Literature | St. Louis Public Radio

Literature

Students of Hawthorn Leadership School work with tutors from YourWordsSTL to express themselves through writing.
YourWordsSTL

Shortly after Anna Guzon of St. Louis graduated from medical school, she realized she wanted to practice a different kind of medicine: helping young people heal by writing about their lives.

That’s the aim of YourWords STL, the organization she cofounded to help marginalized youth.

Some of the young men and women at Marygrove Children's Home participate in a  tutoring session. "Unheard Voices" features the stories of just the men who are aging out of the institution.
YourWords STL

Actors will tell the real-life stories of young men aging out of a children’s home in a staged reading on Saturday in Ferguson.

The free event at the Ferguson Youth Initiative, 106 Church St., draws on writing by young men who participated in a program of YourWords STL. The organization helps St. Louis youth express themselves, and work through trauma using the written word.

The presentation, “Unheard Voices: You Don’t Know My Story,” is comprised of poetry, lyrics and narratives by residents of the Marygrove Children’s Home in Florissant.  It highlights the human need to be heard, according to YourWords’ cofounder Anna Guzon, a former physician.

In "Islandborn," Junot Diaz writes for immigrant children.
Illustration by Leo Espinosa

For more than 20 years, novelist Junot Diaz has explored the immigrant experience.

From his debut 1996 novel, “Drown,” a semi-autobiographical work on the life of a young Dominican transplant to the United States, to “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008, Diaz has found inspiration in the culture that surrounds him. 

His work has won him more than just accolades. He is a MacArthur “genius grant” winner and teaches creative writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In his books and in person, his use of language is very much for an adult audience. But for years, his two goddaughters and other children have asked him to craft stories with them in mind. Diaz has done so with his latest book, “Islandborn,” which tackles the dilemma of an island girl in the United States: How do I remember where I come from?

Commentary: St. Louis is a strong literary city

Jan 5, 2018

Last week I had a morning filled with culture. I first went to the Eugene Field Museum in downtown St. Louis. In March 2007 the Eugene Field House was designated as a National Historic Landmark by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. 

Eugene Field was best known for his children's poetry and humorous essays. I think of the light-hearted "Wynken, Blyken, and Nod." The museum has a wonderful library filled with Field's works and has special exhibitions and a wonderful collection of antique toys.  

William Gass teaches a class at Washington University in 1984
Herb Weitman | Washington University

Updated Dec.12 — On Tuesday's St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh discussed the life and legacy of noted author and Washington University professor William Gass.

Joining him for the discussion were Lorin Cuoco, co-founder and former associate director of the International Writers Center at Washington University, Stephen Schenkenberg, creator and curator of the website Reading William Gass and author and publisher of "The Ears Mouth Must Move: Essential Interviews of William H. Gass" and William Danforth, chancellor emeritus and member of the Board of Trustees at Washington University.

Gass died on Dec. 6 at his home in St. Louis. He was 93. The former Washington University professor was known for his contributions to fiction, criticism and philosophy. 

This is a portion of the cover of the new "Standing Up for Civil Rights" book for children.
Provided | Missouri History Museum

How do you condense more than 150 years of civil rights history in to a single book — and make it understandable and meaningful to a fifth grader?

St. Louisan Amanda Doyle and co-author Melanie Adams recently attempted to do just that, for their children's book, “Standing Up for Civil Rights in St. Louis.”  It starts in the 1800s with the stories of people who were enslaved, and ends with the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown and the subsequent protests in Ferguson. But its message looks to the future, asking kids what they can do to change enduring problems facing African-Americans.

File photo: St. Louis Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed said it would be unfair to appoint a poet laureate until the controversy is settle.d
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The delay in naming a new St. Louis poet laureate may soon be over.

in December, a poet laureate task force recommended local poet and educator Jane Ellen Ibur. The next step was up the Board of Aldermen, which oversees the position. But a dispute about whether the task force followed regulations has delayed the board’s vote for five months.

Board President Lewis Reed now says he believes Ibur will be offered the position. But first, he wants a board committee to look into the way task force chair Aaron Williams handled its affairs.

In this file photo: Antionette Carroll's Creative Reaction Labs works with students and oth
Provided | Creative Reaction Lab

St. Louis’ Arts and Education Council has announced the first recipients of a new startup competition for arts entrepreneurs. The winners are Antionette Carroll and Amanda Wells.

Carroll founded a group called Creative Reaction Lab, which uses design to meet the challenges of underrepresented communities. One project brought in professionals to teach students about creative problem-solving.

Wells organized the writers’ collaborative Flow that enables writers to work together and artists to work with writers.

 In this file photo, St. Louis Poet Laureate Michael Castro talks with students at an event presented by the 7th Grade Poetry Foundation.
Photo provided by Adelia Castro

Some in the St. Louis poetry community are upset about a delay in announcing a new poet laureate.

In December 2014, Michael Castro was ushered in with great fanfare as St. Louis’ first official poet. It was a two-year term.

This past December, the head of the task force charged with naming Castro’s successor told poet Jane Ellen Ibur that she’d been selected. But she still doesn't have the job.

Patricia McKissack
Photo provided | The St. Louis American

With the death of Patricia McKissack on Friday, the world lost the surviving partner of one of the most prolific duos in literature.

McKissack suffered a heart attack and was taken to an area hospital, where she was pronounced dead. She was 72.

Patricia McKissack and her husband, Fredrick McKissack embarked on their collaborative literary lives nearly 35 years ago, with the intention of being the change they wanted to see. The couple decided that little black boys and girls deserved positive images of themselves and a broad scope of their people’s rich history as they turned the pages of books.

A file photo of Augusten Burroughs accompanies this image of the cover of his new book, "Lust and Wonder."
Christopher Schelling

From the beginning of his writing career, Augusten Burroughs was determined to be honest, even if writing about his often messy life would be a daunting process.

In his memoir “Running with Scissors,” and his later works, Burroughs has engaged in self-reflection, an approach that has won him a loyal following and inspired a hit movie. He continues that process in his latest book, “Lust and Wonder.”

“That’s really the key: to understand what happened to you, what your role in it was,” said Burroughs, who speaks tonight at the Schlafly Branch of the St. Louis Public Library. “Just becoming more and more and more truthful with yourself.”

This collage of file photos shows the "Words for Love" book cover and author Emily Robbins.
Collage images provided by Riverhead Books

Author Emily Robbins was a Washington University grad student in August 2013 when she saw St. Louisans protesting in University City against U.S. plans to attack Syria. She was profoundly moved by the local activists and incorporated those feelings into the book she was writing, called “A Word for Love.”

On Wednesday night, Robbins will appear at Left Banks Books to sign copies, and speak about the book and its St. Louis roots.

“There is a very active community here,” Robbins said. “That was something I really drew on and felt proud of in St. Louis.”

Author Rebecca Shuman reads from her book 'Schadenfreude, A Love Story" in St. Louis Public Radio studios.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

As a college junior Rebecca Schuman found herself in peak-hipster Berlin, sitting in a dark, smoke-filled bar where patrons ordered Heineken through a hole in the wall.  She’d wanted to live “Iggy Pop’s Berlin,” and to do that she wanted to find living space in a loft.

A friend told her that people in a a local collective living space was looking for a new roommate That’s how she found herself sitting across from a guy named Johannes who had, “shock of bright blond hair that stuck out in the electrified curls about six inches in all directions.”

Schuman  recounts the experience and a number of other anecdotes in “Schadenfreude, A Love Story,” a memoir. She'll discuss the book Sunday during a book launch at Urban Chestnut in The Grove.

"Is that Kafka?" cover and Kurt Beals
Kurt Beals | Provided

Even if the iconic German-language writer Franz Kafka doesn’t cross your mind on a regular basis, you may still hear the adjective “Kafkaesque” from time to time and think: gloomy, nonsensical.

But a St. Louis translator says Kafka was darn near a jolly, optimistic fellow.

Drew Heitzler's Gravity's Rainbow
Provided by Amy Granat

Drew Heitzler’s latest work examines the intersection between St. Louis, Los Angeles, and a book that momentarily broke the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. 

Heitzler's show is the current exhibit at Parapet/RealHumans, a gallery space in the Fox Park neighborhood. It draws attention to a moment in 1974 when the Pulitzer Prize for fiction wasn’t awarded. 

Eileen Myles
Libby Lewis

Writer Eileen Myles’ seems poised on the brink of widespread recognition. This fall she’s publishing two books: “I Must Be Living Twice” and “Chelsea Girls,” which collect new and selected poems and capture the downtown New York of the 1970s in a novel. Much of Myles’ work deals with life in New York City yet the author said her themes and content also exist in cities like St. Louis.

St. Louis Literary Award goes to Israeli author David Grossman

Sep 29, 2015
Author David Grossman
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Internationally recognized author David Grossman returns to St. Louis this week for the first time in 30 years. And 30 years ago, his visit to St. Louis marked a different milestone for the author.

“It was the first time I opened my mouth in English and I realized that I’m able more or less to communicate. Until then I was sure I could only do it in Hebrew,” he said.

St. Louis' second Small Press Expo sees major growth

Sep 24, 2015
Zines like those stacked on Nickey Rainey's table will be available at the Small Press expo
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Update 9/29:  Organizers for the St. Louis Small Press Expo report attendance at 900 people, roughly double the number of participants during the event's inaugural year.

The St. Louis Small Press Expo is designed to promote St. Louis writers and book makers from marginalized communities.

“It’s important that each of us not only represent a community of the kind of books and art that we make but we also tend to represent different communities in terms of our contributors and the kind of stories they’re telling,” said Jared Rourke who publishes Queer Young Cowboys, "And so we focus on queer issues; we have a lot of women’s issues; we have issues that are important to people of color.”

What is Punk? chronicles punk history for kids.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Eric Morse first heard the term “punk” as a child while listening to the radio with his parents during the Christmas holidays.  His response was instant.

“I remember saying’ I don’t know what punk is but I don’t like it’” said Morse.

Clockwise from top left, Damon Davis, Freida Wheaton, Michael Castro, Brian Owens, Lee Patton Chiles, De Nichols
St. Louis Public Radio file photos

For the past year, a tragic and powerful muse has fed the energy and work of St. Louis-area artists.

The shooting death of Michael Brown and the unpeeling of issues that followed have inspired a bounty of work with a social-justice mission. As we near the Aug. 9 anniversary of Brown’s death, we talked with a number of arts professionals about their work in the wake of the turmoil:

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