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Only in Pittsburgh: Cyberpunk Apocalypse, a literary lab

The Cyberpunk Apocalypse writers’ project is a mess right now. A sign that reads, “Take a book leave a book library” hangs sadly over empty shelves. Boxes of sci-fi novels are stacked in the living room. The recycling bin is overflowing with forgotten drafts of zines and manuscripts. But most of us who live here at the Cyberpunk Apocalypse are too busy to notice the clutter. We are writing, running errands, and ferrying belongings back and forth across the Allegheny River. That’s because the Cyberpunk Apocalypse is moving.
This spring we’re moving the project from our home in Upper Lawrenceville to a larger facility in Pittsburgh’s Central North Side. The building is tall and ivy coated. It sits off of North Avenue on Boyle Street and will be familiar to some music aficionados as the former punk venue known as The Mousetrap.
The Cyberpunk Apocalypse is a multifaceted writers’ project based around a close quarters residency program. Our mission is to aid and abet writers and comic artists in Pittsburgh. And for the last three years that’s what we’ve been doing--helping writers.
In our Lawrenceville home we have provided space for 24 writers and comic artists from across the US and Canada to live and work. In three short years those writers have completed a half-dozen books as residents along with countless zines, articles, essays, short stories, and comics. Some of those writers have already gone on to receive further residencies, awards and accolades for the works they completed here. Elwin Cotman’s The Jack Daniels Sessions EP was nominated for two Carl Brandon awards and Margaret Killjoy’s What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower has been praised by Cory Doctorow and Allen Moore (to name just two).
We are a one of a kind project--the only zine residency program in the US, and the only residency program that puts zinesters, novelists, and comic artists on equal footing. We’ve grown organically, and consider ourselves a kind of literary laboratory--a place to experiment in a changing world.

In the past our experimentation with writing and reading have spawned traveling variety shows with musicians and readers. We have developed somewhat of a house style of showmanship--often involving props or projections. At our second year anniversary reading, certain members of the audience will not likely forget the first story in Todd Faltin’s “Hot dog Trilogy.” Over the course of Mr. Faltin’s performance he hurled six vegan hot dogs into an unsuspecting audience. Current resident Nate McDonough often hands out free comics to entire audiences so they can all read along together.
Our new home will afford us new opportunities for experimentation. To start we hope to combine readings with live music that has historically filled the large first floor event area of the Mousetrap. We will have six bedrooms instead of the four and a half we have now. The half refers to a closet with a slanted ceiling where we housed our Visiting Writer program for short term residencies. Our increased capacity will mean that we can have more residencies at any given time--more mad scientists bouncing ideas off each other, more momentum, and fewer visiting writers hitting their heads.
Our movement isn’t just through space, we’re also moving toward becoming a more mature non-profit. Luckily the North Shore has no shortage of role models for aspiring arts organizations. The City of Asylum/Pittsburgh has graciously agreed to act as fiscal sponsor for us. Our mission’s focus on promoting literature through residencies is very much in alignment with theirs, and we are looking forward to collaborating with them on projects and hosting events at their Alphabet City literary center when it opens.
Despite all the positive aspects of the move, times of change are always scary. Unforeseen obstacles will likely crop up over the next few months. But in the mean time we’ll just deal with what’s in front of our faces. E. L. Doctorow famously said, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Maybe all of life is like that. I guess when I’m done writing this I’ll load those sci-fi books into a car, and take it one stop sign at a time.

Daniel Patrick McCloskey is the founder of the Cyberpunk Apocalypse writers' coop. His hybrid novel A Film About Billy is forthcoming from Pittsburgh's Six Gallery Press. Learn more about Dan at: http://dirtydesk.tumblr.com/
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