Kansas City

Kansas City Area
Come, Kansas City, make your story brief. Here stands a city built on bread and beef.--C.L. Edson

Its past is rooted in the legends of the nation's great westward movement, and Missouri's big city to the west still has the vitality of its frontier days. Today Kansas City's writers have opened new literary frontiers with the variety and energy of their works. 

Perhaps the region's best-known literary figure is Robert Heinlein, who was born in Butler and had a 40-year, award-filled career. Heinlein moved to Kansas City in his youth, was educated in the city's public schools, and worked as a page at the Kansas City Public Library. He later attended Annapolis. Heinlein's novels and short stories are considered by many critics as defining the golden age of science fiction. His Stranger in a Strange Land was one of the first science fiction best sellers, and he was the first author to sell young adult science fiction to a major publishing house. He won four Hugo awards and the Nebula Grand Master Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Kansas City native Edgar Snow wrote 11 books, but he is best known for Red Star Over China, the first book to describe the China of the 1930s and the emergence of Communism.


Thomas Hart Benton, although born in Neosho, moved to Kansas City in 1935 and lived there until his death in 1975. Benton wrote his autobiography, An Artist in America, in Kansas City. This work presents Benton’s view of America and the role of the artist in the mid-20th century.

The novelist Evan S. Connell, Jr. lived in Kansas City long enough to capture the essence of upper-middle class Kansas City life in his brilliant novel Mrs. Bridge and its companion, Mr. Bridge. Richard Rhodes, author of novels and nonfiction, spent six years on a Missouri farm during his youth, and later returned for a stay on a farm to write Farm: A Year in the Life of an American Farmer. Rhodes won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Making of the Atomic Bomb. Calvin Trillin has referred to his hometown, Kansas City, or the Midwest in many of his works. C.W. Gusewelle, a Kansas City Star columnist, has become a widely known and respected essayist. Lucille Bluford, editor and publisher of The Kansas City Call, continues to be an important civil rights leader.

Kansas City has an abundance of outstanding poets, many of whom have been associated with award-winning literary journals. Gloria Vando Hickok, a founder of Helicon Nine, one of the country's leading small magazines published from 1979 to 1989, is also one of the founders of the The Writers Place, a center for literary activity in the Kansas City area. Dan Jaffe co-founded the BkMk Press of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, which publishes poetry, short fiction, and world literature. Barbara Loots, one of Hallmark Cards' top writers, is also knows for her poetry, published by both small literary presses and major publishing houses. The work of poet and fiction writer G.S. Sharat Chandra has received international acclaim, and he has given readings throughtout the world. Stanley E. Banks' poetry reflects African American pride; he promotes poetry jams at various Kansas City clubs and bookstores and leads discussion groups on poetry.

James McKinley edits New Letters,, an outstanding literary magazine, and theNew Letters Review of Books. Robin Wayne Bailey is well known for Shadowdanceand other fantasy novels; Conger Beasley, Jr. writes novels, short fiction, nonfiction, and poetry; John Mort has described the Vietnam experience in his widely praised short stories; and Shifra Stein's many books feature her excellent travel and food essays. 

Like St. Louis, Kansas City has a vibrant literary scene offering activities such as book festivals, reading and discussion groups, author programs, writing classes, literary conferences, open mike poetry readings, and other public programs. "New Letters on the Air," a nationally known radio program from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, features interviews with and readings of prose and poetry by U.S. and international writers. Rockhurst College hosts the popular Midwest Poets Series. Kansas City's libraries, both public and school, sponsor author visits, book groups, and literary workshops. The Writers Place serves as a literary community center and a sponsor of workshops, symposia, exhibits, and cooperative programs with local schools.

Early Kansas City journalist and historian John N. Edwards wrote extensively on the Civil War in the West and his articles and editorials did much to elevate Jesse james into a folk hero. Rhoda Wooldridge, who lived on a farm in western Missouri, and Gertrude Bell of Liberty wrote carefully researched historical novels for children describing frontier life, the Civil War, and the westward movement. 

Writers in the university town of Warrensburg have made important contributions to the state's literary history. The late children's author and playwright Cena Christopher Draper set many of her books in the Warrensburg area. William Foley, author of The Genesis of Missouri and other histories, is editor-in-chief of the Missouri Biography Series, published by the University of Missouri Press. Perry McCandless also writes about Missouri history. Arthur McClure has written many books on American film history.

Warrensburg hosts the annual Children's Literature Festival, which began in 1968 and has been under the direction of Philip Sadler since that time. Each year, the festival brings thousands of children to Central Missouri State University where they have the opportunity to meet their favorite authors. 

W.L. Ripley of Knob Noster has written several well-received mystereis; Carol Lee Sanchez of Hughesville publishes poetry dealing with Native American and women's issues; and Vicki Grove of Ionia writes books for young readers. June Rae Wood of Windsor won the 1995 Mark Twain Award for The Man who Loved Clowns, a book for young adults.

Books by Missouri authors can be found in libraries, bookstores, and schools across the state and throughout the world, attesting to the diversity of talent in the Show-Me State. We hope this brief and necessarily incomplete overview of Missouri's literary heritage will encourage readers of all ages, backgrounds, and interests to explore the exciting literary legacy of Missouri's native and adopted writers, past and present.