Dispatches | October 05, 2011

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.