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.

Sometime between his childhood and his late 20s, Andy Boyle got fat. In that, the Chicago-based journalist was far from unusual. An estimated 71% of Americans are overweight or obese. But after Boyle lost nearly one-third of his size, he began to explore the reasons he’d gained so much weight — the reasons, indeed, so many Americans have done so. And then he began to ask what we can do about it. 

The result? “Big Problems: A Former Fat Guy’s Look At Why We’re Getting Fatter and What You Can Do to Fix It.” It’s Boyle’s breezy, funny, yet oh-so-serious look at the forces that fatten us up and the societal changes that would give us fair fight against them.  

In 1959, the city of St. Louis demolished more than 5,500 housing units in the Mill Creek Valley neighborhood, which stretched from St. Louis University to Union Station. It was the city’s largest urban renewal project — or, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch called it at the time, "slum clearance."

But for Vivian Gibson and her seven siblings, Mill Creek wasn’t a slum. It was home. Gibson’s new memoir, “The Last Children of Mill Creek,” explores growing up in the bustling African American district, where indoor plumbing wasn’t a given but close connections thrived. The eight siblings and their two parents shared 800 square feet of space, living in Mill Creek until a year before it was razed.   

Yinka Faleti began preparing for a run for office long before the coronavirus pandemic upended life in Missouri. But now he finds himself as the Democratic nominee for Missouri secretary of state even as he navigates a situation common to many St. Louisans in this bizarre time — working with his wife, a director at Wells Fargo Advisors, to care for and educate their four children at home.

It’s not easy. Faleti’s communications manager says they were recently on a 1 a.m. conference call. 

And home-schooling duties are just one way COVID-19 has shaken up Faleti’s schedule. Now, instead of angling for meet and greets, he’s trying to connect with donors on social media. He recently hosted a virtual town hall on Facebook.  

For Anne Schlafly Cori, Phyllis Schlafly isn’t just the grassroots warrior who stopped the Equal Rights Amendment. She was also “Mom.” Anne was one of six Schlafly kids growing up in Alton, Illinois, even while their mother became a national political force.

Today, the St. Louis-based Cori is chairman of the organization her mother founded, the Eagle Forum. She’s speaking out about “Mrs. America,” the new FX on Hulu series that debuts April 15, telling the story of Schlafly’s fight against the ERA. 

Cori said Thursday on St. Louis on the Air that the filmmakers did not respond to her attempts to reach out. She has been unable to see the series, and is anxiously awaiting its premiere. But she worries it fails to portray the mother she knew.   

As the coronavirus spreads through the penal system, the U.S. Department of Justice has called for federal prisons to release some inmates to home confinement. Elderly or sick inmates who are nonviolent would be safer at home, Attorney General William Barr said in a memo. And releasing them could help alleviate the crowding that can make an outbreak worse.

But the Missouri Department of Corrections' inmates are not seeing similar paths to release. Despite advocacy from the ACLU of Missouri and other groups, the state prison system has made no moves to reduce its population. 

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, Sara Baker, policy director for the ACLU of Missouri, explained that there’s a national bipartisan movement to get inmates who are most at risk moved to home detention. Yet in Missouri, she said: “We absolutely are not seeing that happen at the state level. It appears to be sort of a game of wait and see.”  

Sarah Breedlove’s life was the stuff of binge-worthy TV. Born on a cotton plantation to newly freed slaves in 1867, she toiled as a washerwoman in early 20th-century St. Louis before founding a business empire. After selling products for St. Louis hair-care magnate Annie Malone, she launched a line of her own under her married name, Madam C.J. Walker — and became the richest African American woman in the country. At the time of her death, in 1919, Walker had amassed a fortune of over $7 million in today’s money.

A little over a century later, Madam C.J. Walker’s remarkable life has gotten the Hollywood treatment. The Netflix series “Self Made” tells the story of Walker’s rise and what it portrays as a toxic relationship with Malone, fictionalized as “Addie Monroe.”   

The Hill neighborhood in south St. Louis has long been one of the region’s favorite dining destinations — beloved for its Italian American offerings and family traditions. And two local restaurateurs say the district is managing to hang on, even though the pandemic has put a sudden halt to dining out. 

Chris Saracino, president of the neighborhood association Hill 2000, explained Tuesday on St. Louis on the Air that most of the restaurants in the neighborhood switched to curbside offerings after dining in was prohibited. Also an owner of four restaurants, including Chris’ Pancake & Dining and Bartolino’s Osteria, Saracino said it’s less a business model that pencils out and more a service to customers. 

The mobile payment company Square was a game-changer. It slashed the costs of taking credit card payments — allowing small businesses and artisans to get into the game without having to pay sizable percentages of their transactions to processors. In retrospect, it seems like a no-brainer.

But in 2009, it was just an idea — one born of frustration when St. Louis glass blower Jim McKelvey lost a sale after being unable to take a credit card payment. After McKelvey shared his idea of a better way with his former intern, Square was born. (It helped, of course, that the intern in question was Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.) 

How Square went from an inkling to an industry disrupter is the subject of McKelvey’s compulsively readable new book, “The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time.”    

One month ago, Luz Maria Henriquez began a new job as executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. And the weeks since have made clear there will be no easing into things. The nation is now in an unprecedented period of economic shutdown and enforced social distancing, even as health care workers grapple with a terrifying pandemic. 

Henriquez joined Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air to discuss the ACLU’s role during these troubled times. 

“What we’re looking at is, ‘What are public health experts saying is necessary to contain the spread of the virus?’” she said. “We at the ACLU understand that we are part of this larger community, and that there has to be some sort of balancing when our public health experts are saying that ‘if we engage in these particular practices during this time, that will minimize the spread of the virus.’”   

The week of March 16 was a terrible one for alt-weeklies. The free newspapers — which rely entirely on advertising and public events for revenue — were dealt a terrible early blow by the nation’s response to the coronavirus. From coast to coast, publications suspended print editions and laid off staffers

St. Louis’ Riverfront Times was among those hardest hit. The 42-year-old publication announced that it was suspending its print edition (though it later decided to publish its March 25 issue). It also laid off seven staffers, including three editors, the art director and a staff writer. Only two journalists remain on the payroll: Editor in Chief Doyle Murphy and Digital Editor Jaime Lees.

But one of the laid-off journalists has simply refused to leave.   

One day after regional leaders announced broad new rules to limit gatherings in the St. Louis area to 50 people or fewer, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson stressed their importance in “flattening the curve” of infections caused by the coronavirus across the U.S.

“It seems rather extreme to many, many people, but this came down as a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control,” Krewson said. “What does that mean? That means church: 50 people. That means casinos: 50 people. That means a wedding or a funeral — this is tough stuff. Fifty people. … We’re just trying to get the word out and be clear with people that this is a very serious situation.”    

It’s been a tough decade for the media business, particularly for outlets disseminating the written word. Publications have shut down across the U.S. Many newspapers no longer offer daily editions. And many of the online news outlets vying to replace or at least supplement them have had layoffs of their own.

But despite a host of challenges to the advertising-based business model, St. Louis finds itself with a surprisingly robust print-media landscape. The metro area continues to boast not only a daily newspaper with seven-day-a-week delivery (take that, Cleveland and Pittsburgh), several general-interest weekly newspapers and a city magazine — but also two food-focused local monthlies.    

Updated March 13 with revised event details

In light of the recent developments concerning the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Pulitzer announced that they are postponing all large events, including Friday’s Opening Reception and Saturday’s Curatorial Tour for their new exhibition, "Terry Adkins: Resounding." Click here for updates. 

Original story from March 11:

Terry Adkins didn’t believe in boundaries. He turned old radiators and railroad stakes into art. He made videos, explored the North Pole and obsessed over Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” He sought to make “music as physical as sculpture ought to be — and sculpture as ethereal as music is.”

Music was one of Adkins’ central themes. An accomplished jazz musician, he played the guitar and alto saxophone — and later made his own musical instruments. He assembled four of what he called “akhraphones” from parts of trombones and sousaphones and segments of cast brass. They were 18 feet long. They were sculpture, but they could also be played — as Adkins proved in 1996 with a piece called “The Last Trumpet.”

The akhraphones will be on display at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation as part of “Terry Adkins: Resounding,” a major retrospective of the artist that opens Friday. The show runs through Aug. 2, and will also include a performance of “The Last Trumpet” in June.

Scott Phillips may be the most acclaimed novelist living in St. Louis today. Best known as the author of “The Ice Harvest,” he’s won the California Book Award and been a finalist for the Edgar Award and the Hammett Prize. 

His ninth book, “That Left Turn at Albuquerque,” finds Phillips in familiar territory, with a crime caper, a cast of amoral characters and plenty of dark humor. On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, he discussed his “deep-seated” interest in crime, his reasons for moving to St. Louis and how his book’s reference to the Loop Trolley has given it special local resonance.

Many women say it should go without saying: Your doctor should not be able to give you a pelvic exam without first getting your permission.

That’s the law in Illinois. Yet in many states — including Missouri — physicians aren’t required to ask first. And some doctors say the practice of giving women such exams while under anesthesia has long been commonplace, as a way to train medical residents. Explicit consent has not always been part of the equation.

For two years running, Missouri Rep. Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin) has introduced a bill to bar physicians from giving unconscious women pelvic exams without first getting their express consent. On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Dogan explained that he was inspired by national media coverage of the issue. (Most recently, the New York Times looked into the practice.)    

What happened to Jewish lawyers after Hitler took power in Germany? The truth is a painful one. They were stripped of their licenses and driven from their homeland even as, in many cases, their gentile colleagues stood silent.

Those horrifying details are at the center of an exhibit that has now been shown all over the world — and makes its St. Louis debut next month. “Lawyers Without Rights: Jewish Lawyers in Germany Under the Third Reich” was first developed in Germany by its bar association. The American Bar Association worked with the German Federal Bar to bring an English version to the U.S.    

Earlier this year, Steve’s Hot Dogs announced it was calling it quits after an 11-year run. But the outpouring that followed its closure announcement led directly to a new day for the eatery.

As owner Steve Ewing explained on St. Louis on the Air, the big crowds in what he’d intended as the restaurant’s final week gave him a change of heart.

“The last couple of days, I’m starting to see people just pour out. We had lines down the streets. I’m starting to see tons of kids, and the parents with their kids, and the people who I’d seen for many years,” Ewing recalled. “And that’s when I’m like, ‘It would be really cool if we didn’t have to close this thing down.'” 

For three decades, Diane Rehm hosted a conversation with America. "The Diane Rehm Show" grew from a local show at NPR affiliate WAMU to a national juggernaut, with 2.8 million listeners every week. And even after her December 2016 retirement, Rehm has continued the conversation. She hosts a podcast; she also recently published her fourth book, “When My Time Comes.”

Earlier this week, in partnership with St. Louis on the Air, Rehm discussed her career at a dinner hosted by the Mannie Jackson Center for the Humanities Foundation at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. We aired highlights from that conversation on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air — which included Rehm’s thoughts on interviewing and advocacy for the “death with dignity” movement.   

Jackie Robinson famously integrated Major League Baseball, taking the field for the National League’s Brooklyn Dodgers in April 1947. And the American League followed a few months later, when the Cleveland Indians put Larry Doby into the lineup.

But right behind Cleveland were the St. Louis Browns. Just 12 days later, the team played its first black player. And two days after that, the Browns became the first club to put two black players into a game when Willard Brown and Hank Thompson took the field. That milestone was all the more remarkable in light of this fact: It would take the St. Louis Cardinals another seven years to integrate. 

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, author Ed Wheatley explained what led the Browns to break the city’s Major League Baseball color barrier. 

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.”