November 9, 2018 Tim O'Brien
Vietnam veteran and National Book Award-winning fiction writer Tim O'Brien discusses his experiences and reads from his now classic short story collection, The Things They Carried, as part of the NEA's Big Read. Originally released in 1990, the book follows a fictional platoon of American soldiers in Vietnam. In this 2017 presentation at the Kansas City Public Library, O'Brien reads from the story "Ambush" and details how he transformed events in his soldier life into his powerful fiction, as he explores how war affects soldiers and families. He also gives some tips as he shares his writing process. Listen to New Letters interviews from 1999 and 2004.
November 2, 2018 Bojan Louis
A member of the Navajo Nation, Bojan Louis is a poet, fiction writer, essayist and author of the 2018 American Book Award-winning poetry collection Currents, published by BkMk press. Louis, who worked for years as an electrician and now serves as poetry editor for RED INK: International Journal of Indigenous Literature, Arts, & Humanities, discusses how his previous career and the culture and environment of the Navajo people have influenced his writing and also talks about the three languages he's brought into his poetry--Dine, English and Spanish.
October 26, 2018 Stewart O'Nan
Though he's now the author of 16 novels and served as editor for The Vietnam Reader of Fiction and Nonfiction on the War, Stewart O'Nan didn't begin his career as a writer. He started out as a half-hearted engineer until advice from his wife led him writing books as varied as the best-selling novel, Snow Angels (now a film) to the non-fiction book co-written with Stephen King called Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season. While onstage at the Kansas City Public Library as UMKC's 2017 Cockefair Chair Writer-in-Residence, O'Nan discusses how he gave up engineering for the writing life and reads from his novel, West of Sunset, in part one of this conversation.
October 19, 2018 Ted Olson
Ted Olson, a professor of Appalachian Studies at East Tennessee State University, discusses how his writing has been impacted by the region's history, literature and music. He reveals what he learned studying with poet Wendell Berry and the profound influence of editing poetry and stories by the late James Still, resulting in two Appalachian Book of the Year Awards for From the Mountain, From the Valley and The Hills Remember. He also reads from his own poetry collections Revelations and Breathing in Darkness, punctuated with music from Big Bend Killing: The Appalachian Ballad Tradition that brought him his sixth Grammy nomination.
October 12, 2018 Mia Leonin & Gustavo Adolfo Aybar
In this public reading at The Writer's Place in Kansas City, poets Mia Leonin and Gustavo Adolfo Aybar celebrate island cultures. Aybar, a native of the Dominican Republic, is a Cave Canem Fellow who shares poems from his 2017 Willow Books Literature Awards Grand Prize Winner, We Seek Asylum. Leonin, who has explored her Cuban-American heritage in her memoir Havana and Other Missing Fathers, reads from her 2018 collection from BkMk Press called Fable of the Pack-Saddle Child.
October 5, 2018 Terrance Hayes
Award-winning poet Terrance Hayes gives insight into his creative process in this public reading as part of the 2016 Hall Center for the Humanities Lecture Series at the University of Kansas. He shares work from his fifth collection, How to Be Drawn, a finalist for both the National Book and National Book Critics Circle Awards, and winner of the NAACP Image Award for Poetry. The MacArthur fellow talks about his love of long sentences, and how he blends Shakespeare with rap references. He also tries out new poems on the audience that have since morphed into his 2018 book, American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin. (WARNING: THIS PROGRAM CONTAINS SOME EXPLICIT LANGUAGE.)
September 28, 2018 Joaquín Zihuatanejo
Texas-born Joaquín Zihuatanejo is the only poet so far to win both the American Individual World Poetry Slam and the European World Cup of Poetry Slam. Hear his prize-winning "Poem for John" and readings from his sixth collection, Arsonist, published in 2018 after winning the Anhinga Robert Dana Poetry Prize. He shares how this book came to be written after a Facebook message opened a portal into the life of his deceased father, and reads poetry about cultural archetypes, revealing his outlook on the world to an audience at the Kansas City Public Library.
September 21, 2018 Sandra Cisneros
Latina author Sandra Cisneros, a recipient of the 2015 National Medal of Arts Award from President Obama in 2016 (the last time it was awarded), discusses her groundbreaking 1984 debut novel, The House on Mango Street, which is now required reading in many schools. The founder of the Macondo Foundation to foster creativity among socially-engaged writers, Cisneros talks about her own growth as a writer of fiction, essays and poetry, and reads from this early work as well as from her more recent novel, Caramelo, and her poetry collection, Loose Woman.
September 14, 2018 Martín Espada
In the second part of this public presentation by Martín Espada for Park University's 2013 Ethnic Voices Poetry Series at the Kansas City Public Library, the former tenant lawyer talks about how he was able to transfer his advocacy from the justice system to poetry, giving voice to those who are otherwise silenced. After a fresh reading of the title poem from Alabanza: New and Selected Poems (that varies quite a bit from his 2005 New Letters on the Air recording), he discusses this post 9/11 poem as well as the elegiac tendencies in his collection The Trouble Ball, which won three poetry awards in 2012. He also shares poems about the human rights struggle of our time--immigration. The first half of this presentation, which features the rest of Martín Espada's poetry reading, can be found in our Audio Archives.
September 7, 2018 Diane Williams
Coming of age in the 1960s, Diane Williams began her creative life in ballet and modern dance, until she fell in love with the literary world. She struggled to be taken seriously as a writer and editor in the male dominated era. Now, the three-time winner of the Pushcart Prize for Fiction is the author of eight books, and the editor of the acclaimed literary journal Noon, in which she has mentored numerous experimental writers. At this reading from her book of short fiction from McSweeney's entitled, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, she discusses her craft and approach to language. A 2008 interview with Diane Williams is also available in our Audio Archives.
August 31, 2018 Robert Stewart
Robert Stewart, the St. Louis born writer and editor of New Letters magazine, has written several books of poetry and essays. Winner of the Thorpe Menn Award for Literary Excellence and a National Magazine Award for Editorial Excellence, Stewart talks about his creative process and discusses how his blue collar past has inspired his writing, from his 1988 book Plumbers (reissued in 2017) to his 2018 collection of poetry, Working Class. He also reads from his 2014 essay book, The Narrow Gate: Writing, Art & Values. Earlier interviews with Robert Stewart from 1983 and 2005 are also available in our audio archives.
Kansas City Literary Events