Kansas City Readers Series

The Kansas City Reader Series is an eight part interview series from Our Daily Nada. Every month we publish a portrait with leading Kansas City creatives, a selection of conversations with personalities from the worlds of art, food, journalism, music and business.

Local author Steve Paul is a veteran journalist with 41 years of experience at the Kansas City Star. He is also the author of several books about Kansas City, including Kansas City Noir, Architecture A to Z : An Elemental, Alphabetical Guide to Kansas City’s Built Environment and most recently, Hemingway at Eighteen: The Pivotal Year That Launched an American Legend.

Author Steve Paul  Photo by  Dan Videtich

Author Steve Paul

Photo by Dan Videtich


ODN:  Your latest book is on Ernest Hemingway and covers the time he spent in Kansas City.   Was it his connection to Kansas City that
interested you or were you a fan of his fiction first?  What is your favorite Hemingway book or story?

Steve Paul: I was not much of a Hemingway follower, but nearly 20 years ago, I saw that his 100th birthday was coming up and I spent more than six months arranging for a special section at The Kansas City Star devoted to his life and work. I read almost everything, went to a couple of Hemingway conferences, commissioned several writers, including Hemingway's son Patrick, to write for the section, and began researching his Kansas City connections in the huge Hemingway Collection at the JFK Library and Museum in Boston, which resulted in a piece I wrote about never-before published fragments about Kansas City. Someone asked me if I wanted to deliver a paper at the next international Hemingway Society conference, which would take place in Stresa, Italy, and, not being an academic, nor having given a conference paper before, I said why wouldn't I? That led to more research and an on-again off-again project to write a book. Out of all that reading, I always come back to Hemingway's short stories -- the earliest ones from In Our Time, including "Big Two-Hearted River," but also the great later stories too ("The Killers," "Macomber," "Hills Like White Elephants," "Snows of Kilimanjaro." Of the novels, I'm always going back to them for one reason and another and each one has a different pull and effect, and even the ones that are not so good have great moments that aspiring writers can learn from.

ODN: Do you think Hemingway was a great writer or was it his persona/ego that has kept readers interested in his work for so long?
Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

Steve Paul: Hemingway would not have lasted this long on his ego or macho image alone. Ego is not the problem. Bad behavior, thin-skinned immaturity, maybe. Hemingway's ego got in the way of some of his non-fiction -- say, his war reporting from Spain. But when you read the fiction, it's not a factor; when the fiction works, you're not usually thinking about Hemingway, you're thinking about the story, the places and the characters he created.

ODN: What literary pilgrimages have you been on for research?

Steve Paul: I've been to many though not nearly all the Hemingway places: France, Cuba, southern Spain, Venice, northern Michigan, his hometown of Oak Park, Ill., etc. Because my book takes Hemingway through his wounding in the war -- he was still 18 -- I was grateful for the chance to see the Piave river at Fossalta, Italy, where the fateful trench bomb exploded. France is full of literary sites, of course, so even when you don/t plan for it, you might wind up in Balzac's home or a shrine to Petrarch. I've been to Dostoevsky's apartment in St. Petersburg. But then again, so much of a literary pilgrimage involves spending time in a quiet library reading letters, papers, manuscripts and chasing down dots to connect.

ODN: What are some of your favorite literary journals or magazines?

Steve Paul: I wish could keep up with many of the smaller journals I've read off and on over the years, but lately, I'm still reading The New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, and whatever substantial literary moment catches my eye as it floats by on Twitter. I'm reading Poetry magazine more often and always appreciate New Letters when it arrives. But more often than not, I'm reading books. 

ODN: How many half written or unpublished books do you have?

Steve Paul: Lots of half-written stories and partly written essays. Don't laugh, but I'm trying to figure out whether I have enough better-than-mediocre poems to make a book. And there's the next biography project, which I'm immersed in right now, but still in the research phase.

ODN: What would you most like to see or experience in a bookstore/bar in Kansas City?  Are there other bookstores you have been to that you have fallen in love with?

Steve Paul: I love bookstores that surprise me with books on display that I didn't know about or didn't realize I had to read right now. Most general interest bookstores ignore academic press books, for example, but that means they're overlooking so many approachable, important, exciting and surprising titles. Everybody knows you can go online and order any book and have it in two days, but bookstores create an appetite for spontaneity and feed our shared addictions to the word. Browsing online is nothing like picking up one book after another in a shop to read a page or get its drift. Many of the great bookstores in the U.S. -- from the Strand to Powell's to City Lights -- impress you with quantity, but also with a sense of human involvement and curatorial inventiveness. Bookstores that present readings should spend more time thinking about how to create comfortable spaces without too much trouble. I'm intrigued by the Daily Nada's bookstore-with-bar concept. It'll be interesting to see whether people will read poetry to each other, or to the bartender, over a craft cocktail or a glass of Tempranillo. That would be cool. 

Books by Steve Paul: