December 14, 2018 Naomi Shihab Nye
In part one of this conversation, Arab-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye, whose numerous books of poetry, essays and stories have delighted children and adults alike, reads from her book, Tender Spot, including her poem "Famous" that was turned into a picture book in 2015. She also talks about her award-winning novel, The Turtle of Oman, that deals with a child's attachment to place, and reads poetry from Honeybee and her 2018 collection, Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners. Part two of this interview along with programs with Naomi Shihab Nye from 2003 and 2006 are also available in our audio archives.
December 21, 2018 George Saunders
George Saunders, the renowned short story writer, talks about his debut novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, winner of Britain's Man Booker Prize for best novel written in English in 2017. He discusses his approach to this story, which began for him two decades before when he read about Abraham Lincoln's grief over the loss of his son, Willie, and how he made visits to the crypt to hold his body. Saunders decided to explore the tumultuous Civil War period through a chorus of ghosts, and talks about the joy he found in using his editing and curating skills to join history with fiction. He also reads from the novel.
December 28, 2018 Charles Harper Webb
Guggenheim Fellow, licensed psychotherapist, and author of a dozen poetry books, Charles Harper Webb reads from his 2016 essay collection, A Million MFAs Are Not Enough. The English professor at California State University advocates for more humor and accessibility within the poetry world. He also shares poems from his more recent collections, Brain Camp,and his book of new and selected poems, Shadow Ball, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press, which also released his 2018 poetry book, Sidebend World. A former professional guitar player, he discusses his love of music, and reveals how baseball and the natural world have helped inspire some of his writing.
December 7, 2018 The Loudest Voice
A holiday favorite, this highly anthologized short story is read by the late author Grace Paley. "The Loudest Voice" is an amusing tale about a little Jewish girl, chosen to play the lead in her school's Christmas pageant, and her family's reactions. Despite the story's popularity, Grace Paley's 1998 reading of it for New Letters on the Air was the first ever recorded.
November 30, 2018 Stewart O'Nan
In the second half of our conversation with Stewart O'Nan, he discusses his study of character and human nature within his writing. The author of 20 plus books, including Emily, Alone and Last Night at the Lobster, O'Nan also talks about some of the challenges he's faced writing fiction and how he draws inspiration from fellow writers such as Flannery O'Connor, Saul Bellow, John Wideman and more. While on stage at the Kansas City Public Library, he reads from his 2016 novel, City of Secrets, and discusses what inspired him to fictionalize this account of the underground resistance and terrorism in Jerusalem after World War II.
November 23, 2018 Margot Livesey
Scottish-born writer Margot Livesey began reading at an early age and later went on to pen a book of short stories and eight novels, and most recently, a book on the craft of writing called The Hidden Machinery: Essays on Writing. In this 2018 presentation at the Kansas City Public Library, Livesey talks about her evolution as a reader and writer, and shares passages from her tenth book that gives insight into not only her writing life, but those of the authors of famous books from Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary to Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse. Shows with Margot Livesey from 2001, 2006, and 2011 are also available in our audio archives.
November 16, 2018 Ellen Bass
Growing up in a Philadelphia apartment above a liquor store, poet Ellen Bass thought her childhood was "the most mundane, pedestrian, unpoetic world you could possibly live in," but after many years and the death of her parents, she finds herself poetically inspired by that time, especially in her two recent books, Like a Beggar and The Human Line. In part one of this conversation, she also talks about being honored by the late U.S. Poet Laureate, Philip Levine in The New Yorker's debut podcast, and gives advice through poetry for when bad things happen. Part two of this conversation along with an anthology program featuring Ellen Bass are also available in our audio archives.
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.)
Kansas City Literary Events