Unfunny Brilliance in Standup Comedy: Part 2, Dave Chappelle

Comedian Dave Chappelle released four standup specials in 2017 that are considered his return to show business, after quitting Chappelle’s Show in 2006. The way he suddenly left the successful show (and a $50 million contract with Comedy Central) led to rumors he had a drug problem or mental health issues. Chappelle has hinted in […]

Remembering Our Humanity, One Letter at a Time

This week I was struck by the importance of letter-writing after reading a profile of Kolbie Blume, President Obama’s former director of writing for sampled correspondence, in The Atlantic. Blume, at age 22, was one of the team of writers in charge of answering the 10,000 daily letters and messages received from citizens hoping to […]

Jazz, the Devil, and Jess Stacy

Something odd and beautiful happened to Jess Stacy that night in 1938. It is easy to have the impression he never experienced anything quite like it again. Stacy had played piano for the Benny Goodman orchestra since 1935 and was on stage the night they (with other musicians) played the Carnegie Hall concert of January […]

On Stars and Mules

Before I knew the Wordsworth poem, “The Stars are Mansions Built by Nature’s Hand,” I knew stars. When one grows up in an isolated place, one of the gifts you are given are a riot of stars. In some parts of the world, the sky is still visible with stars you take for granted until […]

Destination: Grafton, Illinois

There are places that reenergize us, help us put down our burdens (and our smartphones), if only for a weekend. Grafton, Illinois is that place for me. A short hour’s drive from my home in St. Louis, Grafton is a small river town (population 640) situated where the Illinois and Mississippi rivers converge. It also […]

Everyday Wilderness

There is a special kind of hell when one has just returned from the ER at 1:30 a.m. with a projectile-vomiting toddler, who somehow has been showered, wrangled into clean, cotton pajamas, and shushed and rocked to sleep, when the sounds of some nocturnal creature racing back and forth across the nursery ceiling become all […]

Big Boxes Write American History

Local media has been reporting the demise of St. Louis’s Chinatown, another victim of big-box development. But it is not so much a Chinatown—officially it is called the Olive Link—as a small polyglot area of Olive Boulevard near Highway 170, which the Post Dispatch calls “the gritty back door” of University City. University City is […]

“The Promise of Failure”

Writer John McNally’s work has appeared in more than 100 periodicals and anthologies. He is the author of two story collections, three novels (one of which became a YA book), a memoir, and three books for creative writers, including most recently The Promise of Failure: One Writer’s Perspective on Not Succeeding (2018, University of Iowa Press). […]

The 32 Tells in Your Head

A professor I knew was very interested in the ways class got represented in fiction. He pointed out that due to the vagaries of fashion there would always be new markers of it available to writers. One of his favorites then was “bad teeth,” by which he meant crooked or less-than-white teeth. (This used to […]

To the Untrained Eye

“Diversity, it turns out, goes to the heart of how to do research and innovation effectively.” –Fred Guteri, “Diversity in Science: Why It Is Essential for Excellence”     Jane Goodall was selected by Louis Leakey exactly for her lack of scientific training. “He wanted someone with a mind uncluttered and unbiased by theory, who […]