DiLauro, an Emmy-winning director and producer of documentaries; belly dance artist Sahra DeRoy; Koku Kuwonu, a drummer from the African country of Togo; Japanese-American Keiko Maeda; Portugese-American Maria Laranginho, and poet and English as a Second Language instructor Christine Telfer.
Corso and Edwards were awarded a GREATER PITTSBURGH ARTS COUNCIL grant to exhibit their original PHOTOGRAPHS of city steps and recite their poetry at public libraries. Her BOOKMARKS AND PHOTO MAGNETS are available at bookstores and gift shops.
The Steppin Stanzas Project is included in a Literary Hub press article as one reason "Pittsburgh is Littsburgh."
PRESS and news
"...a fascinating ecology of urban spaces, emphasizing the delicate lives and quotidian strength of those who climb up and down stairways: workers, immigrants, children, lovers.
In each direction, these poetic flights offer
an all-encompassing view.”
LAURA E. RUBERTO Berkeley City College
"On the Way Up: City Steps, City Immigrants"
Steppin stanzas video
To order a DVD or arrange a viewing of the video, contact Steppin Stanzas Co-founder Paola Corso for more information.
ARCHIVAL PHOTOGRAPHS OF PITTSBURGH IN VERTICAL BRIDGES
Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection
Archives & Special Collections,
University of Pittsburgh Library
Vertical Bridges is on Pittsburgh Magazine's BOOK LIST "10 Books to Make Your Winter a Little Brighter."
Ovunque Siamo: New Italian American Writing posted a BOOK REVIEW of Vertical Bridges in its Spring 2021 issue.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a BOOK REVIEW of Vertical Bridges.
A Pennsylvania School Librarians Association LITERATURE REVIEW of Vertical Bridges.
Read an INTERVIEW of Paola's new book VERTICAL BRIDGES: POEMS AND PHOTOGRAPHS OF CITY STEPS.
Littsburgh, an online site celebrating Pittsburgh's literary scene, posted a VERTICAL BRIDGES: POEMS AND PHOTOGRAPHS OF CITY STEPS PAGE on it website. It also included the book on it's 12 DAYS OF PITTSBURGH INDIES post.
The Steppin Stanzas Project is included in a Literary Hub press article as one reason "Pittsburgh is Littsburgh." Author Kristopher Collins: "The city’s 800 public stairways inspired poet Paola Corso to create STEPPIN STANZAS, a passion project that reinvents these narrow flights as sites for readings, art making, and music performances."
Some of my TRIANGLE FIRE poems are featured at the Mother Jones Museum in Illinois. Check out the Women and Their Sewing Machines page to read about Mother Jones' account of her dressmaking years in Chicago.
Listen to a song inspired by my poem, "Love's Ladder" called ASK YOURSELF (WHAT WOULD YOU DO FOR LOVE) lyrics and music by Lou Davelman.
Pleased to announce that my poem, "In Our Hands" in the #Me Too anthology published by Poets Wear Prada is a 2020 Nominee for the next edition of the Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses XLVI.
Paola is writing a feature article for Heinz History Center's Western Pennsylvania History Magazine with archival photographs of city steps from the University of Pittsburgh. She'll be gathering community memories and stories about them. Her book, VERTICAL BRIDGES: POEMS AND PHOTOGRAPHS OF CITY STEPS includes a spread of black and white photographs from the collection that date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s when steps were the first form of public transportation for workers living in the hills to commute to steel mills in the valley.
Check out a few historic photographs below. Have a memory or story about city steps? SHARE YOUR STEP STORIES.
"In the Bronx They Say," Paola's poem about Bronx step streets appears in the Summer 2020 issue of Italian Americana: Cultural and Historical Review and in her new book, VERTICAL BRIDGES: POEMS AND PHOTOGRAPHS OF CITY STEPS.
Paola's poem, ON THE WAY UP: PITTSBURGH STEPTREK, a tribute to the immigrants such as her Sicilian grandfather who built city steps, those who care for them, and new immigrants to the city, was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Paola was a featured reader in the Third Annual Preview Poetry Reading of PRESENCE: A JOURNAL OF CATHOLIC POETRY on Saturday, January 18, 2020. She read the poem, "Praying the Steps" published in the journal 2020 volume and forthcoming in her new book, VERTICAL BRIDGES: POEMS AND PHOTOGRAPHS OF CITY STEPS
Thrilled to have two short stories set in Pittsburgh from my collection, GIOVANNA'S 86 CIRCLES translated into Italian in MIRAGGI ITALIANI along with work by Tony Ardizzone, Adria Bernardi, and Kenny Marotta. Mille grazie to Editor Carla Francellini.
SAVE THE DATE
Check back for new events added here.
Paola will give a reading from Vertical Bridges: Poems and Photographs of City Steps on May 14, 2022 at the GREATER PITTSBURGH FESTIVAL OF BOOKS.
The Carnegie Public Library-Oakmont Branch will exhibit Paola's PHOTOGRAPHS of city steps and color collages the month of May 2022 along with a poetry reading and book signing. More details to come. POSTPONED UNTIL THE FALL.
Paola also posts updates on her FACEBOOK PAGE.
MEN ON BRADY STREET STEPS Oakland, November 27, 1907
looking towards Bates St., Oakland February 24, 1912
WATT MILK STATION Hill District, July 26, 1922
BIGGS AVENUE STEPS
December 19, 1928
EDINGTON STREET STEPS Hazelton
May 15, 1936