News, Awards & Press

Winners Announced: New Letters Literary Awards

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

                                                Fiction Judge Thomas Fox Averill, Fiction Winner Amy Widmoyer Hanson,
                                                          Essay Judge Janet Burroway, Essay Winner Robert Stothart
                                                          Poetry Judge Alberto Ríos, Poetry Winner Betty Ritz Rogers

New Letters is pleased to announce the 2018 winners of the $2,500 Conger Beasley Jr. Prize for Nonfiction, the $1,500 New Letters Prize for Fiction and the $1,500 New Letters Prize for Poetry. Essay Judge Janet Burroway chose Robert Stothart's essay "Cataract Surgery" as the winner for the Conger Beasley Jr. Award for Nonfiction and Fiction Judge Thomas Fox Averill chose Amy Widmoyer Hanson's story "Independence Road" as the winner of the New Letters Prize for Fiction. Poetry Judge Alberto Ríos chose Betty Fitz Rogers' poem "Josef Sudek (Prague, 1896-1979)" a the winner of the New Letters Prize for Poetry. Each winner will receive a cash prize and publication in the winter 2019 issue of New Letters. For more information about our winners and judges, click here.

New Letters Summer 2018 Poetry Series

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Children Poetry Series

Follow our new series of poems about children, each day or two through July—new ones announced here, and linked to our website—by such poets as Kelly Cherry, John Balaban, Dunya Mikhail and others.  Anyone who knows the poem “Bopal,” by David Ray, about the fate of children near a chemical-plant explosion in Bopal, India, years ago, might be haunted, as I have been, by the line, “They’re all our children now.”  That’s the spirit of our series on children, “All Our Children,” whether in Kansas City or Syria, Bopal or Arizona.  The series offers what poetry does best: to get a little intensity going.  Start here. (R. Stewart).

New Letters' Author Wins Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer's Award

Friday, June 15, 2018

New Letters is pleased to announce the Lydia Conklin, whose essay "Rockaway" appeared in New Letters vol. 76 no. 4, has won a 2018 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer's Award. Conklin will receive $30,000. The award is given annually to six women writers who demonstrate excellence and promise in the early stages of their careers. To learn more about the foundation, visit http://www.ronajaffefoundation.org.

New Letters Weekend Writing Conference 2018 (June 22nd through June 24th)

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Writing Seminars, Workshops, Private Consultations, Craft lectures, Refreshments, Snacks, Socializing.

 

Keynote speaker & faculty member, Diane Glancy:

American Book Award; Lifetime Achievement Award,
Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas.

Professional, published faculty:

Catherine Browder & Diane Glancy (novels and short fiction), Frank Higgins (scenes, dialogue, drama, stage), Trish Reeves and Stanley E. Banks (poetry), Loring Leifer (nonfiction) Robert Stewart (director and essays). Humorist Kent Rader & book editor Ben Furnish, plus other guest speakers, editors & publishers. Conference manager: Lisa D. Stewart. 

Held at Diastole Center, the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s beautiful conference center, at 2501 Holmes St., Kansas City, Mo.: fast-paced and interdisciplinary; private manuscript consultations. Register through the UMKC College of Arts and Sciences Continuing Education (816) 235-2736.

Community Noncredit enrollment at reduced fees.  Contact Continuing Education: (235-2736) New Letters (235-1168) or email newletters@umkc.edu.

 or

English 438  (undergrad or graduate college credit available):

*  Three-credit hour students use English 438 section 0002 (capstone option)

Register as for any other credit course or contact Cont. Ed. (816) 235-2736.

*  One-credit hour students use English 438 section 0001.

Director & instructor Robert Stewart, editor, New Letters.

Full details for the conference here

Continuing Education, College of Arts and Science (816) 235-2736.

New Letters & BkMk Press Events at 2018 AWP Conference / Tampa Bookfair Booth 1048

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

 

Boisseau, Stewart, Leonin

Tribute to the Michelle Boisseau:  1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m., Thursday, March 8th at the Barber Middleton Stage (stage 2), Tampa Convention Center, Third Floor. . . . with Mark Jarman, Randall Mann, Hadara      Bar-Nadav, Kate Daniels, Robert Stewart, Marilyn Kallet, Wayne Miller . . . and others.  A toast.

Robert Stewart will be signing his book of poems Working Class, 4 p.m., Fri., March 9, at Stephen F. Austin State University Press tables: 719/721.

Mia Leonin will be signing her BkMk Press book, Fable of the Pack-Saddle Child, at 2 p.m., Friday, March 9, at the New Letters & BkMk Press booth 1048.  Come visit editor Ben Furnish, Mia, and friends.  

 

 

New Letters on the Air Archive Audio on The Paris Review Podcast

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The power of the renowned late poet John Ashbery lives on through his recorded voice. The Paris Review podcast released on Wed., Jan. 31, 2018 includes audio from a 1986 New Letters on the Air program with Ashbery reading his poem “Soonest Mended.”

“There are about nine different recordings of this poem,” says Paris Review podcast executive producer John DeLore, “but I like the New Letters version the best.” A production of New Letters magazine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, New Letters on the Air is the nation’s longest running weekly literary radio program, broadcasting since 1977, with audio archives that include Pulitzer Prize-winners and poets laureate, such as Ashbery. “One of our missions with The Paris Review podcast,” DeLore says, “is to make literature and poetry accessible and enjoyable to a wider audience than those who encounter it on the printed page. New Letters has been doing exactly that kind of work for over 40 years.”

Ashbery’s long career led him to play the role of poet, critic, and translator. His poetry is known for its experimental, complex, and at times controversial nature. A 1975 collection titled Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror won the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and National Book Critics Circle Award. He has been described as one of the most influential American poets of the 20th century with his use of language compared to that of Walt Whitman and T.S. Eliot. The New York state poet laureate from 2000 to 2003, Ashbery died Sept. 3, 2017, at the age of 90.

            The recording is available on The Paris Review podcast website. The full New Letters on the Air program with John Ashbery, recorded during his 1986 commencement address at the Kansas City Art Institute, is also available to stream in the audio archives. New Letters on the Air airs locally Sundays at 6:30AM on KCUR 89.3 FM. It can also be heard through the New Letters on the Air podcast on iTunes. 

Writers for Readers

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Wednesday, November 1, 2017 | 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. | UMKC, Student Union

Join us at Writers for Readers, an evening celebrating the power of expression through creative writing and reading. Sponsors and attendees will meet and mingle during a reception and seated dinner, and enjoy a program featuring acclaimed authors Curtis Sittenfeld and Whitney Terrell.

RSVP Online TodayTickets are $65 each and sponsorships range from $500 - $5,000. Click here to become a sponsor or purchase individual tickets!

Proceeds from this event benefit a collaborative partnership between Literacy KC and UMKC's Creative Writing Program. This innovative program brought a Creative Writing graduate student, to create, implement, and teach creative writing to teens and adults enrolled in Literacy KC's Ticket to Read programs throughout the metro. 

Celebrating Michelle Boisseau

Monday, October 30, 2017

Join us in celebrating UMKC English professor and poet Michelle Boisseau on Thursday, November 2, 2017, at 3:00 p.m. in Cockefair Hall, 52nd Street and Rockhill Road, Kansas City, Mo., room 105. Please come and read one of your favorite poems by Michelle to honor her work on the page and in our community. 

Boisseau

NEW LETTERS ON THE AIR, On Stage, in Conversation with PEN/Faulkner Award Winner, Stewart O'Nan

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

National Public Radio calls Stewart O’Nan’s stories gems, brilliant and revealing, while The New York Times describes him as “prolific and versatile.” Hear Stewart O’Nan in person, discussing his craft and career with New Letters on the Air public radio host/producer, Angela Elam. On Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017, the University of Missouri-Kansas City Cockefair Writer-in-Residence will take the stage with Elam at the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library.

Stewart O’Nan is known for taking risks, crafting seventeen books that rarely compare to one another in their styles and subjects. His omniform work ranges from nonfiction collaborations with Stephan King, to fiction that voices the fears of the unemployed, to terrifying psychological thrillers and a novel about the writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald. His latest fictional book, City of Secrets (2016), follows a widower in post-World War II Jerusalem.

This event will begin at 6:30 p.m. The Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library is located at 4801 Main St., Kansas City, 64112. RSVP to the library online at wwww.kclibrary.org or call 816-701-3400. The conversation is also co-presented by the UMKC English Department, the Carolyn Benton Cockefair Chair at UMKC, and the Writers at Work Round Table. New Letters on the Air can be heard on KCUR 89.3 on Sunday mornings at 6:00 AM or online anytime at www.newletters.org. Free podcasts of the show are also available. For more information reference our “Kansas City Literary Events Calendar.”

BKMK PRESS POETRY AND FICTION CONTEST WINNERS ANNOUNCED

Friday, September 29, 2017

University of Missouri-Kansas City’s BkMk Press, publisher of fine books since 1971, announces winners of its 2017 book prizes. Berwyn Moore (Erie, Pa.) has won the 18th John Ciardi Prize for Poetry, and Rachel Groves (shown) (Kansas City, Mo.) has won the 16th G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction. Each author will receive $1,000 and book publication from BkMk Press in 2018.

Groves’s story collection, When We Were Someone Else, was selected by fiction writer Hilma Wolitzer for “beautifully depicting the (sometimes fraught) emotional connections between various characters” with writing that is “crisp and fresh, often funny and ultimately moving.” Groves is a graduate of the University of Vermont M.F.A. program and Southern Methodist University and lived in Dallas, Texas, until recently. When We Were Someone Else will be her first book.

Enid Shomer, poet and fiction writer, chose Moore’s manuscript Sweet Herbaceous Miracle as the 2017 poetry winner. Moore, a professor of English at Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, has previously published two collections of poetry, and her poems have appeared widely in national journals, including The Southern Review, Shenandoah, and Nimrod.

Finalists for the 2017 G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize included Kilby Allen, Elizabeth Genovise, Diane Josefowicz, and Jyotsna Sreenivasan. Ciardi Prize finalists were Trent Busch, Johnson Cheu, Laura Foley, Danielle Hanson, Francis Klein, Leah Nielsen, Philip Raisor, and Jeffrey Talmadge.

The John Ciardi Prize for Poetry was founded in 1998 to honor the legacy of Ciardi, who taught at UMKC in the 1940s and was a poet, translator, and poetry editor of The Saturday Review. BkMk Press founded the G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction in 2001 in memory of Chandra, who was a professor of English at UMKC. Previous winners of BkMk’s annual writing contests have gone on to receive wide literary acclaim; a full list of past recipients and judges is available here. Submissions for next year's contests are welcome. The entry deadline for both is Jan. 15, 2018. Click here for guidelines.

Tracy K. Smith has been named the next U.S. Poet Laureate!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Hear poetry from her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Life on Mars, on the New Letters on the Air half-hour show or a short excerpt on KCUR before she was in Kansas City last year. Find out more about our new ambassador for poetry from NPR.

Kevin Rabas (left) named Kansas Poet Laureate . . .

Friday, April 21, 2017

Kevin Rabas, New Letters contributing poet, has just been named poet laureate of Kansas. Our congratulations. Rabas can be seen here (left) in his town of Emporia, Kansas, fall 2016, with New Letters editor Robert Stewart, who also is Kevin's former teacher at UMKC.

Robert Stewart’s book of poems Plumbers reissued in 2017 revised paperback.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Plumbers ad

New Letters on the Air Celebrates National Poetry Month with Two Recent NEA Fellows at the Kansas City Public Library

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Missouri poets Hadara Bar-Nadav and Kathryn Nuernberger, who both received National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowships in December 2016, will take to the stage of the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library with New Letters on the Air host/producer, Angela Elam.  On Wednesday, April 12th, 2017, they will discuss their recent books and “What Makes a Poem Work?”for National Poetry Month.  April also marks the beginning of the 40th year of broadcasting for this nationally-distributed public radio literary show that is the companion to New Letters magazine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and can be heard locally on KCUR 89.3 FM.

Hadara Bar-Nadav teaches creative writing at UMKC and is the co-editor, with Michelle Boisseau, of the popular textbook Writing Poems. Her fourth collection of poetry, Fountain and Furnace (Tupelo P), was released in July 2016 and was the winner of the Sunken Garden Chapter Book Prize. Kathryn Nuernberger is the editor of Pleiades Press at the University of Central Missouri, where she also teaches creative writing and hosts the Pleiades Visiting Writers Series. The End of Pink (BOA Editions Ltd.), her second book of poetry, was awarded the 2015 James Laughlin Award before being published in September of last year.

A reception for the event will begin at 6:00 PM, with the program following at 6:30 PM. The Kansas City Public Library Plaza Branch is located at 4801 Main St., Kansas City, 64112. RSVP to the library online at www.kclibrary.org or call 816-701-3407. The event is cosponsored by the UMKC English department, New Letters magazine, and KCUR 89.3 FM, where New Letters on the Air can be heard Sunday mornings at 6:00 AM or with the free podcast and streaming online at www.newletters.org

Women's History Month at the Kansas City Public Library Explores Modern Day Gorgons with Poet Michelle Boisseau for New Letters on the Air

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The theme of grieving yet fierce women from Greek mythology to contemporary times (“Keeping afloat / nine kids while anchored to a crooning / typhoon of a husband”) promises to fuel Women’s History Month in a live event at the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library on Thursday, March 23, 2017. Poet Michelle Boisseau will talk about her fifth collection of poetry Among the Gorgons with Angela Elam, host of UMKC’s weekly show and podcast New Letters on the AirAmong the Gorgons won the Tampa Review Prize and was published in 2016 by the University of Tampa Press.  Nominated for this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the collection contains the poem, “Ugglig,” that was also published in The Best American Poetry 2016.

“Michelle Boisseau’s poems are unashamed, gleeful, outrageous, defiant,” said New York poet, Eleanor Wilner, a former Cockefair Chair Writer-in-Residence at UMKC.  Boisseau’s honors include two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships and poetry prizes for her books.  An English Department faculty member at UMKC since 1995, Boisseau teaches in the Creative Writing Program and is a contributing editor of New Letters magazine and BkMk Press.  She has been a guest interviewer for New Letters on the Air, which airs locally on KCUR 89.3 FM on Sunday mornings at 6 a.m.

This event  is co-presented by UMKC’s Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, the English Department, New Letters magazine and BkMk Press and begins at 6:30 p.m., with a reception beforehand at 6 p.m.. Reservations to the event are strongly recommended. For more information and to RSVP reference our “Kansas City Literary Events Calendar.”

Writers for Readers

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Literacy KC & UMKC's Creative Writing Program team up to raise money for a local literacy program. Contributors can enjoy dinner while listening to a conversation between UMKC novelist Whitney Terrell & Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith. (Click names to hear earlier radio shows with each writer; more on the event here.)

A Stand for Conger Beasley Jr.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

by Robert Stewart

The death of one of the most significant literary figures of the Kansas City region, Conger Beasley Jr., on Aug. 9, 2016, author of over 19 books of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, articles and art, has gone entirely unmentioned by The Kansas City Star, except for the family’s obituary. That omission can only be understood as The Star's determination to reduce staff coverage of the city's artistic life and history.  

            When Arkansas poet and editor Miller Williams died in 2015, an editorial page editor at The Star invited me to write a tribute to Williams, which I did.  That editor, now retired, had been a books and arts editor previously, and had, himself, memorialized other regional writers and artists.  He was not alone to do so at the paper, but The Star, in recent years, has phased out its long-time arts reporters, whose attention and commitment to artists in this town went deeper than the latest press release.

            “If we are ever to attain our forefathers’ aspirations for ‘a more perfect union,’” wrote Rita Dove this August in an open letter to the future president of this country, “educating our young—not only in the sciences, but also the arts—cannot, dare not, be neglected.”  I believe, and hope, that Dove speaks here not only of formal education but the education that comes from reading news, and that means news also of the arts.  We at New Letters do the best we can but cannot fill the role of a mass-market, daily paper.

            Here is our stand:  Conger Beasley, born in St. Joseph, Mo., in 1940, long-time resident of Kansas City, is among the best practitioners of literary journalism and imaginative writing Missouri ever produced.  He won the Western Writers of America Spur Award in Nonfiction for We Are a People of This World: The Lakota Sioux and the Massacre at Wounded Knee (Arkansas University Press)—a modern masterpiece of literary reporting in the classic Beasley style—solid, narrative story-telling, journalistic insight, and surrealist, linguistic dazzlement sufficient to turn reportage into a work of ecstatic art.  Mr. Beasley won the Thorpe Menn Award for literary excellence for his essay collection Sundancers and River Demons: Essays on Landscape and Ritual.  His Hidalgo's Beard and The Ptomaine Kid rank among the best innovative novels of the later 20th century.  

            A world traveler, Beasley has written articles and books about California’s Channel Islands, Colorado’s Spanish Peaks, Alaska, Venezuela, and was pictured on the cover of EcoTraveler magazine, hiking the Andes in Peru.  It is not possible to consider oneself an authentic resident of Kansas City, St. Joseph, or, for that matter, the entire state of Missouri, without having read this literary master.

            Beasley contributed as much to the character of Kansas City as any council member, band leader, and some mayors.  He wrote books.  He wrote the tiny nonfiction gem Kansas City: An Evocation, a paean to the town from its own fabulist and raconteur.  He was advisory editor for New Letters and author for BkMk Press.  He appeared at conferences, book festivals, art gatherings, presentations, and readings; he worked in publishing ventures here, such as Andrews McMeel, Woods Colt Press, Chouteau Review, and others, but not that The Star these days would notice. 

—Aug. 24, 2016 /  R.S.

 

Summer Subscription Special

Friday, July 8, 2016

For a limited time, new subscribers to New Letters magazine can receive—along with upcoming issues--one complimentary back issue featuring writers recently heard on the radio show and podcast, New Letters on the Air. Visit our Subscription page and in the comments box, enter "Summer Special" along with the volume number of the New Letters back issue you would like to receive.

Choices include: Vol. 81 Nos. 3&4 to read the complete interview with Iraqi poet Dunya Mikhail and an essay on religion by Willis Barnstone; or Vol. 82 No. 2 with three new poems by Missouri Poet Laureate Aliki Barnstone and a translation of a Danish writer by Tom Kennedy; or Vol. 82 No. 1 with an essay by that National Magazine Award-winning writer, Thomas Kennedy, as well as new poems by Willis Barnstone.

New Letters Writers Featured on Public TV

Friday, July 1, 2016

An episode coming to KCPT, public TV in Kansas City, features military vet and New Letters poet H.C. Palmer and other vet writers.  The video focuses on a May 2016 writing workshop for military vets, “Telling Your Story,” which included as instructors several other New Letters writers: Trish Reeves, Frank Higgins, Al Ortolani, and Robert Stewart. Preview video here.

BkMk Press Book Wins IPPY Award

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

BkMk Press announces that its book Thorn, by Evan Morgan Williams, won the 2016 gold medal in the category of short fiction from the Independent Publisher Book Awards, currently in it’s 20th year. Williams previously won BkMk Press’ G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize in Short Fiction for Thorn in a contest judged by former California poet laureate Al Young. “The seductive beauty of these subtle troubling fictions,” Young states in the foreword to Thorn, “reflect their author’s dreamy, voice-drenched visions of underdog lives.”

BkMk Press annually offers the G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize in Short Fiction and the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry. The next deadline for these prizes is Jan. 15, 2017. Submissions must be book-length and written in English. Winners are announced in August, and receive $1000 and book publication. Authors published in this contest have gone on to be reviewed or featured in publications such as Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus Reviews. 

Independent Publisher Award page.

New Letters Magazine Gathers Award-Winning Work

Friday, March 25, 2016

The new issue of New Letters magazine volume 82 no. 2 features multiple award winners, including poet Michelle Boisseau, and Thomas E. Kennedy with his essay “The Memory Clinic.”  Kennedy was awarded the Dan Turèll Medal in March for his translations into English of Danish authors. He also translated into English for the first time, the late Danish poet Turèll’s memoir “Vangede Pictures,” that also appears in this issue.

This issue also features five poems from the winner of the Tampa Review Book Prize, Michelle Boisseau, and the winners of New Letters 2015 international Literary Awards.  Elizabeth Haukaas won the $1,500 poetry award for five poems; Cady Vishniac won the $1,500 fiction award for her story “A Tzaddikah Goes on the Lam”; and Mindy Lewis won the $1,500 essay award for her memoir “Our Little Jewish Girl.”  The cover and inside full-color spread features award-winning fiber artist Sonié Joi Ruffin.

“Such awards would accomplish little if the work did not, in its literary value, also offer those deeper rewards,” says editor Robert Stewart. “The assessment of outside arbiters, however, keeps up our spirits by suggesting that maybe we are not alone to appreciate the risks and joys of this writing.”

New Letters is the international magazine of writing and art—winner of a National Magazine Award, the magazine industry’s highest honor—published by the University of Missouri-Kansas City.  Subscriptions are available for $28 per year (four issue), with discounts for longer subscriptions. Call (816) 235-1168 or visit www.newletters.org to order.

New Letters selected for The Best American Poetry

Friday, February 5, 2016

We are happy to announce that a poem from New Letters, "Lament," by Debra Marquart, has been selected for The Best American Poetry 2016 by editor Edward Hirsch.  Readers of New Letters responded strongly to the poem upon publication in our fall 2014 issue.  The Best American Poetry 2016 is due to be published this coming fall, but for those who want a refresher on Marquart’s poem, go to our online contents page at http://www.newletters.org/magazine/volume-81-issue-1.  New Letters was represented in The Best American Poetry 2015, as well, with Valzhyna Mort’s "Sylt I," from New Letters winter 2013.  Order your subscription to New Letters at http://www.newletters.org/magazine/subscriptions or call (816) 235-1168.

LENORE MYKA, RECENT BkMk PRIZE WINNER, RECEIVES NEA FELLOWSHIP

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Lenore Myka is one of only thirty-seven out of 1,768 applicants to be selected for this year’s $25,000 fiction fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Myka’s first book, King of the Gypsies, won the G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction, selected by Lorraine M. López and published by BkMk Press in 2015. A former Peace Corps volunteer in Romania, Myka currently lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. Her work has also appeared in New England Review, Iowa Review and Upstreet.

New Novel from Robert Day

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Robert Day, stellar New Letters short-story writer and essayist, announces his new novel, Let Us Imagine Lost Love.  The novel’s publisher, Thane & Prose, is now taking pre-orders. The narrator of Day’s novel designs gift books—abecedarians, agendas, address books, “blanks,”—at his Kansas City apartment in between assignations with his “Wednesday Wives,” Chekov, the dictionary, and a fabricated religion, all of which are substitutes for his lost love, Beth Brookings.  The narrator has written Let Us Imagine Lost Love as a gift for her.  Day’s novel is pure delight for all its down-home erudition and absurdity, its unswerving humor, and its dedication to pursuing the hearts of others.  Day is also author of classic novel The Last Cattle Drive.  Don’t miss this new, beautiful, touching lyric that imagines the affirmation of life when lost love is found.  Pre-orders available now at SHOP.THANEANDPROSEPRESS.COM.

Does Pope Francis Read New Letters?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

One might believe Pope Francis had been responding to an essay by the biblical scholar and translator Willis Barnstone, “Is God A Jew? Is Jesus a Jew?”— from the summer 2015 edition of New Letters magazine—when, on Oct. 28, 2015, at a public audience in St. Peter’s square, the pope proclaimed, “Yes to the rediscovery of the Jewish roots of Christianity.  No to anti-Semitism.” 

Jewish leaders had just met with Pope Francis in Rome for the 50th anniversary of the Nostra Aetate, a declaration promulgated by Pope Paul VI, designed to improve relations between Christians and Jews.  Barnstone points out that the longed-for recognition of Christianity’s Jewish roots has been suppressed, despite the good intentions of many religious leaders.  “How can the Jewish identity of both Adam and Eve in the garden and Yeshua suffering crucifixion in Jerusalem be unknown?” Barnstone asks.  The answer, for Barnstone, encompasses the history of biblical translations, as well as Western literary and cultural history, and extends into pop culture. 

Barnstone’s essay in New Letters is an expanded version of a talk delivered in 2014 for Harvard Divinity School. The essay resounds with literary and poetic prose, both from the poet Barnstone and from the sacred texts.  “God the Jew is a multi-personed author,” writes Barnstone in New Letters, “and his talk with the creations gives us the Tanakh.  His last prophet,” Barnstone continues, “is the foretold Messiah, a rebellious Jew named Yeshua, and also a world poet (poet means ‘maker,’ ‘creator,’ and ‘literatus’).” 

Unequivocal as a poet, himself, the pope proclaimed in October 2015, “Christians, all Christians, have Jewish roots.” 

It was as though the pope had assented to the words of Willis Barnstone, near the conclusion of his essay:  “There is nothing sentimental about curing hatred through a historical reading of scripture,” wrote Barnstone.  Neither Barnstone nor church leader, the pope, seem to have time for sentimentality and false renderings of history at the expense of a peaceful earth.

Does the pope read New Letters?  Does it matter?  No.  The light of literature in historical texts and in new texts, including New Letters, continues to permeate human consciousness.  You can watch it happening.                                                                                                                                                               —Robert Stewart, New Letters 

Jane Hoogestraat, BkMk poet and Ciardi Prize winner, remembered by a past student

Thursday, September 17, 2015

“Well, that’s a great question. I’ll have to research that and get back to you,” was the answer suggested by Dr. Jane Hoogestraat to students presenting at a conference if they were asked a question they couldn’t answer. This method of dodging an inquiry was useful, and, for those who noticed, also incredibly funny based upon her sly almost-smile.

But most people could easily miss her occasional smirk, or sly wink, and mistake “Dr. Jane,” as students and colleagues alike often referred to her, being shy for sternness or stoicism, based upon her modest dress and unassuming behavior. The truth is that she was incredibly invested in the academic and personal success of her students, as well as her colleagues’ accomplishments, could be extremely funny, and approached writing with an intense passion.

Her passion is what inspired her book, Border States, which won the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry from BkMk Press, selected by Luis J. Rodríguez, the poet laureate of Los Angeles. The book went on to be featured on Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac,  the PBS NewsHour arts blog, Poetry Daily, and Verse Daily, and be named Bronze winner of the ForeWord Reviews Indiefab Award. 

Born in eastern South Dakota Dr. Jane went on to pursue her education first at Baylor University in Texas in the Honors Program, followed by attending the University of Chicago where she earned her Master’s degree, and then her PhD with Honors, as well as working as a poetry editor at the Chicago Review. One of my favorite stories she told of her education was describing the incredible luck she had while defending her doctoral thesis.

She was asked to discuss the ending to a poem as a committee member slid a sheet of paper across the desk. She nervously turned the paper over only to see one of her favorite poems. “I looked at my committee and said, ‘I would love to discuss the end of this poem, but it’s not on here.’” There had been an error with the copier, cutting off the piece’s final stanza.

Like that poem, Dr. Jane’s life was cut off too soon. News spread on September 9, 2015, that the world of poetry had lost a wonderful writer, scholar, and human being. Dr. Jane had many roles, as all academics do. She acted as an instructor for undergraduate- and graduate-level poetry workshops, taught a Critical Theory course that virtually every graduate student who enrolled raved about, served on various committees, and directed over a dozen theses; but she could possibly best be described as having been a documentarian.

Many writers successfully see the world around them, and talented writers can convey the world around them in a unique manner; but select few are capable of recording the world around them with such passion, compassion, and hope.

“I wanted you to know everything at once,” she tells us in ‘River Roads,’ “a landscape it took me months to learn.” “These are landscapes,” wrote poet Ed Madden in his endorsement of Dr. Jane’s full poetry collection, Border States, “it takes months, years, lifetimes to learn, and Hoogestraat is our best guide.”

She spent her life learning to navigate landscapes, identify plants as part of her love of floriculture, and treated all students like “The Hyacinth Boy” from her poem of the same name whom she hoped “to treat this child / with enough gentleness, help him grow into a love / for color, design, for whatever he might choose.”

“In one tradition,” reads her poem “One Beautiful Storm, and Then Another,” “one should not die before / having seen a thousand wonders.” I do not know how many wonders Dr. Jane Hoogestraat would have claimed to have seen in her life, but I believe that many others beyond myself would agree that our interactions with her where always wondrous.

Timothy Leyrson

MFA candidate, University of Missouri-Kansas City and New Letters on the Air intern

Memorial Service: Christ Episcopal Church, 601 E. Walnut St., Springfield, MO, funeral service at 1 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18.

Kansas City Literary Events

Marcus Jackson

Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Kansas City, Mo.

News

Winners Announced: New Letters Literary Awards

New Letters is pleased to announce the 2018 winners of the $2,500 Conger Beasley Jr. Prize for Nonfiction, the $1,500 New Letters Prize for Fiction, and the $1,500 Prize for Poetry. See the winners, judges, and finalists here.

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Clarion Awards Selection CD Special

Jamaica KincaidJim ShepardGloria Vando & Anika ParisLuis Alberto Urrea, and Alex George, normally $7.99 per episode, this cd collection comes with over $15.00 in savings. Downloads of these programs have been reduced and are available through our archives.