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.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
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.
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 Air. Among 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.”
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BkMk Press congratulates the 2015 winners of its annual book prizes:
Bonnie Bolling, author of The Red Hijab, winner of the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry, selected by H. L. Hix. Finalists were Robert Cooperman, Jaclyn Dwyer, Gary Fincke, Jessica Glover, Laura LeHew, N. Michael Niflis, Nancy Kathleen Pearson, Michael Schmeltzer, and Joseph Stanton.
Rachel Hall, author of Heirlooms, winner of the G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction, selected by Marge Piercy. Finalists were Jean Anderson, Kathy Anderson, Morgan McDermott, and Hannah Thurman.
Winning titles will be published in 2016. Guidelines for the 2016 prize competitions from BkMk Press will be posted soon.
Friday, July 31, 2015
The Billion-Dollar Dream, Robert Day’s third story collection, published by BkMk Press, University of Missouri-Kansas City, is now available. Its nine stories set in Kansas and France have appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, New Letters, Numéro Cinq, and elsewhere.
Day’s characters can be hoarders, filthy, larcenous and adulterous. But there always emerges a moral point, a discovery or self-discovery, a quick drawing of the breath at what has been revealed or irretrievably lost. Just as Paul in the story “Billion Dollar Dream” digs an elevator shaft and the narrator of “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” digs graves, author Day goes deep for the dirt and watches the sunrise from the hole.
Day’s previous story collection, Where I Am Now, also from BkMk Press, won the Eric Hoffer Award’s best academic press title as well as a silver ForeWord award. Publishers Weekly called it “a lyrical and discerning love letter to agrarian living,” and Booklist praised its “smart and lovely writing.”
Robert Day’s short fiction has received Best American Short Stories and Pushcart Prize citations. Among his awards and fellowships are National Endowment for the Arts, Yaddo, and MacDowell fellowships and a Maryland State Arts Council Award. He is the author of the novel The Last Cattle Drive, a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, two novellas, In My Stead and The Four Wheel Drive Quartet, and two collections of short stories, Where I Am Now and Speaking French in Kansas. He has taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop, University of Kansas, and Université Bordeaux Montaigne. He is past president of the Associated Writing Programs, and founder and publisher of the Literary House Press at Washington College, where he is an adjunct professor of English literature.
Thursday, July 16, 2015
On June 10th, Juan Felipe Herrera was named the 21st poet laureate consultant in poetry 2015-16, making him the first Chicano poet to serve as the U.S. poet laureate. New Letters on the Air captured him early in his career and thanks to a Save America's Treasures grant, that program can be heard for free in our Audio Archives. More information available here.
Friday, June 26, 2015
by Robert Stewart
One of the great traditions in Kansas City for writers and aspiring writers, going back 20 years, is the amazing weekend writing conference sponsored by Kansas City’s international magazine of writing and art, New Letters. Because New Letters is a University of Missouri-Kansas City publication, it can call upon some of the finest writing coaches in the region, both from UMKC and from the pages of the magazine.
The 2015 conference will be held this year from Friday evening, June 26, through Sunday, June 28; the keynote address, on Friday evening, will be presented by the award-winning fiction writer Katherine Karlin, a professor of writing at Kansas State University, and a contributing writer to New Letters.
We love to have newcomers in the group. For me, as director of the conference, the best moment is usually on Sunday afternoon when the only sadness people express is the fact that the weekend is almost over.
The conference was founded in 1985 and run by the legendary Kansas City writer and editor James McKinley, who died just this March, one of the finest writing coaches this town has seen. I took over directorship in 2002, when Jim retired, and have been honored to run the conference with a faculty of such writers as playwright Frank Higgins, screenwriter Mitch Brian, article writer and dazzling personality Loring Leifer, poets Trish Reeves and the incomparable Stanley E. Banks. Let’s remember fiction writers Catherine Browder and Philip Stevens.
“The best part of this conference,” Stan Banks has said, “is the fun we have while doing the serious work of learning to write.” Students and faculty love to eat, and the conference comes with good food and fellowship.
Special guests this year will include editor and publisher Greg Michalson and the “star of detective fiction,” Linda Rodriguez.
The conference offers a full schedule with a variety of lecture topics in writing, including fiction, poetry, screenwriting, playwriting, memoirs, articles, and discussions on ways for writers to market their work. Attendees have the opportunity to receive private workshop and manuscript analysis with a member of the professional faculty, which includes prominent writers, editors and publishers. Credit and non-credit options are available. To register, call the UMKC Continuing Education office at (816) 235-2736. For more information, see www.newletters.org (Writers Wanted).
AUTHOR BIO NOTE: Robert Stewart won a National Magazine Award in 2008 for editorial achievement in the essay category (he was a finalist for that award in 2007) from the American Society of Magazine Editors. Poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, Denver Quarterly, Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner, Miramar, Stand, Notre Dame Review, Literary Review and other magazines. Books include The Narrow Gate: Writing, Art & Values (essays, Serving House Books, 2014), Outside Language: Essays (Helicon Nine Editions, a finalist in the PEN Center USA Literary Awards for 2004; and winner of the 2004 Thorpe Menn Award), Plumbers (poems, BkMk Press), and others. He is editor of New Letters magazine, BkMk Press, and New Letters on the Air, a nationally syndicated literary radio program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Monday, April 20, 2015
Angela Elam, the host of New Letters on the Air, is returning to where she got her start in radio—WUGA, 91.7 FM—to interview writers, April 20-25, 2015. Events include a live interview with Georgia Poet Laureate Judson Mitcham and studio recordings with Gary Ferguson and Philip Lee Williams. Full details available here.
Thursday, April 9, 2015
We're headed to AWP 2015 and we've got some great events lined up, including author signings, book discussions, and a literary showdown. View a full list of events here, and don't forget to come visit us at the bookfair, booth #1608.
Saturday, April 4, 2015
James McKinley, editor of New Letters (1985-2002) and BkMk Press (1995-2002) passed away on Saturday, March 28, 2015, at age 79. Family, friends, and colleagues from New Letters and BkMk Press will gather to pay tribute to a grand fellow, friend, writer, and brilliant editor, at The Writers Place, 3607 Pennsylvania, KCMO.
Location: Kansas City, Mo., 3607 Pennsylvania Ave.
Contact: (816) 235-1168 New Letters
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
A Benefit for UMKC’s New Letters Magazine, BkMk Press Books, New Letters on the Air & The Retirees Association
Jazz at Diastole: 2:30 p.m., Tues., Nov. 11, 2014, at Diastole Scholars Center, 2501 Holmes St., Kansas City, Mo.
Jazz performances by: David Basse, Bob Bowman (leader), Peter Schlamb, Steve Lambert. Words by Dan “All-Cats-Turn-Gray” Jaffe.
The Retirees Association of UMKC joins with great Kansas City jazz performers—national names in music—and UMKC’s international literary magazine, press, and radio series. Refreshments.
Students $5 and others $10 at the door. No rsvp needed. For information: (816) 235-1168 or email@example.com.
Join us. Afternoon Time Is The Right Time.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Artist Carol Zastoupil, featured artist in the winter 2014 edition of New Letters, will present a solo exhibition at Steeple of Light Art Gallery, Detials here.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
by Robert Stewart
I commemorate, here, a great man and a great friend, Bill Hickok, who died in Los Angeles on Monday, July 21, 2014. Bill was, indeed, cousin to the famous Wild Bill, but our Bill worked in business most of his life and ran a foundation to support the arts, the N. W. Dible Foundation. In 1977, he co-founded, with his wife, the poet Gloria Vando, the community-based literary organization The Writers Place, in midtown Kansas City, which thrives today due much to Bill’s philanthropy.
Bill Hickok’s tough business acumen formed a counterbalance to his playful intelligence. He began writing humor several years ago, “as a defense,” he would say, “against his children’s tyranny.” His articles have appeared widely in newspapers and literary magazines across the country.
Bill’s book of poems, The Woman Who Shot Me, came out from Whirlybird Press in 2011. “This late-life collection,” writes California Poet Laureate Al Young, “shines like a golden retriever.” If you knew Bill, that was high praise.
“No one writes like Bill Hickok. No one,” writes the estimable Jo McDougall. “Read him: you’ll be enriched and wounded.”
In one recent poem, Bill wrote, “I am thinking without mind. I cry without tears.” Bill had no use for wasted words or wasted time.
Many years ago, I saw this approach in action at a reading given by one of this country’s most famous poets, held at the Kansas City Art Institute. The lesson I learned, then, came not from the visiting poet but from someone in the audience. The room was packed, and I was standing along a side wall, suffering from what had to be the most tedious and dull poetry reading ever to come to Kansas City. I won’t mention the famous poet. About half way through, I noticed something move behind me, at floor level. There was a man in a suit, crawling on his hands and knees. This turned out to be more interesting than the reading, so I watched, as the man crawled along the floor behind the legs of the audience and out the back door. Guess who.
I have always thought that to be the single greatest act of literary criticism I have ever witnessed. Bill wrote, and held us all, to his own high standard: Don’t be dull.
Bill Hickok was an ornithologist, wildlife photographer, environmentalist, founder of the Kansas Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, a founder of Kansas City’s first hospice; he supported Midwest Poets Series and served as chair and board member for 10 years of Johnson County Parks and Recreation. In recent years he served on the board of Beyond Baroque, a literary center in Venice, Calif.
In the opening year of The Writers Place, special guest William Burroughs, who then lived in Lawrence, Kansas, about 30 miles away, called Bill to say he refused to travel on the icy roads to appear that day. Bill paced a bit and called Burroughs back. “Look out your front door in half an hour,” I heard Bill say. “You will see a limo that will take you safely here and safely home.” Burroughs complied, and Bill said to me, later, with a glass of red in his hand, “Burroughs was going to be here. I was going to see to it.” Bill was like that, tough, no nonsense, sweet, generous, and funny.
No words such as these can retrieve that life, but take my word: He raised us all in spirit and joy.
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Hear Christian Barter interviewed by Angela Elam on New Letters on the Air at http://www.newletters.org/on-the-air/christian-barter.
Barter's book In Someone Else's House won the BkMk Press Ciardi Prize for Poetry.
Kansas City Literary Events