Word Missouri: Between readings and signings, Missouri authors recall how they found their voice

Sci-fi romance author J.C. Hay

Last week Word Missouri told the story of a group of bookstores in St. Louis supporting each other through events like bookstore tours and literary speed dating. These events aren’t only good for booksellers – they also benefit local authors who write in niche genres and don’t have the support of an academic setting or a big-name publisher. Fortunately, the realm of social media is good to genre writers. There may only be a handful of people who write space opera romances, as J.C. Hay points out, but they tend to stick together, and blogs are a great place for that. I talked to a few of those authors during the tour, and asked them how they found publishers and got word out about their books – and whether they feel like they’ve really made it.

Profiled in the video above:

Children’s book author and creator of Petalwink the Fairy, Angela Sage Larsen, interviewed at Rose’s Bookhouse in O’Fallon

Gothic fiction author John McFarland, interviewed at Rebound in St. Louis

Sci-fi / paranormal romance author J.C. Hay, interviewed at Get Lost Bookshop in Columbia

Word Missouri: On the unsatisfying conclusion to the Republic banned-book controversy

(For some background, head over here to listen to my KBIA feature on censorship, educational standards, and what the next generation of Missouri writers are reading.)

I’ve been following the Republic book controversy since this summer, when I read blog posts like this one. Long story short, after multiple challenges by a professor at neighboring Missouri State University,Slaughterhouse-Five and Twenty Boy Summer (the book pictured above) were pulled from the high school library and removed from the curriculum. Aside from happening here in Missouri (in the part of the state I heard describe by residents more than once as “the buckle of the Bible Belt,”) it’s interesting because of the unconventional and unpopular way the Republic School Board decided to handle the removal. One board member had been absent during the initial vote to remove the books, so he requested the board revisit the case. (This was after it had already drawn national attention.) A compromise of sorts was reached – the books were returned to the library, but students now need parental permission to access them. They’re kept in a “separate area,” much like a Hustler magazine might be kept behind the counter.

MSU professor Wesley Scroggins has been pressing the school board since 2010. Take a look at his complaints, and read his original column, “Filthy books demeaning to Republic education,” in the Springfield News-Leader.

While I wasn’t able to speak with the Republic school superintendent – he never returned my calls – the response he gave to Scroggins’ complaint offers a window into his mind:

Furthermore, Mr. Scroggins’ contention that teachers who instruct in public schools are liberal in their thinking is unfounded. I asked him for specific comments teachers in our district have made that would qualify as liberal. He could provide me with no such examples. I know for a fact that we have many Christians serving in our school district.

And it’s likely not many people have gotten through to the school board. Several Republic residents told me the board doesn’t allow the public to address them directly. To even meet with the board, a concerned citizen must file a request.

From my conversation with Scroggins, I gathered he, at least, was on some level content with the board’s decision. He told me parents should have the right to decide what their kids read. The Vonnegut Library handled things a little differently, putting power right in students’ hands. They decided to give away up to 150 copies of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five to Republic students. Any student who wanted one could get one absolutely free, parental permission or not, with a quick e-mail. So far, the library says 55 students have taken them up on it.

Who should be able to decide what high school students read: the school board, teachers, parents or students themselves?

Word Missouri: Eliot, St. Louis and the river

Word Missouri is a series in partnership with KBIA, Columbia’s NPR affiliate. It examines Missouri’s literary heritage, present and future. KBIA’s Davis Dunavin is the series creator and reporter.

I’m a die-hard fan of Modernism. More specifically, I’m a die-hard Thomas Stearns Eliot-head. Not always a popular stance; he’s certainly got his detractors these days. Which is why I was so thrilled to meet Frances Dickey, a professor and Eliot scholar at the University of Missouri, who speaks about Prufrock’s creator with the same excitement I still feel when I pick up Four Quartets or his fabulous criticism. (For you other Eliot-heads – I know you’re out there! – go pick up Eliot’s letters, recently published by Yale University Press.)

But Eliot just isn’t seen as a Missourian. Did he see himself as one? Fans like me know he read his poetry in a crisp, patrician accent that hung somewhere between New England and Old England. References to his home state in his writings are sparse – as are tributes to the man here. I think it’s time we change that. Dr. Dickey and I spoke about Eliot’s connections to Missouri. Have a listen to the interview as it ran on KBIA.

(By the way, the photo above was taken in St. Louis’s Central West End; busts of Eliot and fellow St. Louisian Tennessee Williams represent the first half of a project neighborhood groups call Writers Corner. More on that soon…)

This interview originally aired on September 26, T. S. Eliot’s birthday, on KBIA.