Kris Kleindienst need only glance out toward the entrance to her bookstore at the corner of Euclid and McPherson avenues for some solid reminders of St. Louis’ literary legacy. The busts of four canonical writers adorn the intersection – T.S. Eliot, Tennessee Williams, Kate Chopin and William Burroughs, all of whom spent formative years in the city.
But Kleindienst is just as enthusiastic about St. Louis’ contemporary writing community as she is about the region’s historical claims to writerly fame.
“We’re a great literary town, and that – in my 44 years of bookselling – has really just become clearer and clearer to me,” the Left Bank Books co-owner said on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air during a discussion ahead of Bookfest St. Louis.
In conversation with host Don Marsh and authors Kathleen Finneran and Michael Nye, Kleindienst shared highlights from the upcoming festival, which will feature dozens of writers gathering in the Central West End.
In its second year, the event is set for Saturday, with an ambitious lineup of author presentations, panels, book signings and family-friendly activities scheduled throughout the day.
Finneran, senior writer in residence at Washington University and author of the memoir “The Tender Land: A Family Love Story,” will play a key role kicking it all off.
She will talk with three-time Emmy Award winner Sally Field during a ticketed event the evening prior. Field’s memoir “In Pieces,” set for release this week, will be the focus of that discussion.
“There are still tickets available, and the purchase of the ticket gets you an autographed copy of the book, which is exciting,” Finneran said. “I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of the book, and so I’m looking forward to asking her all kinds of things about the content and also about her experience as a writer and how different that was from having led the life of an actress.”
Kleindienst noted that the 14 panels planned for Saturday – with over 40 writers participating – are geared for a wide range of ages and reading interests.
“For the under-18 crowd there are things to do, and then adult-wise we’ve got history, social/political affairs, [several] different panels of fiction with different focuses, poetry – we arrange it by genre and compatibility,” she said, adding that much of the activity will take place right near Left Bank Books, where maps and programs will be available for festivalgoers.
Nye, whose debut novel “All the Castles Burned” was released earlier this year, now lives and works in his native Ohio. But he spent many years writing in St. Louis and Columbia, Missouri, and he’s traveling into town to be part of a 2 p.m. Bookfest panel titled Daring Debut Novels during the weekend event.
Finneran taught at the University of Missouri-St. Louis when Nye was earning his MFA there years ago.
“What Kathleen did for me was to show me how to mine my own history and path to tell a story that mattered in the present,” Nye said. “One of the things that great memoirists do is they take a look at what’s happened to them and try to build it into some kind of cohesive narrative. It’s really a process of exploration – not just explaining what has happened to you in the past [or] explaining the events that you’re writing, but trying to understand how it’s brought you to who you are in the present.
“And so much of what I learned about how to craft a sentence, how to make a powerful image [and] how to trust my own process as a writer are all things I learned from Kathleen.”
He and Finneran agreed that a certain persistence or stubbornness is as important as natural talent when it comes to bringing a book to fruition.
“It certainly helps to have talent, but so much of being a writer really comes down to not quitting and having a belief that you can get the work done and sticking with it,” Nye said.
An Evening with Sally Field
When: 7 p.m. Friday, September 21, 2018
Where: The Chase Park Plaza (212 N. Kingshighway Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108)
Bookfest St. Louis
When: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, September 22, 2018
Where: Central West End (various locations)
(Activities free except where otherwise noted)
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 Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan, Caitlin Lally and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.