Julie Tulba loves words — and how history can unfold through them.
The Butler County Community College librarian has surrounded herself with words for much of the last decade — first as a librarian, and second as an aspiring historical fiction scribe.
“I’ve always loved books,” said Tulba, who lives in the Pine/Gibsonia area and relocated from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh at 18 to attend Chatham University. “That’s probably the biggest cliché ever.”
Tulba’s mother was a high school librarian in inner-city Philadelphia, and Tulba earned a graduate degree in library sciences from the University of Pittsburgh to enter the same field. Before starting at Butler County Community College in 2021, she worked as an online reference librarian and also for Butler Public Library.
But what really gets Tulba talking is her side hustle as an author. She recently published a book of historical fiction partially set in 1930s Nazi Germany and has another book in the pipeline about the Vietnam War.
“I think, ever since I was a little child, I had an inventive imagination,” Tulba told the Chronicle. “And history has always been a great passion of mine.”
Tulba’s Holocaust novel, titled “The Dead Are Resting,” stemmed from a visit to Europe in 2019. Due to ongoing “yellow vest” movement strikes in France, she rerouted her trip through Amsterdam and, ultimately, Berlin and became fascinated by a museum in the latter city called The Topography of Terror.
At The Topography of Terror, she saw what she called “sickening” photos of Holocaust-era Nazi troops, many of them smiling and celebrating at a spa not far from the Auschwitz concentration camp. Tulba became compelled to write something around the photos and created a protagonist who discovers deep truths about her Holocaust-survivor mother.
Tulba wasn’t a fan of Holocaust novels that ended when the camps were liberated; she wanted to create characters she could probe and examine after the war.
“World War II and the Holocaust — it’s definitely the area of historical fiction that people are craving,” Tulba said. “My book focuses on the aftermath, the time after the camp’s liberation … and I think that’s what makes my book interesting.”
Copies of Tulba’s book, which is her second, are circulating through the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh system, at the community college where she works and are available for purchase online.
Tulba admits history and travel have often gone hand in hand for her.
“I loved history from a very young age,” she said. “Family vacations almost always had a visit to something of historical significance [and] history was a huge part of my upbringing.”
A vacation — specifically, a trip to southeast Asia in 2020 — also led to Tulba’s newest book, a work on the Vietnam War titled “Red Clay Ashes.” That work involves a female heroine, a war reporter looking for something beyond government-whitewashed war updates at Vietnam’s Rex Hotel.
Where else will Tulba find inspiration for her historical fiction? And what will people find in her books?
“So many individuals regard history as drudgery,” she said. “I’d like to think books like mine … can change that mindset.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.