Skip to content

New St. Louis Symphony CEO settles in, aims to draw in a wider audience

October 21, 2015
Marie-Hélène Bernard Photo by Ursula Ruhl

Marie-Hélène Bernard
Photo by Ursula Ruhl

Marie-Hélène Bernard officially took over as the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s president and chief executive officer on July 1, but already she’s immersed herself in the St. Louis community.

Since she arrived, she’s absorbed an impressive amount of information about the St. Louis area, the local institutions, the people and the orchestra itself with lightning speed — the tempo at which she talks.

Read the whole story, an expanded version of the original recently published in the West End Word, here.

* * *

***The new stuff on Versatiliosity isn’t always on the front page. Check out these other recent offerings from the sidebar:

Terrell Carter called as Webster Groves Baptist’s first African-American pastor

Terrell Carter, the new pastor of Webster Groves Baptist Church, is a true Renaissance man. He’s a painter, carpenter, construction manager, community activist, former police officer, blog writer and the author of three books published in the past year. And, of course, a pastor with three related degrees.

Read the rest here.

* * *

Thought-provoking Slices of St. Louis History from Julius Hunter: New book tells the story of Priscilla & Babe

Author and broadcaster Julius Hunter has long been enthralled with telling the history of St. Louis, especially the hidden details of the city’s untold stories. Now he’s turned his attention to two former slaves who became millionaire madams in St. Louis’ red light district in the Victorian age.

Read the rest here.

An acceptance at last

June 25, 2015

Writers get used to rejections. We get so used to them, we start to expect them. At least I do.

I’ve been pitching novels since 2000 and freelance nonfiction articles much longer than that. I keep a tracking chart of every query I send out to agents and publishers on each piece. As the rejection letters, post cards and emails roll in, I enter each one on my chart. It’s a process of elimination thing — one down, 900 to go. These days most of the rejections — if you even get one — are in emails. There also are many nonrejection rejections, which I label as “presumed dead” on my tracking chart after getting no response for a few staff logo2

When I see that subject line “re: Query …,” I know it’s another elimination to check off my chart.

Until one day last month. I was on deadline for a newspaper article, so when I saw the telltale subject line, I didn’t open it right away. No need to rush to read another form rejection when I had an article to finish — one that would actually be published and generate dinero.

After I had made my deadline, I finally opened the email. The first sentence just did not compute: “I’ve read your manuscript and I’d love to offer you a publishing contract.” Details about the royalties, price of author’s copies and timing followed.

I read it several times to be sure. Then I put on my Reeboks, slung my water canteen over my shoulder and took a walk. While I walked, I called my sister to tell her the good news:
My novel, The Not-Ready-for-Juilliard Players, will be published in spring 2016 by Rocking Horse Publishing, a small press based in St. Louis. There’s a guide to the book and the characters under the Fiction section at right.

This is my 2010 National Novel Writing Month novel that I’ve mentioned in earlier posts. Since completing the first draft in December 2010, I’ve tweaked and revised and polished and proofed. I’ve had beta readers give suggestions and comments and sent queries to 67 agents and 12 publishers.

Far be it from me to promise success if you just keep at it and keep trying. Many writers, maybe most, never, ever get published no matter how hard they try. Maybe the book isn’t good or maybe it’s great, maybe publishers are afraid to take a chance on a book that may have a limited market. Maybe they want to avoid a hot-button topic (remember The Help, reportedly rejected by more than 60 agents?). Sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw, not querying the right agent or publisher at the right time.

In any case, I’m glad I stuck with it and kept sending out those queries.

My St. Louis — the Gateway (and Cakeway) to the West

March 11, 2015

Amid all the news of civil unrest in the St. Louis area last year, the media lost track of the big positive story — St. Louis was in the midst of a year-long celebration of its 250th anniversary.

Kirkwood Train Station

Part of the celebration — which ran roughly from Feb. 14, 2014 to Feb. 15, 2015 — was a major community art project, the “Cakeway to the West.” Artists created 250 fiberglass birthday cakes to mark 250 historical (or other) points of interest in the St. Louis metro area. The cakes started at 250, but eventually grew to 252 official cakes. Rumor has it there were three or more rotating cakes that appeared in random locations at random times.

Missouri Botanical Garden

Missouri Botanical Garden

The birthday cakes appeared on lawns, sidewalks and plazas at the major cultural institutions, legendary businesses, government buildings, national monuments (e.g., Gateway Arch), schools, historic structures and sports stadiums. Most were decorated to celebrate the specific location. Some of the cakes were auctioned off on New Years Eve, some were still standing, as of March 2015, although the project wrapped up in mid-February. The cakes became the property of the site where they were placed. St. Louisans got behind the project in a big way, some making an effort to see as many cakes as possible in person. Did you miss them? If only there was a way to see all those cakes again. There is! Amateur photographer Matthew S. Nolan decided to take pictures of all the cakes and their locations and publish them in a book. At the request of his publisher, Bluebird Books, I wrote short profiles of each location and did production of the book. (Insert shameless self-promotion here.) 250 Cakes top cover252 Years — 252 Cakes: The Definitive St. Louis 250th Anniversary Cake Book is now available at local bookstores and institutions and, in limited quantities, on Amazon. The 12” x 12” softcover coffee-table book is in full color (of course) and makes a great gift.

Rigazzi's Restaurant

Rigazzi’s Restaurant


Eileen&Matt1 copy

DISCUSSION AND BOOKSIGNING: Matt Nolan and I gave a talk and signed books April 21 at the Maplewood Public Library.

SALE LOCATIONS: The Book House (Maplewood)

Christopher’s (Kirkwood)

Missouri History Museum Gift Shop

The Novel Neighbor

STL Style House (Cherokee Street)

Sweet Boutique (Clayton)

Webster Book Shop

World News (Clayton)

Architecture Institute of America

Women’s Exchange (Clayton)

— Eileen P. Duggan

Book photos by Matt Nolan

Say it ain’t so, Jo!

February 3, 2014

SPOILER ALERT ! Well, maybe not.

Author J.K. Rowling has admitted to Emma Watson, the actress who played Hermione in the Harry Potter films, that maybe she shouldn’t have matched up Hermione and Ron in the end. Furthermore, she suggested that Hermione should have married Harry. Apparently, Ron and Hermione would have needed marriage counseling at some point.Prisoner of Azkaban crop

Well, who doesn’t? As long as Hermione gets to be Minister of Magic someday and Ron stays home with the kids, it could work splendidly.

But seriously, Ms. Rowling, don’t second-guess your masterpiece. You crafted the Ron and Hermione relationship well. From their first meeting on the Hogwarts Express, it was apparent that there was an Elizabeth Bennet/Mr. Darcy Pride and Prejudice thing going on. Underneath their nearly constant conflict, Ron and Hermione pined for each other, usually at different times. It was clear early on that Hermione and Harry were never going to be a romantic item, regardless of the fans’ desires.

And Ginny and Harry’s relationship also was destined from the first book, when 10-year-old Ginny was starstruck by Harry the first time he appeared on the Hogwarts Express platform. Like most boys at that age (or any age), Harry was oblivious. But Ginny never gave up. Although Hermione was certainly a gifted witch, Ginny grew into a fabulously talented one, too, with the skill and the heart to match Harry’s own gifts.

In real life, many of us make poor romantic choices. And even when we don’t, good relationships change over the years and some don’t last. The Harry Potter story was never going to be “happily ever after” for every character. Those who lived will grow up and they will live life with the same ups and downs everyone meets.

Leave it alone, Jo.

What if Margaret Mitchell decided later that Scarlett O’Hara should have married Ashley Wilkes after all?

Maybe the aforementioned Elizabeth Bennet should have slapped that sour Mr. Darcy into next week and settled for Mr. Collins.

Did Shakespeare have misgivings about Romeo and Juliet fulfilling their passions? Is there a secret sequel in which it was all a dream, with the pair deciding not to upset the feuding families and Juliet running off with the boy from the balcony next door?

Let it be, Jo.

Pianos For People

August 15, 2013

It happens when senior citizens downsize from the large homes where they raised their families into a small apartment, an assisted-living facility or a nursing home. Or when adult children must clear out years of belongings from their deceased parents’ homes. Or when an up-and-coming businessperson relocates to a small apartment in another city. A piano is left behind.

Meanwhile, a young child shows great promise in music, but the family can’t afford a piano. A disadvantaged learning-disabled teenager could find therapeutic help with a piano.

If only there was a way to connect those pianos with these people. In St. Louis, now there is.

Read all about it under the Nonfiction section.

Richmond Heights Celebrates 100 Years

March 3, 2013

Originally published in the West End Word, Feb. 13, 2013

By Eileen P. Duggan

The city of Richmond Heights, Missouri, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, but its history goes back much further than its incorporation on Dec. 29, 1913.

Architectural conservator Peter Wollenberg (from left); Ruth Keenoy, architectural preservationist with Landmarks Association of Saint Louis; preservation historian Esley Hamilton; and JoEllen McDonald, archivist with the Richmond Heights Historical Society, stand in front of one of Richmond Heights’ century homes on Silverton Place. The home is owned by Lisa and John Klorer.       Photo by Diana LinsleyLinsley

The St. Louis suburb is celebrating all year with a series of lectures, tours, concerts, exhibits and festivals highlighting the city’s past and present. The activities cover many aspects of the city’s history from homes, neighborhoods, architecture, trees, business, hospitals, arts, literature, food, weather, war and peace.

“It’s really exciting,” said Mayor James Beck. “It’s a great thing that the city has lasted 100 years.”

To read the full story, please see the Nonfiction Pages at right.

The Dead Lady’s Stuff — Mom Edition

October 17, 2012

“Wow, she played!” the piano technician/dealer exclaimed as he ran his fingers across the keyboard and peeked under the lid to watch the hammers do their work.

Indeed she did, and so did hundreds of her students over the decades. And now I was trying to figure out if I could possibly squeeze my recently departed mother’s grand piano into my small house or if I should trade it and my old spinet in on a nice upright, maybe a Yamaha or older Steinway, that would fit in the already allotted piano space.

“If I had a Knabe grand like this, I’d want to keep it,” he said.

It was one of many, many decisions that I, along with my four siblings, had to make about our Mom’s stuff.

My family and I have long appreciated the joys of acquiring and using items formerly belonging to deceased people. From foil wrap to spices to furniture to tools, we have benefited from the property of various Dead Ladies and Dead Guys. I wrote about it in “The Dead Lady’s Stuff,” an essay published two years ago in Toasted Cheese Literary Magazine and republished in this blog. Over the past few months, we’ve been in the reverse position of being the benefactors of such gems. This time the Dead Lady is our Mom. Since she died June 8, we’ve been distributing her stuff and spreading her essence far and wide.

Closing someone’s apartment is a strange operation. It’s like moving, but then it’s not moving, not to a different place. Even when you’re downsizing — as Mom did, twice before — a lot of stuff gets thrown away or given away, but your core stuff goes with you to the new place. If Mom had closed out her apartment and moved in with one of us, a lot of things would go elsewhere, but many things would go with her: clothing, toiletries, make up, some furniture, family pictures and heirlooms.

But in closing the home of someone for the very last time, everything has to go somewhere else. There is no new location. Every little thing must have a new home, whether it be inherited by a family member, given to a relative or friend, sold to an acquaintance or stranger, donated to charity, recycled or thrown in the trash. Every single little thing. A decision must be made about every item: from “Who wants the dining room set?” to “Does anybody need a desk lamp?” to “Should we leave the toilet paper?” By the last week of August, we had gotten to point of “Do you want this elbow macaroni or should we try to sell it?”

Our mother was neat and organized, possibly on the edge of obsessive-compulsive about things being in order, and she was not a hoarder by any means. But she was 90 and she had accumulated 90 years of memories, important papers and personal property. She had five children, a career as a piano teacher, and avocations as a kitchen band leader, community theatre performer and painter. As orderly as it was, there was still a lot of stuff. It took us from June 9 to Aug. 31 to get it all out of the apartment, then there was a yard sale a month later and there are still a few ship-outs to go.

Mom was frugal and believed in reusing, rigging and recycling things. All of us wore hand-me-down clothes growing up. Mom herself wore second-hand clothes she purchased from a shop in her senior center and from a charity resale shop next door to her last apartment. She enjoyed being able to use clothes and items that others no longer needed. So it was a no-brainer that we would donate her clothing to a worthy cause.

Because the summer was already shaping up to be one of record-breaking heat, we decided to go through her summer clothes first so they could be used right away by people who needed them. Mom and I both wore the same hard-to-find shoe size — 7 narrow — so most of the shoes had my name on them. My sister and I could wear some of her clothes, so we kept a few things. Everything else went to the Mary Ryder Home, a wonderful residential care/assisted living facility in St. Louis for poor women. We chose Mary Ryder Home because the clothes are not sold to middle-class suburban women looking for bargains but are given directly to the home’s residents. A week or so later, the winter clothes followed.

My sister took a sofa that she had helped Mom shop for just a few years ago. She had fallen asleep on it many a time as holiday gatherings at Mom’s place wound down. My brother who has lived in California for years remembers breakfast at the dining room table when he was in high school. He had the dining room furniture shipped to his home. Another brother, a professional musician, took bookcases and a ukulele we had plunked on when we were children. He knows how to tune it now.

At various times, we had all helped Mom load her paintings into her station wagon to take to art fairs and exhibits. So we all kept some of her paintings. We hope to sell the remainder of the artwork, to continue her own efforts to sell them and to ensure they are enjoyed by others, rather than being stored, covered by an old sheet, in a basement. We shipped two of them to Mom’s sister in California. She is taking the china that belonged to their mother, to be shared among her daughters and granddaughters. That monumental packing and shipping task is in progress.

After claiming all the furniture, personal effects and other items that we wanted to keep, the search was on for new owners for all the other stuff. A college theater major got the dresser with matching mirror and the vintage 1960s pole lamp that shone three beams of light onto the piano’s music rack. A co-worker of my sister bought a bookcase. Another co-worker was thrilled to buy the single bed (complete with several sheet sets and a comforter), the rocking chair and bedside table for her live-in grandchildren’s room. She couldn’t wait to rock her grandbabies in the chair, where Mom used to read and sew. A friend bought two bookcases where Mom had neatly stacked music in her studio, and Mom’s cousin took her favorite glider chair and a tea service table.

Some piano teacher friends of Mom’s took some of her music, some rhythm instruments she had used with students, and music-related pictures. One young teacher, who had never met Mom but had heard legends of her teaching, took the remainder: an entire banker’s box of Bach, Debussy, Clementi, Liszt and other wonderful piano music. Children at a nearby day care center are now enjoying her colored markers and crayons as well as tambourines, mini-drum, maracas and other rhythm instruments. A fellow alum of St. Louis Institute of Music was happy to have Mom’s extensive Progressive Series library of piano music.

Our goal was to not move any leftover furniture that wouldn’t fit into any of our cars (two compact cars and a Honda station wagon). Anything bigger that remained after the moving weekend would be picked up by Salvation Army. As the last weekend of August drew near, there was one such troublesome item left: an attractive but bulky two-shelf TV cabinet made by my brother years ago for our Dad. It was housing a 19-inch analog TV, and it was accordingly deep, 23 inches to be exact. Although it had the great selling point of castors, big-ass analog TVs are not so popular anymore, so the cabinet had limited appeal. As wonderful as this cabinet was, none of us had room for it in our homes, and it did not pass the car-fitting test to even get it to my house for the leftovers yard sale we were planning for early October. No one who came to the apartment to pick up other items was interested in it. An e-mail plea to family and friends and my sister’s 900-plus Facebook friends and her seemingly endless supply of worthy co-workers came to naught. We posted it on hoping it would be snapped up as fast as some other items. But after a few days of missed connections by just two interested parties, I scheduled a pickup by Salvation Army for the last week. At last, one of the Freecyclers came through and we rolled it out to her SUV just before moving weekend. She planned to use it to store her crafts supplies, so not only did it find a new home, but a new use. We found that a number of people are “repurposing” things.

The last difficult item was the aforementioned 19-inch analog TV, which worked except for about 3 inches of faint horizontal lines running across the screen at all times on all channels. We knew the TV was on its last legs and felt bad even trying to Freecycle it. But try we did, and alas, even Freecyclers had no interest. Plan C was to take it to an electronics recycling joint after the final cleaning night. But a last-ditch e-mail found another co-worker, whose soon-to-be-ex husband ran off with their TV. Now someone else is enjoying the TV on which Mom watched countless NCIS marathons and Tom Selleck movies while lounging in her glider.

As for me, I have Mom’s roll-top desk, where she figured all her accounts, kept track of her students and wrote cards and letters to friends and family. I have many other things of hers — clothes, shoes, jewelry, bookmarks, make-up (especially her Bonne Bell White White, which I had long been out of and which may be out of production). Yes, these are all just things, but they keep her alive, not only in our homes, but in us and in the homes and hearts of all the people who use the “stuff” she once cherished and enjoyed.

And I now have my mother’s grand piano, which is truly a symbol of her identity. My entire home office was displaced in order to fit the piano into the house, into its own room. But before the end of the first day of the piano’s arrival, it looked like it had always been there, always belonged there. Mom’s piano had found its new home.

—  Eileen P. Duggan

%d bloggers like this: