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Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures names new executive director

Sony Ton-Aime
Dave Munch
Courtesy of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures
Sony Ton-Aime is the first person of color to serve as the group's executive director.

Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures, arguably the region’s top showcase for visiting authors, has a new leader.

The nonprofit organization named Sony Ton-Aime as its incoming executive director Friday. Ton-Aime is currently director of Literary Arts at New York’s famed Chautauqua Institution, where the job similarly entails coordinating online and in-person lectures.

At Chautauqua, where he has worked since 2020, Ton-Aime also runs a poetry maker space and bookstore.

“We welcome Sony with enthusiasm and are eager for him to join as the next executive director, building on his experience from Chautauqua,” said PAL’s board, in a statement. “We know he will continue the strong legacy of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures and be a great ambassador for literature, artists, and the city of Pittsburgh.”

Ton-Aime succeeds Stephanie Flom, who served as executive director for nine years and is credited with growing the group’s audience and guiding it through the pandemic, in part by pivoting to virtual events. Ton-Aime, who was born and grew up in Haiti, is the first person of color to serve as executive director of the group, founded in 1991.

“The staff, led by my remarkable predecessor, Stephanie Flom, has done an amazing job to bring Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures to where it is now, and I feel lucky to be part of this legacy,” Ton-Aime said in a statement.

“I feel lucky for two reasons," he said. "First, as executive director, I am presented with a firm foundation to build on, and second, because the city of Pittsburgh has the best and most serious readers.”

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PAL currently runs five series, including Ten Evenings, which hosts prominent poets and writers of fiction and nonfiction; Made Local, for Pittsburgh-based authors; and Words and Pictures, for authors and illustrators of children’s books.

Total attendance for PAL's public programming last season (including virtual) was 21,500.

PAL also runs a student-engagement program, Authors to Schools.

Over the years, the group — which holds its in-person events in the Carnegie Music and Lecture halls in Oakland — has presented authors including Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood, John Updike, Alice Walker, Tom Wolfe, Jamaica Kincaid, Arthur Miller, Amy Tan, August Wilson, and Susan Sontag.

Its current season opens Sept. 18 with a talk by acclaimed novelist Zadie Smith. Other guests this season include classical historian Mary Beard, Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction author Tracy Kidder, and National Book Award-winning novelist Jesmyn Ward.

Ton-Aime’s immediate predecessor, Flom, succeeded Jayne Adair, who served for seven years in the job. Other PAL executive directors have included Susan Corbett, the wife of former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett.

PAL has five staff positions, and its current-year budget is $1.04 million.

Ton-Aime is a 2014 graduate of Kent State University. At Chautauqua, he was known for creating relationships with organizations including the African American Heritage House to create a monthly book discussion, and working with Jamestown (N.Y.) High School to lead student writing workshops.

He also brought together literary groups to create the Forum on Democracy at Chautauqua Institution, in response to the nation’s perceived decline in civil discourse.

“I look forward to facilitating the deep connections that authors and readers seek out when they write and read books,” he said in a statement. “Our goal will be to engage our community in meaningful and critical conversations that, in time, will lead to real changes for the betterment of our city and country.”

He will begin his new position Oct. 2.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: