Steve Paul: "You know, the one thing that writers leave is their work. They leave us their work."
Steve Paul spoke with the Missouri On Mic team at the Unbound Book Festival in April. He spoke about his work at the Kansas City Star, as well as Ernest Hemingway’s time at the paper.
Missouri on Mic is an oral history and journalism project documenting stories from around the state in its 200th year.
Steve Paul: I'm a writer. I spent more than 40 years on the staff of the Kansas City Star newspaper as a writer and editor. I retired six years ago.
As my last gig—I did everything at the paper—but my last gig, I was the editorial page editor and an op-ed columnist for the last few years of my career. And I decided time was to move on, and I've reinvented myself as a writer of literary biography.
So when I finished—when I left the paper—I finished a book I'd been working on for some time about Ernest Hemingway in Kansas City, essentially. It was, it's called Hemingway at Eighteen.
His year after high school, he comes to Kansas City and works at the Kansas City Star for six and a half months, and then goes off to the war in Italy, where he gets wounded.
Two weeks before his 19th birthday, he gets wounded at the front. And so his 18th year was rather monumental.
And, you know, mine was the first book to actually go into sort of great detail about his Kansas City period, especially.
I just gave two big file crates of my files related to my Hemingway research to the library at UMKC, the Special Collections Library. A lot of archival research goes into these kinds of books. And so I spent a lot of time looking for, you know, my subjects correspondence: letters between friends, and colleagues and family.
I read all the time. I read for project-oriented things and articles that I write.
So I'm working on a book right now about the poet William Stafford, who came out of Kansas and died about 30 years ago. So I'm reading a lot of his poetry right now. And then some other essays of his and other people.
You know, the one thing that writers leave is their work, they leave us their work.
And you know, you can make the mistake of reading their work as some sort of autobiographical document and I try not to do that.
But hopefully I find things out about the about the subjects that helps put them in a new light and you know, creates a much more, you know, rounded portrait of someone who might not—and especially in the case of Connell who was not well known at all, and he deliberately sort of kept a lid on his life in the sense that he didn't want to be you know, he famously said in an interview once that he wanted to be anonymous.
But anyway, so I violated his privacy by writing it, writing this book about him. But anyway, you know, it is... I've gotten deep into the world of biography and what we do is to, you know, tell people's life stories in hopefully alluring ways.