Sarah Fenske | St. Louis Public Radio

Sarah Fenske

“St. Louis On The Air” Host/Producer

Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

She won the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her work in Phoenix exposing corruption at the local housing authority. She also won numerous awards for column writing, including multiple first place wins from the Arizona Press Club, the Association of Women in Journalism (the Clarion Awards) and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

From 2015 to July 2019, Sarah was editor in chief of St. Louis' alt-weekly, the Riverfront Times. She and her husband, John, are raising their two young daughters and ill-behaved border terrier in Lafayette Square.

Ways to Connect

Dormitory "D" in the men's section of the city's Medium Security Institution.
Ashley Lisenby

As the coronavirus spreads through the penal system, the U.S. Department of Justice has called for federal prisons to release some inmates to home confinement. Elderly or sick inmates who are nonviolent would be safer at home, Attorney General William Barr said in a memo. And releasing them could help alleviate the crowding that can make an outbreak worse.

But the Missouri Department of Corrections' inmates are not seeing similar paths to release. Despite advocacy from the ACLU of Missouri and other groups, the state prison system has made no moves to reduce its population. 

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, Sara Baker, policy director for the ACLU of Missouri, explained that there’s a national bipartisan movement to get inmates who are most at risk moved to home detention. Yet in Missouri, she said: “We absolutely are not seeing that happen at the state level. It appears to be sort of a game of wait and see.”  

"Self Made" Courtesy of Netflix
Amanda Matlovich | Netflix

Sarah Breedlove’s life was the stuff of binge-worthy TV. Born on a cotton plantation to newly freed slaves in 1867, she toiled as a washerwoman in early 20th-century St. Louis before founding a business empire. After selling products for St. Louis hair-care magnate Annie Malone, she launched a line of her own under her married name, Madam C.J. Walker — and became the richest African American woman in the country. At the time of her death, in 1919, Walker had amassed a fortune of over $7 million in today’s money.

A little over a century later, Madam C.J. Walker’s remarkable life has gotten the Hollywood treatment. The Netflix series “Self Made” tells the story of Walker’s rise and what it portrays as a toxic relationship with Malone, fictionalized as “Addie Monroe.”   

March 30, 2020 The Hill
Sarah Fenske | St. Louis Public Radio

The Hill neighborhood in south St. Louis has long been one of the region’s favorite dining destinations — beloved for its Italian American offerings and family traditions. And two local restaurateurs say the district is managing to hang on, even though the pandemic has put a sudden halt to dining out. 

Chris Saracino, president of the neighborhood association Hill 2000, explained Tuesday on St. Louis on the Air that most of the restaurants in the neighborhood switched to curbside offerings after dining in was prohibited. Also an owner of four restaurants, including Chris’ Pancake & Dining and Bartolino’s Osteria, Saracino said it’s less a business model that pencils out and more a service to customers. 

Jim McKelvey is the co-founder of LaunchCode, a St. Louis-based company celebrating its fifth anniversary this October.

The mobile payment company Square was a game-changer. It slashed the costs of taking credit card payments — allowing small businesses and artisans to get into the game without having to pay sizable percentages of their transactions to processors. In retrospect, it seems like a no-brainer.

But in 2009, it was just an idea — one born of frustration when St. Louis glass blower Jim McKelvey lost a sale after being unable to take a credit card payment. After McKelvey shared his idea of a better way with his former intern, Square was born. (It helped, of course, that the intern in question was Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.) 

How Square went from an inkling to an industry disrupter is the subject of McKelvey’s compulsively readable new book, “The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time.”    

March 24, 2020 Luz Maria Henriquez
Courtesy of the ACLU of Missouri

One month ago, Luz Maria Henriquez began a new job as executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. And the weeks since have made clear there will be no easing into things. The nation is now in an unprecedented period of economic shutdown and enforced social distancing, even as health care workers grapple with a terrifying pandemic. 

Henriquez joined Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air to discuss the ACLU’s role during these troubled times. 

“What we’re looking at is, ‘What are public health experts saying is necessary to contain the spread of the virus?’” she said. “We at the ACLU understand that we are part of this larger community, and that there has to be some sort of balancing when our public health experts are saying that ‘if we engage in these particular practices during this time, that will minimize the spread of the virus.’”   

March 23, 2020 Daniel Hill
Courtesy of Daniel Hill

The week of March 16 was a terrible one for alt-weeklies. The free newspapers — which rely entirely on advertising and public events for revenue — were dealt a terrible early blow by the nation’s response to the coronavirus. From coast to coast, publications suspended print editions and laid off staffers

St. Louis’ Riverfront Times was among those hardest hit. The 42-year-old publication announced that it was suspending its print edition (though it later decided to publish its March 25 issue). It also laid off seven staffers, including three editors, the art director and a staff writer. Only two journalists remain on the payroll: Editor in Chief Doyle Murphy and Digital Editor Jaime Lees.

But one of the laid-off journalists has simply refused to leave.   

Painter John William Waterhouse depicts a scene from the frame story of Boccaccio's "Decameron."
Wikimedia Commons

When a plague swept 14th-century Florence, killing more than half the city’s population, wealthy Italians turned to social distancing. One small group’s retreat from a stricken city to a deserted villa became the backdrop for the classic novel “The Decameron.”

That novel is just one of the texts Rebecca Messbarger teaches in her Disease, Madness and Death Italian Style course at Washington University. But it has sudden resonance, she says — and relevance she never anticipated when she began teaching it a year ago.

Dogs and cats acting strangely? On Tuesday's St. Louis on the Air, an animal behaviorist stepped in to answer your questions about animal behavior.
tohu | Flickr

Schools are closed. Libraries are closed. Many restaurants have closed — with more almost certainly on the way. Health officials say all of those measures are essential, as the ongoing spread of coronavirus has led to best practices of “social distancing.” 

But in addition to COVID-19, the coronavirus has also spread widespread angst. People are worried about their jobs and their families, even as they confront a seemingly endless cascade of worrying headlines.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, listeners shared their ideas for de-stressing in a stressful time, along with two experts: Tony Buchanan, a professor of psychology at St. Louis University and co-director of its neuroscience program, and Dr. Jessi Gold, an assistant professor in Washington University’s Department of Psychiatry.  

March 16, 2020 Lyda Krewson
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

One day after regional leaders announced broad new rules to limit gatherings in the St. Louis area to 50 people or fewer, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson stressed their importance in “flattening the curve” of infections caused by the coronavirus across the U.S.

“It seems rather extreme to many, many people, but this came down as a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control,” Krewson said. “What does that mean? That means church: 50 people. That means casinos: 50 people. That means a wedding or a funeral — this is tough stuff. Fifty people. … We’re just trying to get the word out and be clear with people that this is a very serious situation.”    

March 13, 2020 Gilbert Bailon, Antonio French, Jeannette Cooperman and Frank Absher
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

It’s been a tough decade for the media business, particularly for outlets disseminating the written word. Publications have shut down across the U.S. Many newspapers no longer offer daily editions. And many of the online news outlets vying to replace or at least supplement them have had layoffs of their own.

But despite a host of challenges to the advertising-based business model, St. Louis finds itself with a surprisingly robust print-media landscape. The metro area continues to boast not only a daily newspaper with seven-day-a-week delivery (take that, Cleveland and Pittsburgh), several general-interest weekly newspapers and a city magazine — but also two food-focused local monthlies.    

March 11, 2020 Terry Adkins "The Last Trumpet"
Courtesy of the Pulitzer Arts Foundation

Updated March 13 with revised event details

In light of the recent developments concerning the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Pulitzer announced that they are postponing all large events, including Friday’s Opening Reception and Saturday’s Curatorial Tour for their new exhibition, "Terry Adkins: Resounding." Click here for updates. 

Original story from March 11:

Terry Adkins didn’t believe in boundaries. He turned old radiators and railroad stakes into art. He made videos, explored the North Pole and obsessed over Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” He sought to make “music as physical as sculpture ought to be — and sculpture as ethereal as music is.”

Music was one of Adkins’ central themes. An accomplished jazz musician, he played the guitar and alto saxophone — and later made his own musical instruments. He assembled four of what he called “akhraphones” from parts of trombones and sousaphones and segments of cast brass. They were 18 feet long. They were sculpture, but they could also be played — as Adkins proved in 1996 with a piece called “The Last Trumpet.”

The akhraphones will be on display at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation as part of “Terry Adkins: Resounding,” a major retrospective of the artist that opens Friday. The show runs through Aug. 2, and will also include a performance of “The Last Trumpet” in June.

March 10, 2010 Scott Phillips
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Scott Phillips may be the most acclaimed novelist living in St. Louis today. Best known as the author of “The Ice Harvest,” he’s won the California Book Award and been a finalist for the Edgar Award and the Hammett Prize. 

His ninth book, “That Left Turn at Albuquerque,” finds Phillips in familiar territory, with a crime caper, a cast of amoral characters and plenty of dark humor. On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, he discussed his “deep-seated” interest in crime, his reasons for moving to St. Louis and how his book’s reference to the Loop Trolley has given it special local resonance.

March 6, 2020 Jill B. Delston Shamed Dogan
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Many women say it should go without saying: Your doctor should not be able to give you a pelvic exam without first getting your permission.

That’s the law in Illinois. Yet in many states — including Missouri — physicians aren’t required to ask first. And some doctors say the practice of giving women such exams while under anesthesia has long been commonplace, as a way to train medical residents. Explicit consent has not always been part of the equation.

For two years running, Missouri Rep. Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin) has introduced a bill to bar physicians from giving unconscious women pelvic exams without first getting their express consent. On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Dogan explained that he was inspired by national media coverage of the issue. (Most recently, the New York Times looked into the practice.)    

February 27, 2020 Gail Wechsler Dan Reich
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

What happened to Jewish lawyers after Hitler took power in Germany? The truth is a painful one. They were stripped of their licenses and driven from their homeland even as, in many cases, their gentile colleagues stood silent.

Those horrifying details are at the center of an exhibit that has now been shown all over the world — and makes its St. Louis debut next month. “Lawyers Without Rights: Jewish Lawyers in Germany Under the Third Reich” was first developed in Germany by its bar association. The American Bar Association worked with the German Federal Bar to bring an English version to the U.S.    

February 26, 2020 Donald Bouton
Donald Bouton

Donald Bouton started moonlighting as an Uber driver almost five years ago. That’s not so unusual. A lot of St. Louisans took up second jobs in ride-sharing — or even a first one — after it debuted in St. Louis in 2015.

It’s the project Bouton launched while he was driving that’s unusual. In April 2016, he began keeping pen and paper in the back seat of his car and asking passengers to share a few thoughts. 

And as Bouton explained on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, he found the perfect question to ask them as a writing prompt after conversing with a passenger traveling with a service dog. The man, Marcus Engel, confided he’d been blinded by a drunken driver who T-boned his car.    

February 25, 2020 West End Grill
Courtesy of Julie Lally

Earlier this year, Steve’s Hot Dogs announced it was calling it quits after an 11-year run. But the outpouring that followed its closure announcement led directly to a new day for the eatery.

As owner Steve Ewing explained on St. Louis on the Air, the big crowds in what he’d intended as the restaurant’s final week gave him a change of heart.

“The last couple of days, I’m starting to see people just pour out. We had lines down the streets. I’m starting to see tons of kids, and the parents with their kids, and the people who I’d seen for many years,” Ewing recalled. “And that’s when I’m like, ‘It would be really cool if we didn’t have to close this thing down.'” 

February 19, 2020 Diane Rehm Sarah Fenske
Howard Ash | Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Photographic Services

For three decades, Diane Rehm hosted a conversation with America. "The Diane Rehm Show" grew from a local show at NPR affiliate WAMU to a national juggernaut, with 2.8 million listeners every week. And even after her December 2016 retirement, Rehm has continued the conversation. She hosts a podcast; she also recently published her fourth book, “When My Time Comes.”

Earlier this week, in partnership with St. Louis on the Air, Rehm discussed her career at a dinner hosted by the Mannie Jackson Center for the Humanities Foundation at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. We aired highlights from that conversation on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air — which included Rehm’s thoughts on interviewing and advocacy for the “death with dignity” movement.   

February 18, 2020 Ed Wheatley
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Jackie Robinson famously integrated Major League Baseball, taking the field for the National League’s Brooklyn Dodgers in April 1947. And the American League followed a few months later, when the Cleveland Indians put Larry Doby into the lineup.

But right behind Cleveland were the St. Louis Browns. Just 12 days later, the team played its first black player. And two days after that, the Browns became the first club to put two black players into a game when Willard Brown and Hank Thompson took the field. That milestone was all the more remarkable in light of this fact: It would take the St. Louis Cardinals another seven years to integrate. 

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, author Ed Wheatley explained what led the Browns to break the city’s Major League Baseball color barrier. 

February 13, 2020 Tobias Picker Aryeh Lev Stollman
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Composer Tobias Picker has five operas to his credit, with commissions from the LA Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, among others, and serious acclaim. But his sixth opera, which makes its world premiere at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis this June, will have particular personal resonance. The librettist writing the words to go with Picker’s music is his husband, Dr. Aryeh Lev Stollman.

And while Stollman has written three novels, this is his first time writing an opera libretto. Still, he brings a particular expertise to the show, which is an adaptation of Dr. Oliver Sacks’ nonfiction medical drama “Awakenings.” Like Sacks, Stollman is a physician who studies the nervous system (Stollman is a neuroradiologist, Sacks a neurologist).   

February 12, 2020 Candacy Taylor

Author Candacy Taylor’s stepfather grew up in the Jim Crow South. But it wasn’t until she began researching her new book, “Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America,” that she started to understand what he’d endured. 

Black travelers in 20th-century U.S. might be stopped by police on any pretext — and face serious harassment. They might be turned away by hostile hoteliers or gas station attendants. And that’s not even mentioning “Sundown Towns,” all-white towns that sometimes even featured signs warning black people to stay out in the harshest of terms. Missouri and Illinois were among the five states having the most Sundown Towns, Taylor writes.    

Tim Bono has written the book on "Happiness 101."
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Tim Bono knows what will make you happier. And it may not be what you think. “[T]he common denominator of happiness has a lot to do with the denominator itself,” writes the Washington University lecturer in psychological and brain sciences. “The happiest young adults craft lives that ensure that what they want doesn’t get larger than what they have.”

But as Bono explains in his book, “Happiness 101,” it’s not about keeping expectations low. It is about keeping them realistic — and remembering what you have by practicing gratitude.

The dining room at Bulrush, which opened last month in St. Louis' Grand Center neighborhood.
Meera Nagarajan | Sauce Magazine

Chef Rob Connoley’s acclaimed St. Louis restaurant Bulrush isn’t just a delicious night out. It’s also a deep dive into the culinary history of the region. The Grand Center eatery takes its inspiration from cuisine in the Ozarks region prior to 1870, before railroads allowed for easy transport of foodstuffs. He attempts to hew rigorously to ingredients that were in play.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Connoley joined us to discuss the often arduous task of researching what everyday people ate more than 150 years ago. He credited Gabriel Shoemaker, a St. Louis University senior who has been combing archives for recipes and even just mentions of food. 

January 29, 2020 Karen Sherman Tricia Zimmer Ferguson
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Kaldi’s Coffee is a St. Louis company. It roasts its beans here and ships them from here. Most of its 17 cafes are in the region as well. Other than a few outlets in the Atlanta area, Kaldi’s lacks a physical presence outside Missouri.

But in the past year, Kaldi’s co-owner Tricia Zimmer Ferguson has been spending time far from the Midwest — in Rwanda. It’s not just because the company sources many of its beans there (although that’s certainly a big part of it). Ferguson is also working with the nation’s only women’s college, Akilah Institute. A group from Kaldi’s is committed to teaching its students about the coffee and tea industries, opening career opportunities for them.   

Photo courtesy Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

In the popular imagination, Cahokia seems to represent a cautionary tale. What today remains only as a series of mounds outside Collinsville, Illinois, used to be a thriving city — bigger than London in the mid-13th century. There may have been as many as 40,000 people living there. Yet in the years that followed, the population faced rapid decline. By 1400, what was a city had become a wasteland. 

A new paper suggests that narrative is at best incomplete, and at worst inaccurate. Published Monday in American Antiquity, the study uses fecal deposits to show that the exodus from the site was short-lived. A fresh wave of native people settled in Cahokia and repopulated the area from 1500 to 1700. It was only after European settlers made their way to the area that Cahokia’s ultimate abandonment began.  

January 23, 2020 Fran Caradonna
Emily Woodbury | St. Louis Public Radio

In 1990, Fran Caradonna and her then-husband upended St. Louis’ beer scene by starting a distributorship. They wanted to give local drinkers a choice beyond Anheuser-Busch — and, when Schlafly Beer was founded a year later, the Caradonnas’ company naturally became its distributor.

They helped introduce St. Louis to many new craft beer brands, helping to shake up what once felt like a near-monopoly for A-B. And, after the Caradonnas sold their company to Major Brands, they started a craft brewery of their own: O’Fallon Brewery, which they also later sold.   

January 14, 2020 Miranda Popkey
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Miranda Popkey is a California native, and much of her debut novel, “Topics of Conversation,” is set in the state. But the novel has a St. Louis origin story. It’s while she was in the MFA program at Washington University that she wrote much of it. And it’s at Wash U that she realized it could be, and was, a novel.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Popkey joined us to discuss her novel. 

The novel’s focus on ideas over plot — and its sometimes “unlikeable narrator” — have drawn pushback from some readers, she acknowledged.  

January 6, 2020 Dave Greteman
Emily Woodbury | St. Louis Public Radio

Getting drunk at dinner is sooo 2010. Some of the area’s most buzz-worthy bars are now focused on drinks that won’t get you buzzed. That includes Elmwood.

At this one-year-old Maplewood hotspot, the roster of booze-free cocktails (called “zero proof”) is just as interesting and complex as that of their liquor-fueled cousins. The restaurant is also serving drinks it calls “low proof,” offering a taste of spirits without condemning you to a raging headache the next morning.

Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Congressman William Lacy Clay Jr., D-St. Louis, is issuing a dire warning when it comes to President Donald Trump’s actions regarding Iran.

“If we don’t rein in this president’s recklessness, we will commit young men and women to a war zone in the Middle East, and the results will be a catastrophe,” he said Friday on St. Louis on the Air

“I’ve seen this before,” he continued. “And apparently no one in this president’s family has ever served in the military or ever gone to war, so it probably doesn’t faze him. He doesn’t realize what the damage will be to Americans in a war zone. It’s so cavalier.”  

Ron Himes (left) is the founder of the Black Rep, and Ed Smith (right) is the director for the Black Rep's production of "Two Trains Running."
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

In a series of 10 plays, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson chronicled the black experience in 20th-century America. The plays are collectively known as the "Century Cycle,” with each play set in a different decade — nine of them in the same Pittsburgh neighborhood in which Wilson grew up.

As St. Louis’ premier black theater company since 1976, the Black Rep has a long history of performing Wilson’s plays. In fact, it was only the third company in the U.S. to complete the cycle.

January 2, 2020 Jill B. Delston
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Why do so many physicians require women to have a Pap smear and a pelvic exam before writing a one-year prescription for birth control? Most of us never think about that question. It is what it is.

But Jill B. Delston isn’t like most of us. She’s a professor of philosophy at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She gets curious about things that we shrug off as the way things are.

Delston’s new book, "Medical Sexism," argues that linking these invasive procedures to birth control access is a form of medical sexism. On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, she joined us to discuss her thesis — and argued that physicians need to follow their own guidelines, which hold that Pap smears should only be given every three to five years.