CMU Professor Authors 'Sleepcast,' Set In Dreamy Pittsburgh

Jan 6, 2020

People are increasingly turning to technology for ways to improve their lives, from saving money with budgeting apps or counting steps with fitness trackers. For people who need help dozing off, the mindfulness company Headspace offers so-called “sleepcasts,” which aim to help listeners wind down for bed with narrated tours of peaceful landscapes, including Pittsburgh.

“Houses are softly nestled in the hills surrounding you,” reads a narrator. “Far below, you see a dark green river. Five yellow bridges arch over…”

Jane McCafferty, an English professor at Carnegie Mellon University, is the author of the sleepcast “River City,” which is set in Pittsburgh on an autumn evening. McCafferty said she’s fascinated by Pittsburgh’s scenery, where houses are set into hillsides.

“You feel like you’re in this little Hobbit town sometimes,” she said. “I pictured it in ... sort of a combination of North Side and South Side Slopes."

McCafferty said she wanted to give listeners a feeling of stasis, which is why she omitted a plot, and instead focused on imagery.

“I found [it] much easier to write something that is going to put somebody asleep, than it is to write something that has tremendous tension, where your goal is to [keep someone] awake and [turning] the pages,” she said.

WESA receives funding from Carnegie Mellon University.