Denise Bogard’s book ‘The Middle Step’ explores race, poverty and family in north St. Louis | St. Louis Public Radio

Denise Bogard’s book ‘The Middle Step’ explores race, poverty and family in north St. Louis

Aug 29, 2016

Monday’s St. Louis on the Air featured a discussion with Denise Bogard about her recent book “The Middle Step,” which is set in north St. Louis and explores the intersection of race, poverty and family.

The novel delves into the life of a white woman, Lisa, as she runs a group home with four charges, three of whom are black. 

Bogard, a white woman, spent the last 16 years of her life working at Lift for Life Academy, a 6-12 grade charter school. Bogard was an English teacher at the school, which is 97 percent African American and 100 percent free and reduced lunch. She is also founder of the St. Louis Writers Workshop. She drew heavily from her experiences as a teacher to write the novel.

"[My students’] experiences, in large part, shaped the whole story," Bogard said. 

In addition to exploring race and poverty, she also wanted to write about being middle age and living a life that doesn’t quite match up with what people would expect. Lisa is the character that best represents this theme. At age 39, Lisa has not had children and regrets it.

“She’s desperate to be a mother in any way possible and she sees an ad in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to be a residential foster mother and she figures that she’s done debt counseling and she’ll easily fit in with these girls,” Bogard said. “She discovers it is very different to live with children than it is to work with children and drive home at the end of the day.”

Bogard worked on the novel while she was still a teacher at Lift for Life and she said that her students helped her with the vocabulary her characters use in the novel. She would work over lunch and several kids would come in and work with her. Three of those students have since self-published works of their own.

“I think what happens is that so many writing teachers look at what’s wrong with a piece of writing,” said Bogard. “I very consciously looked at what was right. It does provide a catharsis.”

Having experiences like these, experiences few of her friends had, was a driving force behind the novel.

“I felt like I really wanted to tell the stories and create a deeper understanding of what girls in north St. Louis living in poverty deal with,” Bogard said. “But it is also the story driving the story.”

Related Event

What: St. Louis Public Library Author "Shout Out"
When: Saturday, October 29 at 2:00 p.m.
Where: St. Louis Public Central Library, 1301 Olive Street, St. Louis, MO 63103
More information.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.