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Katie Moore/The Topeka Capital-Journal

Annette Billings says poetry isn’t about precious kittens and pretty flowers. Rather, she says, the form often calls for much harder, more controversial subject matter.

“Sometimes I feel compelled to write about a murder,” she says, “or a woman who’s living in a domestic violence environment.”

Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

Segment 1: How do university students ensure their priorities have a voice in state government?

Students in Kansas and Missouri have concerns that go beyond their next exams and life after graduation. They point to soaring tuition rates, concealed weapons on campus, sexual harassment and assault, and state support for higher education. To communicate their concerns, student lobbyists work the hallways in both state Capitols. Today, we met the students who do this important work.

Anne Boyer

Kansas City poet and essayist Anne Boyer, who teaches writing at the Kansas City Art Institute, is among this year's winners of the Whiting Award, a prestigious honor that comes with $50,000.

The awards, presented to emerging writers, "are based on the criteria of early-career achievement and the promise of superior literary work to come," according to the Whiting Foundation. Boyer is one of ten winners announced Wednesday evening at a ceremony in New York City.

courtesy: Robert Stewart

Robert Stewart has nurtured a lot of up-and-coming writers over the decades he's spent as an editor at New Letters magazine and as a writing instructor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. 

In December, Stewart released a new book of his own poetry. He called it "Working Class" in recognition of his roots as well as the blue-collar ethos he brings to writing.  

Segment 1: Local poet writes collection based on his working class roots. 

For Robert Stewart, poetry isn't ethereal — it's a working class endeavor. He shares how his background as a plumber's apprentice, ditch-digger and truck driver shaped his worldview as a writer. 

Peggy Clark / Washburn University

Nell Johnson Doerr’s husband rolled her up in a carpet so she’d survive Quantrill’s 1863 raid on Lawrence. Lying alongside the limestone foundation of her house, she hears her husband’s murder but is powerless to help him.

Kansas writer Thomas Fox Averill’s entirely fictitious book, “Found Documents from the Life of Nell Johnson Doerr,” is rooted in the abolitionist movement, but the character of Nell begins to live and breathe while trapped in the carpet.Readers familiar with Averill’s work might recall that the protagonists of his novel “rode,” found a baby in a raided house near her dead parents. Nell Johnson Doerr is that baby.

Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

Students at Central Academy of Excellence spent a semester composing short stories, plays and spoken word poetry about gun violence. The class was a collaboration between Kansas City Public Schools and KCUR's reporting project, The Argument

On this episode of Central Standard​, a few of those students and their teacher reflect on their work.

Guests:

Updated Dec.12 — On Tuesday's St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh discussed the life and legacy of noted author and Washington University professor William Gass.

Joining him for the discussion were Lorin Cuoco, co-founder and former associate director of the International Writers Center at Washington University, Stephen Schenkenberg, creator and curator of the website Reading William Gass and author and publisher of "The Ears Mouth Must Move: Essential Interviews of William H. Gass" and William Danforth, chancellor emeritus and member of the Board of Trustees at Washington University.

Gass died on Dec. 6 at his home in St. Louis. He was 93. The former Washington University professor was known for his contributions to fiction, criticism and philosophy. 

Courtesy Elizabeth Schultz

Few people in their 80s are inclined, or able, to feed time and energy into a second career. Elizabeth Schultz is such an anomaly.

As an English professor at the University of Kansas, Schultz was an acclaimed scholar on Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” However, just before her retirement in 2001, she felt a pull toward a more creative use of language.

Courtesy Tom Stroik

"One thing that a poet needs more than anything else — well, you need a sense of language — but you need people who love you. And I have that," the poet Michelle Boisseau told New Letters on the Air host Angela Elam earlier this year. "I have incredible colleagues, and of course my husband Tom [Stroik], and people who believe in your work. Just keep doing it."

Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

Author Whitney Terrell told the story of a female soldier in his novel, The Good Lieutenant. His consultant for that book, Angela Fitle, lived it in the Army during Operation Iraqi Freedom II. They share their thoughts on the female experience of war. Then children's author Brian Selznick reveals what it was like to condense his novel Wonderstruck​ into the screenplay for the just-released film version.

Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

John Grisham's career has taken him from attorney, to Mississippi state representative, to best-selling author. Today, we speak with the acclaimed writer about his latest legal thriller, The Rooster Bar, which explores the underbelly tactics of for-profit law schools.

Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

The executive director of the Kansas City Symphony is a busy man, but Frank Byrne has carved out some time for Up To Date. Today, he leads us through a Shostakovich symphony he's been listening to a lot lately. Then, we learn about the reporting, the writing, and the living Ernest Hemingway did in Kansas City during his 18th year of life.

Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

Not only is David Litt one of the youngest presidential speechwriters ever, but he also has the distinct (dis)honor of deplaning Air Force One in his pajamas. Today, Litt shares stories about his time writing jokes — and some serious stuff, too — for President Barack Obama.

Courtesy Andrew Johnson

In his new book, Kansas City writer Andrew Johnson stares down the tiny occurrences that make up everyday life, using observations about small things, such as people's habits of speech and social media comments, to raise big questions about humanity.

Damron Russel Armstrong

People need space to talk about war these days, says Anne Gatschet.

“We live in a world that’s got a lot of war. I think all of us are dealing with how to talk-slash-not talk about a great deal of pain and injury, moral and physical,” says Gatschet, who is president of the board at The Writers Place.

Gatschet's grandfather was killed in World War II, but her parents and extended family won’t talk about it. She says that leaves a void.

Leslie Many

The new book “Tales of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation" includes contributions from 36 "major contemporary writers" including Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Russo and Roxane Gay.

Jack Williams / NET News

In the middle of a cornfield in south-central Nebraska, an oasis of art is growing.

Art Farm, situated off a long dirt road outside the small town of Marquette, started back in 1993 as an artist residency program. Since then, it’s become a one-of-a-kind experience many artists can’t resist.

Paul Andrews / paulandrewsphotography.com

Writer and artist José Faus isn't religious, but when he's looking for comfort, he says the Virgin Mary.

"It is, in a way, a nod to the things I've lost."

He came to Kansas City from Bogotá, Colombia, when he was just nine years old, not fully understanding he was leaving forever. 

"I remember feeling so discombobulated. I really thought, Well, when are we going back home? And it just never came."

Courtesy Tom Shawver

Some people contend that James Joyce's Ulysses is the best novel of the 20th century. I'm not jumping into that debate. But as the annual worldwide literary holiday known as Bloomsday celebrating Ulysses rolls around again, I've made one more attempt to understand the book.

Not by reading it, but by speaking to some local experts.

Howard Simmons / Courtesy Washburn University

Gwendolyn Brooks lived in Topeka for just a few weeks after she was born. But the iconic poet – Brooks was the first African-American writer to win the Pulitzer Prize — still has relatives in Kansas, and they’re ready to celebrate what would have been her 100th birthday.

“I’m very happy and proud when I hear so many people here in Topeka that really had a lot of respect for her and the gift God had given her,” says Carolyn Wims Campbell, Brooks’ first cousin once removed (Brooks and Campbell’s father were cousins).

New America / Flickr - CC

Today, Kansas's newest poet laureate discusses how to find extraordinary meaning in the seemingly ordinary events of our lives. Then, we speak with political journalist and long-time confidant to Hillary Clinton, Sidney Blumenthal, whose new writing delves into the complex life of one of America's great presidents, Abraham Lincoln.

Courtesy Unbound Book Festival

On a recent Wednesday morning at his home Columbia, Missouri, Alex George was ignoring his day job. He’s an attorney and author whose second novel, Setting Free the Kites, was released in February. But on this day he was working on neither writing nor lawyering.

Paul Andrews / paulandrewsphotography.com

In a tiny plane over the Amazon rainforest, Kansas City writer Candice Millard plummeted to what she was sure would be her death.

Every great story starts with an unforgettable opening line ... that's especially true at The Moth. Now, some of the best, most courageous stories you've heard, can be found as chapters in a book, that you can go back to, again and again.

Artistic director Catherine Burns, editor of All These Wonders, joins us as The Moth celebrates its 20th anniversary. 

Guest:

Baylor University

Not every undocumented migrant crossing our southern border makes it. Remains of those who die in the attempt are found in the open and in unmarked graves. Meet the anthropologist using forensics to return skeletal remains to waiting families. Then KU's Lisa McLendon says "it's all about attitude" when it comes to grammar. Her passion for sentence structure and punctuation led her to write a workbook about it.

Missouri Auditor's Office

Today, bestselling author and political activist Francine Prose shares her thoughts on the importance of the written word. She says the First Amendment is under threat, and explains why what we write counts now more than ever. Then, we speak with Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway, who says certain executive payments the University of Missouri System awards break the law.

Why Two Sci-Fi Creators Call Kansas City Home

Mar 3, 2017
Kansas City Public LIbrary

When you think of the entertainment industry, Los Angeles or New York probably come to mind. But Kansas City?

As it turns out, the City of Fountains is home to two science fiction storytellers who are at the top of their game. Jason Aaron  writes comics for Marvel, and Bruce Branit creates visual effects for several popular television shows. 

Why Kansas City?

Banit was born here, graduated here and wanted to raise a family here.

Paul Andrews / www.paulandrewsphotography.com

On March 20, 1978, William Least Heat-Moon left Columbia, Missouri in a Ford van. The van, which he named Ghost Dancing, would be his home for the next three months.

He was 38 years old. His marriage was falling apart. He'd lost his teaching job due to staffing cutbacks. His decision to get behind the wheel in search of America's stories was part dream, part desperation.

Now that the van is a literary artifact, he has to visit it in a museum. And he's careful not to get behind the wheel. Sitting back in that driver's seat makes him misty eyed.

Universal Pictures

How many times has terrible science kept you from enjoying a sci-fi movie? From hits like I Am Legend to the classic Soylent Green, we explore the science behind these (and other) movies, and how they relate to real life.

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