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Duquesne University President Publishes First Novel

Ken Gormley, the president of Duquesne University, is shown at work in his office. Gormley has just published his first novel, “The Heiress of Pittsburgh.”

PITTSBURGH — As a lawyer, law professor, best-selling author and, more recently, a university president, Ken Gormley has been on plenty of airplanes criss-crossing the country.

But instead of thumbing one of those easy-to-digest thrillers you can pick up in an airport gift shop before takeoff, Gormley has been busy on some of those flights refining a thriller of his own.

Creating dialogue, characters and situations was “a form of enjoyment,” Gormley explained. “I have a little study at home, and my wife, Laura, would say, ‘Why are you going in there on a Friday night or a Saturday night?’ And I would say, ‘Working on creative writing like this is as much fun as going to the movies.’ You’re just creating it yourself. You’re creating the story. It really is, for people who love to write, a form of relaxation.”

After a 30-year gestation, Gormley’s first stab at a novel, “The Heiress of Pittsburgh,” was published in October by Milford House Press of Mechanicsburg. The tale of a widowed Pittsburgh lawyer dealing with rebellious teenage daughters and a case involving an estate, it’s a departure for the Duquesne University president who built a national profile with a well-regarded account of the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton and a biography of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. “The Heiress of Pittsburgh” is something that Gormley wrote, rewrote, revised and revised again over the years whenever he had a spare minute between teaching, practicing law, writing nonfiction and other obligations.

“I always knew I wanted to write a piece of fiction, and I always knew I wanted it to be about Pittsburgh and working-class towns like this place where I grew up,” Gormley said.

The cover of Ken Gormley's first novel, “The Heiress of Pittsburgh,” is shown.

A native of Swissvale and Edgewood, the 66-year-old first made his mark as a writer when he won a college journalism award from Rolling Stone magazine while attending the University of Pittsburgh. After earning a degree in political science and philosophy from Pitt, Gormley went to Harvard Law School. But he returned to Pittsburgh after completing his juris doctorate, and has remained steeped in the community ever since.

The gritty, working-class milieu that Gormley depicts in “The Heiress of Pittsburgh” is, he believes, “such a rich part of American history. … All of these working-class communities in the whole region, I think they are the heart of America, and we often forget how much they contributed. I grew up right across from the Union Switch & Signal (railway company) and I can still hear the sounds of the railroad cars banging into each other at night.”

Gormley continued, “I can close my eyes and imagine these remarkable people who had such character and had such integrity, but they didn’t get a lot of fame or fortune. They kept their heads down and did the work that was important for the whole country. I think the whole region is a magnificent place for a writer to capture.”

After all the tinkering with “The Heiress of Pittsburgh,” Gormley said he reached a point where believed the book was ready to be shared with the wider world. All the royalties from it are being earmarked for Duquesne’s creative writing program because “it’s really important for young people to be supported in learning the craft of writing, which is a difficult and lonely occupation,” he said.

And, no, Gormley is not planning on penning a second novel, though he does have other projects in mind.

Pittsburgh and its surrounding communities are a backdrop for Ken Gormley's debut novel, “The Heiress of Pittsburgh.”

“The Heiress of Pittsburgh” can be found at local bookstores or through Amazon.

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