Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Everyday People

by Stewart O’Nan

“o’Nan’s protean imagination, if it can be summed up at all, seems to be civic. . . . He is a writer who reaches out, both making and bridging worlds. . . . The novel is like a neighborhood, with chapters about various characters set side by side like so many doors on the same street.” –Stacey D”Erasmo, The New York Times Book Review

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 304
  • Publication Date May 17, 2002
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-3883-5
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $13.00

About The Book

“An important book . . . Beautiful, heartbreaking, haunting.” –Manuel Luis Martinez, Chicago Tribune

Stewart O’Nan’s critically acclaimed novel Everyday People brings together the stories of the people of an African- American Pittsburgh neighborhood during one fateful week in the early fall of 1998. Vibrant, poignant, and brilliantly rendered, Everyday People is a lush, dramatic portrait that vividly captures the experience of the day-to-day struggle that is life in urban America.

“A sad and haunting novel . . . The struggles of the Tolbert family, with love and obligation, with hope and the end of hope, give shape to a plot that does not wholly unspool until the last sentence–about the most dramatic and poignant I have ever read.”–Jack Beatty, The Atlantic

“With wit, tenderness, and empathy Stewart O’Nan renders a detailed portrait of life . . . that’s more than just a description of hard knocks against the backdrop of urban blight. . . . An important book about a subject long underrepresented in American fiction . . . A unique and tantalizing novel that celebrates the lives of everyday people in an extraordinary way.”–Mike Maiello, San Francisco Chronicle

Tags Literary


“o’Nan’s Everyday People is dynamic, out there and operating at a frequency that has you feeling things at the most unexpected of moments. . . . Reading this novel will reward with a profound, sobering realization of the differences that exist between us while insisting nonetheless that we share a profound sameness. o’Nan accomplishes a rare thing, for he has us mourn a common loss. . . . Everyday People aims at restoring to the sufferer and the victim . . . their full and due humanity. . . . It is not a thing easily done. But Stewart o’Nan has pulled it off in beautiful, heartbreaking, haunting fashion.” –Manuel Luis Martinez, The Chicago Tribune

“With wit, tenderness, and empathy Stewart o’Nan renders a detailed portrait. . . . A unique and tantalizing novel that celebrates the lives of everyday people in an extraordinary way.” –Michael Maiello, San Francisco Chronicle

“Compassionate, sharply observed . . . Everyday People moves us close–sometimes uncomfortably close–to the lives of ordinary folks who are trapped in circumstances beyond their control.

” –David Haynes, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“o’Nan’s protean imagination, if it can be summed up at all, seems to be civic. . . . He is a writer who reaches out, both making and bridging worlds. . . . The novel is like a neighborhood, with chapters about various characters set side by side like so many doors on the same street.” –Stacey D”Erasmo, The New York Times Book Review

“A sad and haunting novel . . . The struggles of the Tolbert family, with love and obligation, with hope and the end of hope, give shape to a plot that does not wholly unspool until the last sentence–about the most dramatic and poignant I have ever read.” –Jack Beatty, The Atlantic Monthly

“The only thing certain about a work by Stewart o’Nan is that it will be full of unexpected, and occasionally underappreciated, gifts. His fiction reflects the full richness of experience in all its spirited and tragic power. Everyday People is his latest in a long line of surprises, an unusually constructed piece full of unflinching insight. . . . It’s a wonderful experience for any reader who relishes a subtle challenge wrapped in rhythmic prose.” –Robin Vidimos, The Denver Post

“o’Nan has too much respect for his characters to reduce them to stereotypes. His tender, unjudgmental portrayals and his command of slang and popular culture prevent his characters’ lives from devolving into the mere “pat tragedies in blackface” that Crest observes during his endless hours of watching television. Instead, the novel reveals a group of quietly heroic everyday people.” –Michael Connery, Time Out New York

‘despite the horror of his subjects and the graphic energy of his writing, o’Nan studiously avoids sensationalism and sentimentality. This stylistic sure-footedness and lightness of touch is just as essential to the success of his latest novel, Everyday People, with its struggles of much more mundane proportions.” –Tess Lewis, The Baltimore Sun

“Among the blessings available to anybody with a library card is Stewart o’Nan, surely the novelist of his generation most capable of ushering readers into a world that, like their own, is one they won’t want to leave, no matter how its joys collapse and die and its terrors loom. . . . Stewart o’Nan draws [the characters of Everyday People] with such skill that they become people we know better than the people we really know. We know them even better than ourselves, in fact, and that is precisely what makes o’Nan’s every sentence so resonant, his every novel so good.” –David Kirby, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“The title promises lyrical social realism, and the novel delivers, weaving gritty street rhythms with a Faulknerian flow.” –Entertainment Weekly

Everyday People is an engaging picture of the lives of the working poor–with plenty of soul and no easy answers.” –Judith Wynn, Boston Herald

‘stewart o’Nan’s emotional novel depicts a community and its people in gritty, poetic prose.” –Lee Milazzo, The Dallas Morning News

“[A] deeply satisfying book that reveals the limits to any one person’s knowledge of exactly how he or she fits into the story that is his or her life. o’Nan’s prose is supple and generous . . . a compelling document of the danger and mercies of being human.” –Amy Benfer, Salon

“Like Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio or Gloria Naylor’s Women of Brewster Place, Everyday People weaves its tale elliptically, through vignettes that evoke the nuances of East Liberty. . . . Everyday People never stumbles. . . . o’Nan creates vivid interior worlds for each character, evoking their conflicts and joys with a grace and agility that is astonishing. . . . What makes Everyday People remarkable is that it does not rely on facts–the oft-cited statistics about crime, or, say, the numbers of black men in prison–but rather on the stories of its characters, illuminating East Liberty’s endless tug of war with fate.” –John Freeman, Kansas City Star

“o’Nan puts his readers inside the hearts and minds of the neighborhood’s many characters by switching points of view from one chapter to the next. Telling a story in so many different ways is risky; if not handled well, the narrative line can fragment. The narrative soars in Everyday People, however, and knits together every character’s thoughts and experiences into a seductive whole.” –Kassie Rose, Columbus Dispatch

“A tough, bold, expertly tender, beautiful novel. Everyday People takes us deeply into its singular characters and treats them with respect. Stewart o’Nan is a wise, powerful writer.” –Joanna Scott

“Explores a Pittsburgh neighborhood with . . . nonjudgmental empathy and respect for ordinary folks . . . Quietly passionate, imbued with a subtle understanding of how the personal and political intertwine: another fine effort from an always-intriguing writer.” –Kirkus Reviews

‘set in a black neighborhood of Pittsburgh during one eventful week in 1998, this novel focuses on a group of residents struggling to survive amidst a landscape of poverty and gang violence. . . . Often sad, sometimes hopeful, and always richly rendered.” –Library Journal

“The protean o’Nan seems determined to touch nearly every facet of human experience in a remarkable variety of times and places. . . . o’Nan’s empathy for his characters conveys their sense of frustration and powerlessness, the restlessness of teenagers and the older generation’s stoic dignity.” –Publishers Weekly

Praise for Stewart O’Nan:

“I think that if you haven’t read Stewart o’Nan . . . you have some catching up to do.” –Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly


A Book Sense 76 Selection
A Los Angeles Times Bestseller


Chapter One

EAST LIBERTY DOESN’T need the Martin Robinson Express Busway. It’s for the commuters who come in every day from Penn Hills and sit in front, hiding behind their Post-Gazettes, their briefcases balanced across their knees. When you get on, their eyes brush up against you, then dart off like scared little fish. They might notice your suit is just as fine as theirs–probably even more styling–but then they look away, and you aren’t there anymore. No one saying a mumbling word. Seats all taken like they got on in twos, driver switched them in like a herd of turkeys can’t think a lick for themselves. Goddamn. 1998, and you’re back in the back of the bus, seats underneath you hot from the big diesel, lump of nasty duct tape grabbing at your slacks.

What East Liberty wanted was a new community center with a clinic. The old one’s small and falling apart and just lost its funding. What we need is a good clean place to take the babies, some after-school programs for the young people.

But that got voted down in city council. The ballots fell by color lines, paper said–not a surprise, especially the way they said it. A Black thing, all your fault, like you were asking for something no one else has. It was predictable, that’s the sad thing; even the good Jewish liberals in Squirrel Hill are pinching their pennies these days. Taxes this and welfare that, like they gonna starve or something. Let’s not even talk about them simple crackers out past that.

There still had to be some way to get some money into the community. That must have been what Martin Robinson was thinking. You voted for him–have your whole life–so who are you supposed to blame? And the money would come in. Half the contracts were supposed to go to local businesses, and Martin made sure that happened. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the Martin Robinson Express Busway basically stops all traffic–white and black and otherwise–from coming through the business district. The way the city council and their planners drew up the project, the busway effectively cuts East Liberty off from the rest of Pittsburgh. State money but they made a deal, took his own bill out of Martin’s hands. Two busy bridges had to go (crowds gathered to count down the perfect explosions), and South Highland had to be rerouted around the business district (meaning the dead Sears there, you understand). So if you ever wanted whitefolks to leave you alone, you ought to be happy now.

Probably would be if it wasn’t for the money. And the services too, you know. It’ll take that much longer for an ambulance to get over here, and you think that’s a mistake? Fire engine, police when you need them, gas and electric in winter.

And then they name the thing after him. Good man, Martin Robinson, not one of those sorry-ass Al Sharpton, greasy-hair-wearing, no ‘count jackleg preachers with five Cadillacs and ten rings on his fingers and twenty lawyers playing games. Martin’s got thirty years in the state house, might be the best man to come out of East Liberty, definitely the one who’s done the most for the people. Come up on Spofford, regular people, raised right. You ask Miss Fisk, she’ll tell you. Old Mayor Barr who called out the Guard on us in ’67, he got a tunnel named after him, and Dick Caligiuri, the poor man who died of that terrible disease, he got the county courthouse. Martin Robinson deserves the new stadium, or maybe that community center we need, something positive, not some raggedy-ass busway. It’s plain disrespectful.

Thing has been bad luck from the jump. Martin passed this bill so they had to build walkways over top it so the kids can still get to the park. City council said they had to be covered so no one could throw nothing at the buses–concrete blocks or whatever. While they were building them, at night the kids would climb up there and spraypaint their names. It was a game with them. I’m not saying it’s right, but kids will do that kind of mess, that’s just the way they are. What happens is one night these two youngbloods get up there in the dark and everything half built and something goes wrong, way wrong, and it ends up they fall off, right smack down in the middle of the busway, and one of them dies. Miss Fisk’s grandson, it was, so it hit everybody the way something like that does. Seventeen years old. Other child ends up in a wheelchair, for life they say. Another young black prince. Just a little blip in the paper, not even on TV.

And that’s nobody’s fault, I’m not saying that, but damn, it seems like that kind of thing happens around here all the time. Here’s two kids who just needed a place to do their thing, and we don’t get that, so there they go doing something foolish and it all turns out wrong.

I don’t know, I just don’t see the dedication of this busway as something to celebrate. I understand everyone wants to represent, you know, and show love for Martin. I got more love for Martin than anybody, but all this drama, I don’t know. The thing’s a month away. It’s like those people get all excited about Christmas when it’s not even Halloween.

I understand. It’s a big day for East Liberty, all the TV stations will be here. Put a good face on. I’ll be there, you know I will, cuz, but I’m just being straight with you, it’s not all gravy, this thing. Everything comes with a price, and too many times that price is us. I’m getting real tired of paying it, know what I’m saying?