Dear Shopping Mall

Apr 5, 2020

Escape with us to the shopping mall, as Matthew Newton and the Arts & Letters team craft a nostalgic love letter to the malls of America, with special focus on the Monroeville Mall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

On this episode of Arts & Letters, we'll be talking with writer Matthew Newton about his Bloomsbury Object Lessons' book Shopping Mall, which chronicles its history, its relationship to us and our collective communities and our personal relationships to it.

Author Matthew Newton
Denim boys from a scan of Newton's 1987 J.C.Penney catalog
Movie still from Dawn of The Dead (1979) showing zombies near the Monroeville Mall footbridge.
A group of Romero fans dressed as zombies to help dismantle and move the bridge from the Monroeville Mall in 2015.
Credit Emily Ruby & The Heinz History Center

Newton writes:

As a child I viewed the mall as a sacred place of curiosity and wonder, its tropical gardens, waterfalls, and ponds--the perfect backdrop for the make-believe worlds I conjured. I associated it with the happiness of weekends, and time spent with my parents and older sister.

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As a teenager the mall is where I first experienced independence. I treated it as a small city to be exploited for everything it offered ... With friends I ran wild through the hidden passages behind the stores and evaded mall security when we pushed things to far; swooned over cute girls and even had my first kiss at the video arcade; abused free-refill policies and ate too many cheap tacos in the food court. 

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In adulthood, though, my relationship with the mall has changed. I've watched its prominence ebb and flow, witnessed how dozens have closed over the last decade while countless other flirt with obsolescence. 

We'll also take a tour of the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to learn about George Romero, who directed the classic horror film Dawn of the Dead, filmed at the Monroeville Mall.  

We'll interview and speak with contemporary Monroeville Mall patrons for their thoughts on the mall. And, with photographer Tag Christof, we'll discuss the current challenges facing Malls and the eerie echos left when they are shuttered and abandoned. 

Matthew Newton is a writer and editor from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His writing has been published by Guernica, Oxford American, The Paris Review, and Spin. He has been awarded grants and fellowships from Creative Capital, Staunton Farm Foundation, Creative Nonfiction, and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

His debut nonfiction book, Shopping Mall, was published by Bloomsbury in September 2017. He is currently Director of Publishing at The Andy Warhol Museum on Pittsburgh's Northside. He lives not far from Monroeville Mall with his wife and two sons.

Thanks to Lauren Uhl, curator and program manager at the Heinz History Center and for the Center, who opened their doors to us for interviews and exhibit access.

Thank you to Mall Patrons: Rick Kastan, Sophia and Michael Thompson, Nina Haddock, Jada Mitchell, Kimberly Hampton, and Cheyenne Hampton for the  interviews. 

Zombies sounds by Tommy Priakos, Jessica Fuller, Kelvyn Korejko and Joseph Fuller. Teen voices provided by actors Lilly, Edward, and Molly Kubit.

Thanks to composer Joseph Fuller for the soundtrack for this episode and to Michael Fuller and Tommy Priakos.  Thanks to the band This Morning for the title song "All I Can Give."

A special thank you to Kevin Brockmeier for introducing us to this wonderful book. Thank you to Stickyz Rock 'N' Roll Chicken Shack for keeping music alive and well in Arkansas.

Generous funding for this episode was provided by the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Executive Producer & Host: J. Bradley Minnick

Producer & Story Editor: Mary Ellen Kubit

Recorded by: Mary Ellen Kubit

Sound Mastering: Simon Sound Services