Sarah Fenske | KBIA

Sarah Fenske

Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.
 
She won the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her work in Phoenix exposing corruption at the local housing authority. She also won numerous awards for column writing, including multiple first place wins from the Arizona Press Club, the Association of Women in Journalism (the Clarion Awards) and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.
 
From 2015 to July 2019, Sarah was editor in chief of St. Louis' alt-weekly, the Riverfront Times. She and her husband, John, are raising their two young daughters and ill-behaved border terrier in Lafayette Square.

Composer Tobias Picker has five operas to his credit, with commissions from the LA Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, among others, and serious acclaim. But his sixth opera, which makes its world premiere at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis this June, will have particular personal resonance. The librettist writing the words to go with Picker’s music is his husband, Dr. Aryeh Lev Stollman.

And while Stollman has written three novels, this is his first time writing an opera libretto. Still, he brings a particular expertise to the show, which is an adaptation of Dr. Oliver Sacks’ nonfiction medical drama “Awakenings.” Like Sacks, Stollman is a physician who studies the nervous system (Stollman is a neuroradiologist, Sacks a neurologist).   

Author Candacy Taylor’s stepfather grew up in the Jim Crow South. But it wasn’t until she began researching her new book, “Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America,” that she started to understand what he’d endured. 

Black travelers in 20th-century U.S. might be stopped by police on any pretext — and face serious harassment. They might be turned away by hostile hoteliers or gas station attendants. And that’s not even mentioning “Sundown Towns,” all-white towns that sometimes even featured signs warning black people to stay out in the harshest of terms. Missouri and Illinois were among the five states having the most Sundown Towns, Taylor writes.    

Tim Bono knows what will make you happier. And it may not be what you think. “[T]he common denominator of happiness has a lot to do with the denominator itself,” writes the Washington University lecturer in psychological and brain sciences. “The happiest young adults craft lives that ensure that what they want doesn’t get larger than what they have.”

But as Bono explains in his book, “Happiness 101,” it’s not about keeping expectations low. It is about keeping them realistic — and remembering what you have by practicing gratitude.

Chef Rob Connoley’s acclaimed St. Louis restaurant Bulrush isn’t just a delicious night out. It’s also a deep dive into the culinary history of the region. The Grand Center eatery takes its inspiration from cuisine in the Ozarks region prior to 1870, before railroads allowed for easy transport of foodstuffs. He attempts to hew rigorously to ingredients that were in play.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Connoley joined us to discuss the often arduous task of researching what everyday people ate more than 150 years ago. He credited Gabriel Shoemaker, a St. Louis University senior who has been combing archives for recipes and even just mentions of food. 

Kaldi’s Coffee is a St. Louis company. It roasts its beans here and ships them from here. Most of its 17 cafes are in the region as well. Other than a few outlets in the Atlanta area, Kaldi’s lacks a physical presence outside Missouri.

But in the past year, Kaldi’s co-owner Tricia Zimmer Ferguson has been spending time far from the Midwest — in Rwanda. It’s not just because the company sources many of its beans there (although that’s certainly a big part of it). Ferguson is also working with the nation’s only women’s college, Akilah Institute. A group from Kaldi’s is committed to teaching its students about the coffee and tea industries, opening career opportunities for them.   

In the popular imagination, Cahokia seems to represent a cautionary tale. What today remains only as a series of mounds outside Collinsville, Illinois, used to be a thriving city — bigger than London in the mid-13th century. There may have been as many as 40,000 people living there. Yet in the years that followed, the population faced rapid decline. By 1400, what was a city had become a wasteland. 

A new paper suggests that narrative is at best incomplete, and at worst inaccurate. Published Monday in American Antiquity, the study uses fecal deposits to show that the exodus from the site was short-lived. A fresh wave of native people settled in Cahokia and repopulated the area from 1500 to 1700. It was only after European settlers made their way to the area that Cahokia’s ultimate abandonment began.  

In 1990, Fran Caradonna and her then-husband upended St. Louis’ beer scene by starting a distributorship. They wanted to give local drinkers a choice beyond Anheuser-Busch — and, when Schlafly Beer was founded a year later, the Caradonnas’ company naturally became its distributor.

They helped introduce St. Louis to many new craft beer brands, helping to shake up what once felt like a near-monopoly for A-B. And, after the Caradonnas sold their company to Major Brands, they started a craft brewery of their own: O’Fallon Brewery, which they also later sold.   

Miranda Popkey is a California native, and much of her debut novel, “Topics of Conversation,” is set in the state. But the novel has a St. Louis origin story. It’s while she was in the MFA program at Washington University that she wrote much of it. And it’s at Wash U that she realized it could be, and was, a novel.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Popkey joined us to discuss her novel. 

The novel’s focus on ideas over plot — and its sometimes “unlikeable narrator” — have drawn pushback from some readers, she acknowledged.  

This interview will be on “St. Louis on the Air” over the noon hour Tuesday. This story will be updated after the show. You can listen live.

Miranda Popkey’s new novel, “Topics of Conversation,” owes its existence to the MFA program at Washington University in St. Louis. The California native was a student there when she wrote much of it.

The novel takes its inspiration from what it’s like to be a young woman in this fraught time. How do we talk about sex and our desires? How do we make sense of our choices, and our lives? 

Getting drunk at dinner is sooo 2010. Some of the area’s most buzz-worthy bars are now focused on drinks that won’t get you buzzed. That includes Elmwood.

At this one-year-old Maplewood hotspot, the roster of booze-free cocktails (called “zero proof”) is just as interesting and complex as that of their liquor-fueled cousins. The restaurant is also serving drinks it calls “low proof,” offering a taste of spirits without condemning you to a raging headache the next morning.

U.S. Congressman William Lacy Clay Jr., D-St. Louis, is issuing a dire warning when it comes to President Donald Trump’s actions regarding Iran.

“If we don’t rein in this president’s recklessness, we will commit young men and women to a war zone in the Middle East, and the results will be a catastrophe,” he said Friday on St. Louis on the Air

“I’ve seen this before,” he continued. “And apparently no one in this president’s family has ever served in the military or ever gone to war, so it probably doesn’t faze him. He doesn’t realize what the damage will be to Americans in a war zone. It’s so cavalier.”  

In a series of 10 plays, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson chronicled the black experience in 20th-century America. The plays are collectively known as the "Century Cycle,” with each play set in a different decade — nine of them in the same Pittsburgh neighborhood in which Wilson grew up.

As St. Louis’ premier black theater company since 1976, the Black Rep has a long history of performing Wilson’s plays. In fact, it was only the third company in the U.S. to complete the cycle.

Why do so many physicians require women to have a Pap smear and a pelvic exam before writing a one-year prescription for birth control? Most of us never think about that question. It is what it is.

But Jill B. Delston isn’t like most of us. She’s a professor of philosophy at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She gets curious about things that we shrug off as the way things are.

Delston’s new book, "Medical Sexism," argues that linking these invasive procedures to birth control access is a form of medical sexism. On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, she joined us to discuss her thesis — and argued that physicians need to follow their own guidelines, which hold that Pap smears should only be given every three to five years. 

This interview will be on “St. Louis on the Air” during the noon hour on Friday. This story will be updated after the show. You can listen live.

This week, St. Louis Deputy Mayor Linda Martinez found herself in the proverbial hot seat. 

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch obtained leaked minutes from a meeting of the city’s Airport Working Group, which is working to lease St. Louis Lambert International Airport. The hope is that a for-profit entity will provide a large cash payment upfront in exchange for the potential of future profit. 

The city has gotten interest from a number of parties. And as the working group considers which should advance to the next round, the minutes showed Martinez advocating for a hometown firm to be included — even as other working group members objected.   

An estimated 30% of Missouri youth in foster care or group homes are on psychotropic drugs of some sort — nearly twice the national average for kids that age. Many are on multiple drugs. And powerful anti-psychotic drugs have been used to treat conditions like ADHD and conduct disorders, even though the Federal Drug Administration hasn’t approved them for that use.

Two years ago, a class action lawsuit aimed to change the way Missouri foster kids are medicated. Filed by the St. Louis University School of Law Legal Clinics in conjunction with nonprofit children’s advocacy groups and the Morgan, Lewis & Bockius law firm, the suit charged that anti-psychotic medications were being overprescribed, wrongly used and badly monitored. 

This summer, we got a voicemail message from a listener. She said we talk too much about the newly opened restaurants in the city. She said we don’t spend enough time on the eateries that have stood the test of time.

We realized she had a point. And so on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, we put together a dream-team panel to remedy it. St. Louis Post-Dispatch food critic Ian Froeb, Riverfront Times food critic Cheryl Baehr and St. Louis Magazine dining editor George Mahe all joined us in studio for the conversation. 

St. Louis has the highest sales tax rates in the state of Missouri. Some parts of the city see rates as high as 11.679%. But the revenue doesn’t all go to the government. The areas with the highest tax rates may be as small as a few blocks — with extra taxes incurred by special taxing districts that operate largely without oversight from City Hall.

Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway took on the city’s poor oversight of these districts in an audit last month. And, on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, she said she’s referred one of them to law enforcement for investigation.   

A newly renovated building is now open in Grand Center. It’s called the High Low. And like many other buildings in Grand Center, it’s focused on the arts.

But unlike many of the others, it’s not a theater or a performance space. Instead, it calls itself a “venue for freedom of expression through spoken and written word.” In other words, it aims to be a literary hub for a city that’s long had an outsized impact on the world of letters.

Like many newer developments in Grand Center, the High Low is a project of the Kranzberg Arts Foundation. On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, foundation executive director Chris Hansen explained the impetus for what he describes as a “labor of love.”  

By the mid-1960s, Conrad Hilton’s brief marriage to Zsa Zsa Gabor was decades behind him. The hotel magnate was worth an estimated $100 million, but he tended to be tightfisted with both his ex-wives and his children. 

So how did a pair of St. Louis nuns persuade Hilton to give them more than $1.5 million — $12.6 million in today’s dollars? As Webster University professor emeritus Allen Carl Larson discovered, it took three years of correspondence, a shared faith and a deep mutual respect. And, yes, quite a bit of cajoling. 

“You are a first-class saleslady,” Hilton wrote Sister Francetta Barberis, president of what was then Webster College, in 1961. Indeed she was, as their letters charmingly attest.  

Maybe you know him from “The Daily Show.” Or maybe "CBS Sunday Morning.” Perhaps you saw him on Broadway (in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”) or heard him on NPR (for “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me”). Or maybe you just read his first book, “All the President’s Pets.”

As that long roster of possibilities suggests, Mo Rocca has become a one-man “Jeopardy” category. (And, yes, he’s been on “Jeopardy” — the 2015 celebrity version.) And his new book, “Mobituaries,” has a similar polymathic quality. In it, he celebrates people, places and even things that have been unfairly forgotten or whose deaths didn’t receive the outpouring you might have expected: movie stars, movements, even the humble station wagon. In both the book and the successful podcast of the same name, Rocca aims to right the wrongs. 

What does St. Louis’ Robison Park have in common with the Wild West Chimpanzee Show at the St. Louis Zoo? Both no longer exist — and both are depicted in a new book showing off historic photos from the Gateway City. 

The book, “Scenes of Historic Wonder,” offers context for more than 150 snapshots of a city far different from the one today. Scenes include an 1865 shipwreck, a 1931 World Series victory and the Roosevelt High School Ukulele Club, circa 1935.

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, author Cameron Collins joined us to discuss the book, co-authored by Jaime Bourassa and published by Reedy Press. This is Collins’ third book of local history, and he said that while the original idea for this one was a book of funny photos, he and his co-author labored to include the good, the bad and ugly.  

For two years, Jeff Jensen has been the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, serving as the St. Louis area’s top federal law enforcement officer. Jensen’s office handles everything from racketeering cases to civil forfeiture — and, under Jensen, has made violent crime in St. Louis a particular focus.

That direction has come from his bosses in the U.S. Department of Justice, Jensen explained Wednesday on St. Louis on the Air. He said the prosecutors on his staff have seized the mandate. 

Still, the crime rate in St. Louis has remained high.  

Critics of airport privatization believe they are close to having enough signatures to force a public vote on any potential lease.

Since June 2018, a group calling itself STL Not for Sale has been circulating petitions for a ballot initiative requiring any airport lease to be subject to a public vote — that’s even though Mayor Lyda Krewson would prefer to leave the matter to the Board of Aldermen.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, Josie Grillas and Chris Ottolino of STL Not for Sale said they are now working with the union-rights organization Jobs with Justice. The groups are working together to analyze the petitions they’ve gathered and see how close they are to ensuring they have enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot. 

Ten years ago, a trio of recent law school graduates formed a nonprofit law firm. They called it ArchCity Defenders. And they had a novel idea: wraparound services, not just legal representation, for the people who needed it most.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Michael-John Voss explained that he and his co-founders, Thomas Harvey and John McAnnar, were inspired by the Jesuit tradition at St. Louis University School of Law. After taking classes in public interest law, they found themselves working on projects representing those too poor to afford lawyers.

“We saw the fact that the existing entities that were supposed to serve the indigent population were overburdened and overworked,” he said. “And there was no communication between the civil and criminal organizations that are supposed to serve this population. We thought, ‘There’s got to be a better way to do this.’” 

Last month, Tom Townsend died at 60, just two weeks after being diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of cancer. Just one year before, Townsend had survived being shot in an attempted carjacking. He was a much-loved figure in St. Louis.

One big reason for that was the organization he founded: Pianos for People. A retired advertising executive, Townsend had devoted the final seven years of his life to helping underprivileged students access both free pianos and free lessons in playing them. 

But Pianos for People continues its work. And on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, executive director Matt Brinkmann explained how he’s helping to carry on without Townsend.  

There’s good reason the U.S. Treasury Department selected Harriet Tubman as the new face of its $20 bill. Tubman lived one of the nation’s most remarkable lives. Born into slavery in Maryland, she escaped by making her way to Pennsylvania — on foot. And then she returned, again and again, to rescue family members and other slaves via the Underground Railroad. 

The St. Louis comedy scene is a busy one. Just about any night of the week, you can catch local comedians honing their sets at open mic night, improvising madly on stage with a troupe of their closest friends or battling each other with wit and good humor as local drunks cheer.

For the past three years, a three-day comedy festival has brought those disparate elements together. The Flyover Comedy Festival launched in 2017 and returns to the city’s Grove neighborhood beginning Nov. 7. It’s a showcase for local talent in the scene and also a chance for big names to show off their best stuff.

The exploration of the potential privatization of St. Louis Lambert International Airport continues — request for qualifications submissions from interested companies were due today. 

The city of St. Louis will now begin screening potential bidders to gauge whether they can financially and operationally move forward in the process. But now both St. Charles County and St. Louis County have entered the debate on airport privatization. They want the Port Authority to study regional control of the airport and whether privatization is a good idea. 

The first-ever STL Startup Week begins Nov. 1, celebrating a growing entrepreneurial scene in a city once better known for beer and brick. An integral part of St. Louis’ startup scene: women. A total of 45.2% of local startups are female-owned. That’s more than any other city in the country.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, a trio of movers and shakers discussed the area’s startup success. Phyllis Ellison, vice president of partnerships and program development for Cortex, explained that the area has developed an entire infrastructure to help new companies succeed. 

Children who lose a parent or a sibling make for a surprisingly large group: Researchers believe one in 14 kids in the U.S. will suffer such a devastating loss before they turn 18. Surviving parents or guardians may be left coping with their children’s grief even as they themselves deal with the loss.

Enter Annie’s Hope. Founded in 1997 as the St. Louis Bereavement Center for Young People, the organization seeks to help entire families in their mourning process. It hosts an annual camp, family support groups and other services for those who’ve suffered a loss. 

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Becky Byrne, founder and executive director, discussed the organization’s work. She was joined by 10-year-old Riley Mitchell and his father, Brandon. When Riley was 4, his mother died suddenly. He was enrolled in a support group soon after, and at 6, began attending the Annie’s Hope camp. 

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