Brief Bio

About My Books

Upcoming Events

Read My Work Online


Literary Blog

Redux: A Literary Journal (editor)

Email: lesliepietrzyk AT gmail DOT com

[information updated, July 2015]



Leslie Pietrzyk is the author of two novels, Pears on a Willow Tree (Avon Books) and A Year and a Day (William Morrow). Her collection of unconventionally-linked short fiction, This Angel on My Chest, won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize and is forthcoming from University of Pittsburgh Press in the fall of 2015.  

Her short fiction and essays have appeared in more than fifty journals and magazines, including The Iowa Review, New England Review, Washington Post Magazine, The Sun, Gettysburg Review, River Styx, TriQuarterly, Salon, and Shenandoah. She has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Sewanee Writers' Conference, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for Arts, and the Hambidge Center. She teaches in the graduate writing program at Johns Hopkins in Washington, DC, and is a member of the core faculty at the low-residency MFA program at Converse College.  She lives in Alexandria, Virginia. (See links to the right for information on additional publications and awards.)

Email address: lesliepietrzyk AT gmail DOT com

Literary blog: Work in Progress
Literary journal: Redux (founder/editor)
Facebook author page.
Twitter: @lesliepwriter



This Angel on My Chest (University of Pittsburgh Press)
Publication date: October 5, 2015
Winner of the 2015 Drue Heinz Literature Prize

From contest judge Jill McCorkle, author of Life After Life:
“A powerful and moving collection. These stories are held together by the experience of grief; a husband dying too soon and a wife left to go on. There is an abundance of wit, and wise observations about life. I always felt firmly rooted in the emotion, startled again and again by the weight of the simplest everyday objects and situations, against a backdrop of loss.”

Review (starred) of THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST in Kirkus:

“The author's wit, clarity, and literary inventiveness dance circles around the omnipresent sadness, making this book a prime example of the furious creative energy that can explode from the collision of grief with talent and craftsmanship.”


Excerpts can be found in the "read my work" section.


Writer Robin Black wrote in the Washington Independent Review of Books, in the "Bedtime Stories" column:

"Coming out in fall 2015, This Angel on My Chest is the Drue Heinz Prize-winning collection of short stories by Leslie Pietrzyk, and it is stunning. Everyone should be marking their calendars and setting aside time for this entirely original, brilliant, and, yes, heartbreaking look at what it means to lose a spouse at a very young age. There is a prismatic quality to the book, new angles explored, new light cast from different vantage points. It’s not to be missed."


Pears on a Willow Tree (Avon Books)

Pears on a Willow Tree is a multigenerational roadmap of love and hate, distance and closeness, and the lure of roots that both bind and sustain us all.

The Marchewka women are inseparable. They relish the joys of family gatherings; from preparing traditional holiday meals to organizing a wedding in which each of them is given a specific task -- whether it's sewing the bridal gown or preserving pickles as a gift to the newlyweds. Bound together by recipes, reminiscences and tangled relationships, these women are the foundation of a dignified, compassionate family--one that has learned to survive the hardships of emigration and assimilation in twentieth-century America.

But as the century evolves, so does each succeeding generation. As the older women keep a tight hold on the family traditions passed from mother to daughter, the younger women are dealing with more modern problems, wounds not easily healed by the advice of a local priest or a kind word from mother.

Amy is separated by four generations from her great-grandmother Rose, who emigrated from Poland. Rose's daughter Helen adjusted to the family's new home in a way her mother never could, while at the same time accepting the importance of Old Country ways. But Helen's daughter Ginger finds herself suffocating within the close-knit family, the first Marchewka woman to leave Detroit for the adventure of life beyond the reach of her mother and grandmother.

It's in the American West that Ginger raises her daughter Amy, uprooted from the safety of kitchens perfumed by the aroma of freshly baked poppy seed cake and pierogi made by hand by generations of women. But Amy is about to realize that there may be room in her heart for both the Old World and the New.

Read more here: http://www.lesliepietrzyk.com/POAWTRevised.htm


A Year and a Day (William Morrow)

Fifteen-year-old Alice dreams of her first kiss, has sleepovers, makes prank calls, auditions for "Our Town," and tries to pass high school biology. It's 1975, and at first look, her life would seem to be normal and unexceptional. But in the world that Leslie Pietrzyk paints, every moment she chronicles is revealed through the kaleidoscope of loss, stained by the fact that Alice's mother, without warning, without apology, explanation, or note, deliberately parks her car onto the railroad tracks, into the path of an oncoming train.

In the emotional year that follows, Alice and her older brother find themselves in the care of their great aunt, forced to cope and move forward after their catastrophic loss. Lonely and confused, Alice absorbs herself in her mother Annette's familiar rituals, trying to recapture their connection -- only to be stunned by the sound of her mother's voice speaking to her clear as day as she flips Sunday morning pancakes. Driven to understand who her mother was, Alice distances herself from her girlfriends and brother as she engages in "conversations" with Annette. As she works through her grief, Alice slowly begins to see Annette as an individual, separate from simply "my mother" -- and ultimately embraces the bittersweet knowledge that the lives to which we are most intimately connected often remain the most mysterious of all.

Taking its title from the pop-psychology idea that it should only take a year to get over the death of a loved one, A Year and a Day is an intense and deeply affecting portrait of how the human heart counters tragedy and can spin hard won triumph out of the deepest despair. A redemptive, often humorous meditation on growing up and growing into oneself, this is an intimate and heart warming novel to curl up with and to savor.




Wednesday, September 30
6 PM
Fall for the Book Festival
George Mason University
Fairfax, Virginia
Research Hall, Room 163

More information: http://fallforthebook.org/

Thursday, October 8, 2015
7 p.m.
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
One Schenley Park
Pittsburgh, PA  15213
For info, call 412-383-2493
More information: http://bit.ly/1UnA3E2

Saturday, October 10, 2015
9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Conversations & Connections Writing Conference (fee)
Chatham University
N Woodland Rd
Pittsburgh, PA
Featured speaker

Thursday, October 15, 2015
1 pm
Montgomery College
Rockville Campus
Conversation & reading

Science Center 152

Saturday, October 17, 2015
6 PM
Politics & Prose Bookstore
5015 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC
More information: www.politics-prose.com

Saturday, October 24, 2015
4:30 PM
Wisconsin Book Festival
Madison, WI
More information: http://wisconsinbookfestival.org/

Tuesday, October 27, 2015
8 p.m.
Converse College
Bain Room, Wilson Hall
Spartanburg, SC

November 2, 2015
6:00 – 7:30 PM
Chop Suey Books
2913 W. Cary St
Richmond, VA 23221

For more information: http://www.chopsueybooks.com/

Wednesday, November 11, 2015
5:30 P.M.
Northwestern University
University Hall 201
1897 Sheridan Rd.
Evanston, IL 60208

Thursday, November 12, 2015
5 p.m.: social
5:30 p.m.: reading
6:00 p.m.: signing
Powell's Books Chicago (University Village)
1218 S. Halsted St.
Chicago, IL

More information: http://www.powellschicago.com/

Sunday, November 15, 2015
2 p.m.
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh Street
Bethesda, MD
More information: https://www.writer.org/

Tuesday, November 17, 2015
5:30 -8:30
National Press Club Book Fair
5:30 – 8:30 PM
The National Press Club
38th Annual Book Fair & Authors’ Night
529 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC
Fundraiser to support The SEED Foundation

For more information: http://www.press.org/bookfair


Thursday, March 12
Upshur Street Books
827 Upshur St NW, Washington, District of Columbia 20011
Come enjoy readings, food, drinks, and music! Copies of Folio Literary Journal will be available for purchase. Please come ready to contribute a donation to the wonderful Folio!

Writers reading:
Carolyn White
Jenna Ogilve
Leslie Pietrzyk
Mark Cugini
Paulette Beete
Tyler Christensen
Jonathan Harper

After 11pm, the party continues in the Petworth Citizen Reading Room.


AWP Reading
Friday, April 10
11:30am - 6:00pm
Minneapolis Convention Center: Room M101BC

The Third Annual HEAT Reading, HEAT: Hotter Than Hell, will take place at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Room M101BC (1st Floor). It is a free, fiery offsite event MC-ed by the fantabulous Antonia Crane. Indulge in our cash bar. Make your $5 contribution to VIDA (if you can). Win gift certificates to Powell's you can use online.

The Breakdown:

Leslie Pietrzyk
Anna Leahy
Ben Tanzer
Janée J. Baugher
Robin E. Black
Bonnie West

Jane Neathery Cutler


April 10, 2015
6:30 PM ~ 8:00 PM
AWP Reading
Sponsored by The Sun Magazine
Open to the public
Minneapolis Central Library
Pohlad Hall 
300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN

Sy Sarfransky
Krista Bremer
Joe Wilkins
Leslie Pietrzyk


Wednesday, January 21, 1 – 3:30 p.m.
Right Brain Writing
Politics and Prose, Washington, DC

Explore your creative side at this afternoon of guided writing exercises designed to get your subconscious flowing.  No writing experience necessary!  This is a great class for beginners and also for those fiction writers and/or memoirists with more experience who might be stuck in their current project, looking for a jolt of inspiration.  The goal is to have fun in a supportive, nurturing environment and to go home with several promising pieces to work on further.  Please bring lots of paper and pen/pencil or a fully charged computer. For more information.


January 1 – January 10, 2015
Converse College Low-Residency MFA
Public reading: Monday, January 5, 2015
Spartanburg Marriott, Conference Center
Panel, moderator: Thursday, January 8, 2015
“Social Media for Writers”
Spartanburg Public Library | Sponsored by Hub City Books.
Join us for a casual, talk-show format panel on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads and more with these featured panelists:
Marybeth Whalen, Charlotte novelist and co-founder of She Reads.
Anna Sutton, marketing assistant at John Blair, Publisher.
Marlanda Dekine of Spoken Word Spartanburg.
Meg ReidHub City Writers Project Assistant Director.

Moderator: novelist and blogger Leslie Pietrzyk, a member of the Converse MFA faculty.

More information.

See previous events after the jump.


…The houses we passed [in Charleston] were vast, boxy mansions, as lavish and as importantly grand as wedding cakes, with columns and pastel paint and porticos and wrought iron. Maybe it was how our tour guide’s gossipy stories of past and present intertwined melodramatic deaths with mournful ghosts—having learned tourists tip better on ghost stories. Hand in hand on a sunny afternoon, the houses swelling on one side of us as water sparkled on the other, with Fort Sumter on the horizon and dinner plans for shrimp and grits, I asked Steve, “Have you ever seen a ghost?”…

*NOT the title I provided!!


...People gaze into tiny screens, lost in tiny worlds of … what? We can’t see if it’s Facebook, games, Netflix. We don’t know which e-book is so enthralling, what the incoming text message advises. Most times the Metro is as quiet as an old-fashioned library. It’s what I thought I wanted, but I don’t like this desolate silence, either....


“...We were all young back then, or so it seemed to us. If there were old people—"old" meaning anyone older than us—at the MacBride Writers' Conference in 1996, we didn't notice. We were busy with ourselves, and no world existed beyond us, our egos, our writing, our dreams and hopes, our gossip. Some of us were on working scholarship to the conference as waiters, and some of us earned scholarships because our poetry was published in a literary journal deemed important, and some of us—though we were so, so young—had published our first book, which was the holy grail: publish a book. Those people were luckiest of all, coming to the writers' conference on a fellowship, which was the golden ticket. None of us paid. Paying was what regular people did, not us. “We were obnoxious, toting bottles of crummy red wine into dinner and toasting ourselves in loud voices, clustering at the back of the room during craft lectures to lean and whisper in each other's ears….” 
*Included in the forthcoming short story collection, THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST.


From "I Am the Widow," short fiction, r.kv.r.y.*

"Just like at any movie or TV funeral, his casket gets put up front, set under specially focused lighting, parenthesized by yardstick-high sprays of white gladiolus. Plump velvet kneeler in front of him, velvet curtains behind. Top half of the box open, so we can see his face. If we want to see him dead, that is, if we want to look right at death. There are plenty ducking their heads, twisting necks around and staring up high into the ceiling or deep down through the carpeted floor. Not me. Right off, I grab hold of his hand, entwine my fingers around his, not because that feels so great but because it unnerves the people circling me. Hell yeah. I’m grabbing a dead man’s hand. I’m grabbing my dead husband’s hand. Maybe I won’t let go. Maybe I’m going crazy."
*Included in the forthcoming story collection, THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST.

From Hobart, “What I Could Buy,” a short story:*

“What I could buy with the insurance money they gave me when you died: “One Ferrari, red or black, assuming V-8 instead of V-12, assuming premium gas, assuming insurance, assuming no major breakdowns or repairs, assuming no super-long driving trips, assuming street parking, assuming ironic fuzzy dice to dangle off rear view mirror.  Or: “Four separate world cruises, assuming 107 days at sea, assuming Queen Mary 2 on the Cunard Line, assuming supplement for a single room, assuming balcony, assuming one glass of wine per night, assuming no more than twelve land excursions as arranged by the cruise ship personnel, assuming winning at the casino, assuming internet access, assuming laundry service.   Or: …”
*Included in the forthcoming story collection, THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST.

From "Acquiescence," flash fiction published in Shenandoah:*

“The body flew on a different plane, arriving in Detroit two days ago, at 7:37AM.  She tracked its arrival online.  Not a soldier or a famous politician, just her husband, age thirty, suddenly dead.
*Included in the forthcoming story collection, THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST.


“Ten Things,” short story, The Sun magazine:*

"He once compared you to an avocado. He was never good at saying what he meant in fancy ways. (You had a boyfriend in college who dedicated poems to you, one of which won a contest in the student literary magazine, but that boyfriend never compared you to anything as simple and real as an avocado.)"
*Included in the forthcoming story collection, THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST.

“Headache,” a chapter excerpt from the novel SILVER GIRL, in Works (of Fiction) In Progress [WIPs]

Suburban Chicago, 1982  
The phone on the kitchen wall rang. Jess and I stared at it in surprise. Though we had been sharing this college apartment for two weeks already, we still didn’t feel as though we belonged here and the ringing phone seemed to emphasize exactly how out of place we were. “You answer,” she whispered. It was eleven AM, hardly a time for whispering, but I whispered back, “No, you,” and then we laughed….


"Death Notice," essay, The Washington Post Sunday Magazine:

"No one likes to hear about such a loss. Euphemisms help: a loss. Passed on. I refuse those words because they're soft, hiding the reality that this could happen to you; someone you love could drop dead one Sunday morning while eating cornflakes. (Or that someone could be you.)"


From The Crab Orchard Review, PDF or link to archive

“The Chicago Brother”

Chicago, 1899
Sitting on the cold stoop as snow flurried around him, Jozef felt as useless as a third boot.   Upstairs, his wife was huddled deep in Ludwika’s bed, in the front room where the window was.  When any of them were sick, that’s where they lay to get better or to die:  little Janka with the fever was the last one, and she had passed on after a long, terrible week; mass was being said at St. Casimir’s in two Sundays.  Now his wife, Krystyna—not sick, but with a baby that had been coming for too many hours, so it was her turn in Ludwika’s bed, her turn to lie in the front room. 

He had resisted, wanting her to stay in the back bedroom; yes, it was on the airshaft, dark and dank, crowded with the bedding for the little girls, but wasn’t it better for Krystyna to be in a place she knew—the faded wallpaper with the roses, the cracks in the ceiling zigzagging like summer lightning?—“she’ll be fine back here,” he had said, but the women ignored him, lifting Krystyna, pulling her, prodding her into the front, into the bed where people died.  How Ludwika could sleep with those ghosts, but she did. 

From “Sophomore Outing,” a live storytelling event in Washington, DC, on May 5, 2011. Hosted by Story League. This is a YouTube video.*

*Included in the forthcoming story collection, THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST.


Redux: A Literary Journal ~ Work Worth a Second Run (editor)
Reading Guide, A Year and a Day
An essay about writing Pears on a Willow Tree and the first chapter (scroll down)

For fun: my adventures learning how to can, The Washington Post:

"When novelist Leslie Pietrzyk told me that home canning is one of the 50 things she wants to do before she dies, I had to wonder what else is on the list. What's so exciting about putting up a couple jars of peaches?"

Updated: February 2015


Leslie Pietrzyk
Photo by Susan Hale Thomas

Leslie Pietrzyk
Photo by Susan Hale Thomas