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The Unbound Book Festival comes to downtown Columbia each spring. They aim "to bring nationally and internationally recognized authors of world-class renown to Columbia, Missouri, to talk about their books, their work, and their lives."

Steve Paul on Literary Alchemist: The Writing Life of Evan S. Connell: ‘I was poking around for a new project. I just literally woke up one day and his name popped out of my head”

Unbound Book Festival

Steve Paul is probably best known for his book “Literary Alchemist: The Writing Life of Evan S. Connell,” in which he explores the writing career of Evan S. Connell, a novelist from Kansas City.

Connell's work was known in the Kansas City literary scene, and some of his work was made into a 1990 movie, “Mr. And Mrs. Bridge.”

He spoke with KBIA’s MJ Montgomery.

The Unbound Book Festival is coming up on Saturday, and KBIA has been talking to some of this year's authors in a series we're calling "Unbound Authors."

MJ Montgomery: Could you explain your choice of title?

Steve Paul: A lot of people ask about that, and it just didn't seem too mysterious to me – the word alchemy is interesting.

I mean, it’s what writers do, and so literary alchemist does speak to what he did and what he was interested in, in terms of taking aspects of life and transforming them into something else, you know, he wasn't writing biography, he didn't want people to know him.

There's a famous quote from an interview where he says, I” want to be anonymous,” and so, unfortunately, I spoiled that for him – delving into his life, but for me, anyway, it became kind of natural phrase.

Montgomery: Can you tell me a little bit about your writing process,

Paul: It’s kind of sloppy and messy, like a lot of writers.

For these two biographies, and actually for the third one I'm working on now, I tried to read everything there is to read by the writer I'm writing about.

I start reading things that were written about the, you know, these authors. I start doing archival research – like going through letters, going through other documents, trying to make connections.

I interviewed various people in the case of Connell, you know?

Some writers do all the research and then sit down and write. I don't do that. I'll start writing, you know, as I begin absorbing material, and knowing that, you know, “I know I'm going to include this all.”

I'll write paragraphs here and there. I'll write about certain things. I'll make – I make extensive files of notes, but all of it's on me at the end, and just revising and revising every time I read the manuscript.

Montgomery: So, what drew you to Evan S. Connell specifically?

Paul: I had been a book critic for a long time at the Kansas City Star and a Book Review Editor, so I knew his work as far back as the 1980s. So, I was well aware of his work.

I never had a personal encounter with him – except we had friends who lived in the house in which Connell grew up, and so we kind of experienced the Connell house in that kind of way. So, there was that sort of psychic connection. We knew we were partying in his house.

And then later on, I just remaining aware of his work. I was the Arts Editor at the Star when Merchant Ivory made the movie, “Mr. And Mrs. Bridge” in Kansas City in 1989. Connell came to town for the ten weeks that the film company was here.

Then later, as I said earlier, when my Hemingway book was on the verge of being published, and I was poking around for a new project, I just literally woke up one day, his name popped out of my head, and I went, “That's it!”

MJ Montgomery is a student at the Missouri School of Journalism. They currently work as a reporter and producer at KBIA.
Rebecca Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth Desk. Born and raised outside of Rolla, Missouri, she has a passion for diving into often overlooked issues that affect the rural populations of her state – especially stories that broaden people’s perception of “rural” life.