Maya Angelou, St. Louis Native and World-Renowned Author, Dies at 86

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York College via Flickr
Maya Angelou.
Eighty-six years and one month after she was born in St. Louis, author, poet and overall inspiration Maya Angelou has died.

Angelou recently canceled several public appearances citing health reasons. She announced last week that she could not attend the Major League Baseball Beacon Awards, where she was to be honored with the Beacon of Life award for her lifetime of civil-rights work.

Angelou is best known for her powerful 1969 memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, one of the most widely admired pieces of modern literature. Angelou made literary history when her memoir became the first nonfiction bestseller by an African American woman.

Angelou made history all her life. At the age of fourteen, she became San Francisco's first African American female cable-car conductor, according to CNN.

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William S. Burroughs: Cemetery Lays Wreath And Serves Cake For Author's 100th "Birthday"

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Danny Wicentowski
Sadly, someone forgot to lace William S. Burroughs' birthday cake with Moroccan heroin.
This week's print edition contains a fantastically illustrated account of the life of St. Louis-author William S. Burroughs. He's the Beat writer, counterculture icon and heroin junkie whose wild life produced some of literature's most transgressive and innovative works, including the novels Naked Lunch and The Soft Machine.

Burroughs died in 1997, and yesterday marked one-hundred years since the writer's birth. So, the Bellefontaine Cemetery arranged a memorial service and reception (with cake) for arguably its most famous resident.

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St. Louis Authors Share Their Kinks in Anthology of Local Erotica

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At $4.99, "Show Me" offers a lot of bangs for the buck.
A live reading of St. Louis erotica started down an appropriately dirty path Friday night when author Jade Melisande took the stage at Shameless Grounds coffee shop to share a story about hiking au naturel at Castlewood Park.

"I leaned over to tie my hiking boots, making sure to bend far enough that my panties-less butt was exposed as he rounded the end of the car and came up behind me," began Melisande. "'Molly,'" he said again, grabbing my skirt and tugging it down over my bare ass. He could be so very tight-laced. But his hand lingered there a moment and I glanced over to see that look that he got when he was thinking about sex."

Melisande's romp in the woods is one of ten stories in the new anthology Show Me that aims to showcase -- and promote -- sex in the Midwest.

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Former St. Louisan T.S. Eliot's Non-St. Louisan Wife Dies; Responsible for Existence of Cats

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Valerie Eliot and her husband at a theater in Chicago in 1959. She once wrote, "I sat next to TSE, my darling, and that makes any play endurable." Also, is it possible she actually saw St. Louis?
Valerie Fletcher Eliot, who was married to the poet T.S. Eliot, who grew up in St. Louis and then moved permanently to England although he occasionally mustered enough nostalgic feeling to write poems about the Mississippi (which he described as "strong brown god--sullen, untamed and intractable"), died Friday after what her family described as a long illness.

She has been described as the one person capable of making him happy.

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Happy Birthday, Charles Dickens, From a City You Hated!

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Happy birthday, Chuck, from the rough, intolerably conceited inhabitants of a hot, humid, insalubrious city.
Today's your 200th birthday, and we salute you. It's true you died way back in 1870, so you're probably not aware that we are saluting you. But how amazing is it that people actually remember your birthday -- nay, make a thing of it -- even without friendly reminders from Facebook, because you're not on it?

(We think you would luuuurve Facebook, though. All those interlocking storylines! All that voyeurism!)

We salute you even though you slandered our city and its environs pretty badly in your 1842 book American Notes, which describes your tour of the U.S. earlier that year.

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Tennessee Williams' College Buddy Tells All

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Ever wonder what it was like to hang out with the young Thomas Lanier Williams before he started calling himself "Tennessee"? (And ever wonder why he started calling himself Tennessee in the first place?) Well, that's where old college buddies come in handy, particularly college buddies like William Jay Smith, who has the advantage of being a good writer (he served a two-year term as the U.S. Poet Laureate) and blessed with a long life (he's currently 93) and a solid memory. It really minimizes the potential for embarrassment.

Smith just released a new memoir, My Friend Tom: The Poet-Playwright Tennessee Williams, that looks back on their student days at Washington University in the 1930s. Williams and Smith bonded early on not only because of their shared ambition to become great writers, but also because of their families' Southern heritage and because of their alcoholic fathers. Smith was a frequent visitor to Williams' house in University City.

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"More Clewell Than Anyone Needs in One Place": Poet Laureate Releases New CD

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Jennifer Silverberg
Let's just have David Clewell, Webster University professor and Missouri poet laureate, talk about the newest development in his professional life, There's Going to Be Trouble, a CD of him reading some of his poems. His laureate duties had taken him on a tour around the state and he had just returned to his office when he talked to Daily RFT.

"What day is it? What city is it? OK, Wednesday. I'm a day ahead. Yeah, the dean said he was hearing from so many people wishing they could hear me that they decided to do a CD. I think that's way more Clewell than anyone needs in one place. It's two-and-a-half hours. It was fun to do, it wasn't make-work. The sound engineer who did it, Gary Gottlieb, is a good guy. It was a fun couple of days. I think it was in December, yeah, before the new year.

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For Sale: Childhood Home of William S. Burroughs

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image via
For sale: One fine-looking house with an impeccable literary pedigree.
If you can imagine it, William S. Burroughs was once a child right here in St. Louis. His grandfather, also named William S. Burroughs, founded the Burroughs Adding Machine Company which presumably did pretty well if the Burroughs house at 4664 Pershing Place is any indication. And now it can be yours! (Actually, it's been on the market since November. Daily RFT is not as punctilious about checking Central West End real estate listings as we maybe should be.)

"Oh, my God, it just exudes charm," gushes Vicki Armor, the listing agent. "All the houses in the Central West End have something special. This one has a wood-paneled living room and leaded glass windows, and the backyard has beautiful brick. It's a perfect house for entertaining." In addition, the house has five bedrooms, four bathrooms and three working fireplaces. (And no, Armor doesn't know which bedroom was Burroughs'.)

So what's the problem? Are potential buyers put off by the $587,900 asking price? Or that it's nearly 100 years old? Are they afraid the place is haunted by the spirit of the boy who would grow up to write Junkie and Naked Lunch, become a guiding spirit of the Beat and hippie generations and have all sorts of exotic adventures, including accidentally killing his wife during a drunken game of "William Tell"?

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MothUp St. Louis Leaving New York Parent Group

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courtesy of MothUp St. Louis
Storytelling at the November 2010 MothUp event in St. Louis.

Stacey Wehe has less a bone to pick than a story to share. She has lots of them, actually. The founder of MothUp St. Louis, a local affiliate of cult New York storytelling group The Moth, Wehe peppers her airy anecdotes with a generous dose of the word "wonderful," even as she explains how the local organization and its ideological parent recently ended all bloodlines.

"When we first joined the program, the rules weren't very defined, and the amount of freedom was wonderful," Wehe says. "But they have a contract with the newer groups, and they have a lot more regulations than we did. We had loose guidelines, and they have strict rules now."


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William S. Burroughs, Scientologist

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William S. Burroughs: even weirder than we thought.
Picture it: Tangiers, 1959. William S. Burroughs, author of the newly published Naked Lunch (and, incidentally, scion of a wealthy St. Louis family), is visiting his friend Brion Gysin's restaurant when he meets John and Mary Cooke, a pair of wealthy American proto-hippies who appear to the author as vividly as if they are holograms. Burroughs realizes instinctively that this is to be a significant juncture in his life.

The Cookes, it turned out, were devotees of the Church of Scientology, then in its infant stage. John Cooke would be the first person to attain the status of "Clear." They were eager to spread their gospel, and Burroughs was an ardent recipient.

Over the next decade, Burroughs would prove a devout student of Scientology. He, too, would reach "Clear" status, and he would write about Scientology frequently during the 1960s, most notably in his 1962 novel The Ticket That Exploded.

Eventually, he would break with the church over what he called founder L. Ron Hubbard's "fascist policies," though he believed that some Scientology concepts could prove useful. Burroughs' defection led to a public feud with Hubbard, complete with rage, denunciation and angry articles from both sides.

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