September 22, 2017 Michael Nava
As an attorney for the California Supreme Court, Michael Nava moonlighted as a novelist, authoring seven novels in the Henry Rios mystery series, six of which won the Lambda Literary Awards for Gay Men's Mystery books. (Now retired, he's reimagined the first in the series from 30 years ago into the 2016 Lay Your Sleeping Head.) His 2014 novel, The City of Palaces, breaks from these as it examines an important transitional period of Mexican history (1897-1913) that fueled a large migration to the U.S. This family saga that won a 2015 International Latino Book Award is partly inspired by Nava's own family history, and is the first in a projected historical series called The Children of Eve. He also discusses how he balanced his two worlds as a legal and creative writer.
September 15, 2017 Judith Ortiz Cofer: Past American Voice
The work of the late Judith Ortiz Cofer (1952-2016) often reflected her Puerto Rican heritage and her childhood in New Jersey. A literary pioneer for Latina writers in the U.S., she wrote 17 books of poetry, fiction, essays, and memoir, and edited and contributed to many others. A beloved professor at the University of Georgia, she was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2010 and received the 2011 Governor's Humanities Award. In this 1998 interview, the winner of Pushcart and O'Henry Prizes talks about the challenges of writing while balancing teaching and family life and reads poetry and prose from The Latin Deli. A special issue of the South Atlantic Review on her work is due out in November 2017.
September 8, 2017 John Ashbery: Past American Voice
The poet, critic, and translator John Ashbery, who died on September 3rd at age 90, won nearly every major writing award, including in a single year, the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and National Book Critics Circle Award. Besides writing his more than two dozen books and teaching, he served as the New York State Poet Laureate from 2000 to 2003. An experimental poet, who began as a visual artist, he was influenced early on by the French surrealists and was known—despite his disdain of labels—to be part of the informal group known as the New York School of Poets and the Language Poets. In this archive 1986 program, he reads from his Selected Poems with selections ranging from prose poems to rhyming couplets in a public presentation recorded at his commencement address to students at the Kansas City Art Institute.
September 1, 2017 Natasha Trethewey
In the first part of this interview, Mississippi Poet Laureate (2012-16) and guest editor of Best American Poetry 2017, Natasha Trethewey talks about her work that deals with history, racism, and family, including her first creative non-fiction book, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Trethewey also reads from her poetry collection, Thrall, which includes an elegy for her now deceased father, the poet Eric Trethewey, in front of an audience as part of the 2015 Humanities Lecture Series at Kansas University’s Hall Center for the Humanities. New Letters on the Air also has an earlier interview that features Trethewey’s first three poetry books, including the Cave Canem Prize winning, Domestic Work, and the Pulitzer Prize winning, Native Guard. The second part of this interview and an earlier 2008 program with Natasha Trethewey are available in our audio archives.
August 25, 2017 James Tolan and Olivia Stiffler
Olivia Stiffler always wanted to be a poet, but writing took a backseat to her family life. Decades later, while at a Savannah writing workshop, she met James Tolan, a poet and English professor, who helped her envision her work as a complete collection. Olivia Stiffler and the late James Tolan discuss their unique mentorship and recount how James found her a publisher. They also talk about some of their similar experiences, including growing up in the Catholic Church and surviving difficult family situations that inspired much of their poetry. James Tolan reads from his book, Mass of the Forgotten and discusses co-editing the 2012 collection of drama, poetry, and short stories called, New America: Contemporary Literature for a Changing Society, while Olivia Stiffler reads from her debut collection, Otherwise, We Are Safe. (WARNING: THIS PROGRAM CONTAINS SOME MATURE CONTENT.)
August 18, 2017 Conger Beasley: Past American Voice
We honor the Past American Voice of Conger Beasley Jr.(1940-2016). This author of fiction, poetry, essays and non-fiction covered various subjects, ranging from texts for the Sierra Club Guide to the history of the Lakota Sioux to the fictionalized life of Maurice Ravel. This show pulls from two archive interviews in 1990 and 1996, as well as some never-before aired segments, as he reads from his book, Sundancers and River Demons: Essays on Landscape and Ritual and two of his experimental short stories from The Blood of Dead Poets. He also talks about We Are a People in This World: The Lakota Sioux and the Massacre at Wounded Knee,winner of the 1995 Western Writers of America Spur Award, revealing why he's often drawn to far-off desolate landscapes and their inhabitants. Read a tribute to the late Conger Beasley in New Letters magazine (Vol. 83, No. 1) and look for Conger Beasley's 1996 essay collection Eyes Open in the Dark in the BkMk Press Catalog.
August 11, 2017 Jeannette Walls
A journalist who worked for such publications as Esquire, New York Magazine, and MSNBC.com, Jeannette Walls turned to memoir for her first book, the 2005 international bestseller, The Glass Castle, now an August 2017 film. She discusses this book and her 2009 follow-up, Half Broke Horses: A True Life Novel about her tough-as-nails grandmother, Lily, whose exploits in the early 20th century demonstrate the tenacity of women in the American west. Walls also discusses the fine line between memoir and fiction, and why she labels her second book as fiction rather than a family memoir.
August 4, 2017 Kent Haruf: Past American Voice
We look back on the life of novelist Kent Haruf (1943-2014), still a favorite writer of book clubs across the country. September 2017 marks the inaugural Kent Haruf Literary Celebrationin Salida for this Colorado native, whose work often took place in the rural American high plains and reflected his own upbringing. In this archive interview, Haruf talks about his book, Plainsong, a finalist for the 1999 National Book Award and winner of Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award. He discusses his influences and the craft of writing, and how his process includes a highly unusual method of "writing blind" to complete his first draft.
July 28, 2017 Rachel Hall
Published in various anthologies and literary magazines, including New Letters as the Fiction Prize winner of 2004, Rachel Hall discusses her first book, a collection of interconnected short stories called Heirlooms. Chosen by Marge Piercy as the 2015 winner of the G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction from BkMk Press, it is based on her own family’s history and wartime papers and photos. The book follows a Jewish family through the French Resistance and the Holocaust, tracing their lives from Palestine, to France, and eventually to Missouri in the United States. While at the National Archives at Kansas City, Hall reads from this collection and reveals why she chose to write this as fiction rather than memoir. Click here to view the photos Rachel Hall discussed during this interview.
July 21, 2017 Judson Mitcham
In the second half of a conversation with Georgia State Poet Laureate (2012-present) Judson Mitcham talks in front of a WUGA audience in Athens, GA, about his two novels, The Sweet Everlasting and Sabbath Creek, both winners the Townsend Prize for fiction. Mitcham's voice is an important part of his work and he shares how his experience as a white man working at a predominantly black college has influenced his depiction of race in both novels set in his home state in different eras. Named Georgia Author of the Year as both a poet and a novelist, Mitcham was also inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame in 2013. Judson Mitcham discusses his poetry in the first part of this program found in our audio archives.
July 14, 2017 Antonya Nelson
The author of eleven books of short stories and novels, Antonya Nelson appears as UMKC's 2015 Cockefair Chair Writer-in-Residence at the Kansas City Public Library. She talks about her most recent books: the novel Bound, which covers growing up in Wichita, Kansas during the reign of the BTK killer, as well as her 2014 collection of short stories, Funny Once. As a writer published in magazines such as The New Yorker, she describes how she uses her life and the places she knows in flyover country to create fiction that appeals to readers outside the region. She also describes her creative life with her husband, fellow fiction writer, Robert Boswell.
July 7, 2017 Rodney Jones
Visiting Kansas City for the Midwest Poets Series, National Book Critics Circle Award winner Rodney Jones discusses what he learned about the use of language from the late writers and friends, Kent Haruf and C.D. Wright. He also reads from and talks about the shaping of his selected works, Salvation Blues: One Hundred Poems 1985-2005, and his newer poetry book Imaginary Logic.
Kansas City Literary Events