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.
Unlikeable, she said, “is a term that gets thrown around. But the narrator in my novel is judgmental and self-sabotaging, and she is true to, I think, the worst moments of my own personality.” She also makes an indelible impression. Popkey’s book was recently named one of January’s “20 must-read books” by Entertainment Weekly.
Popkey addressed a local acknowledgment in her book, which credits both “the QuikTrip on Kingshighway” and “the fried chicken at Schnucks.”
“There were a couple long nights of talking, and writing and revising,” she said. “We would be drinking bourbon and eating that fried chicken, and I don’t think that novel would have gotten written without that fried chicken.” QuikTrip, she said, sold her Lunchables at 3 a.m., which also fueled her writing.
After finishing her MFA, Popkey settled in Massachusetts, where her husband’s family is from. But her feelings for St. Louis, and good memories of it, went beyond appreciation for its late-night dining.
Popkey said she even got involved in canvassing for progressive Annie Rice during her successful run for alderman in 2018.
“I really love St. Louis,” she said. “In a different scenario, in a different life, I would love to live in St. Louis. It’s a city that has such vibrant culture, and such possibility, and is also a place where I experienced a political awakening. I found a really strong base of political struggle here. There are a lot of people who are interested in changing the city for the better.”
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020
Where: Left Bank Books (399 N. Euclid Ave., St. Louis, MO 63108)
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The engineer is Aaron Doerr and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.
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