Commentary: St Louis is no flyover city when it comes to a vibrant literary scene | St. Louis Public Radio

Commentary: St Louis is no flyover city when it comes to a vibrant literary scene

Dec 4, 2015

Nancy Kranzberg

According to Jessica Baran, nationally published poet, art critic and adjunct professor at Washington University as well as director of Fort Gondo on Cherokee Street, "St. Louis' literary community is unique in that its quality is matched equally by its accessibility. An astonishing number of exceptional writers live and work here, which is not a readily known fact by the broader national public. Everyone from established writers like Mary Jo Bang, Carl Phillips and William Gass to emerging ones like Nathaniel Farrell, Eric Lundgren, Stephanie Schlaifer  and beyond. The list is lengthy and includes all of poetry, fiction and nonfiction; experimental and realist approaches; and the cultivation of remarkable, author-run small presses. I've never found such an inviting and vigorous literary culture."

You may be a scholar or a neophyte or somewhere in between and partake of the services of the St. Louis Poetry Center. Not only does the center have readings of locally and nationally acclaimed artists, it has excellent educational programs for all ages. It's truly not a snobby group. Its goal is to promote poetry for all to hear and enjoy. You might find yourself reciting your own poem after taking a workshop at the center.

Folks often think of River Styx as an organization which publishes poetry and offers  a reading series, but according to Richard Newman, the editor and writer of poetry and other literary forms, River Styx offers much more and crosses the boundaries to offer  programs which include music and the visual arts. The organization has published works of Derek Wolcott, Nobel Prize winner and other Pulitzer Prize winners, and works by the late national poet laureates, Mona Van Duyn and Howard Nemerov. Newman says, "St. Louis has a huge and broad group of writers and River Styx represents a variety of styles and voices of our community".

Speaking of poet laureates, St. Louis has recently inaugurated Michael Castro, one of the original founders of River Styx, as its first poet laureate. And of course Eugene Redmond has been the poet laureate of East St. Louis for a while and David Clewell of Webster University was Missouri's poet laureate.

Kevin Nance wrote an article for "Poets and Writers" entitled "Late December's New Beginning.” He says, "Literary journals come and go, and once they go, they almost never come back. But  ‘December,’ a magazine founded in 1958 by students at the Iowa Writers Workshop that published early work by a generation of important writers including Donald Justice, Philip Levine and Joyce Carol Oats, has been resurrected after nearly three decades on the literary scrap heap.”

Gianna Jacobson is the person who revived the journal which includes poetry, prose and visual art by new writers and artists as well as many of its original contributors. Jacobson says, "In fiction and nonfiction, I'm looking for that exceptional balance of compelling language and a great story. I'm not willing to take a beautifully written piece of work that doesn't tell an interesting story or a compelling story that isn't beautifully told."

Don't forget that Tennessee Williams, T.S. Elliot and Eugene Field all lived here and that the Shakespeare Festival comes every year and now St. Louis' acting coach and casting agent Carrie Houk has founded a Tennessee Williams Festival which will debut next May.

There is no shortage in the literary scene in our great mid-western city.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for some thirty years on numerous arts related boards.