Natural Bridge, Boulevard journal editors celebrate newest issues at joint gathering

Brigitte Leschhorn reading at journal launch

UMSL alumna Brigitte Leschhorn, MFA 2013, was one of four featured writers to read from their work May 9 before a packed house at Urban Chestnut Grove Brewery and Bierhall. (Photos by August Jennewein)

An energetic crowd and colorful stacks of freshly printed books filled the standing-room-only scene last week at Urban Chestnut Grove Brewery and Bierhall during a one-of-a-kind literary bash.

Commemorating the newly released spring issues of a pair of St. Louis-based literary journals, Boulevard and Natural Bridge, the May 9 event in many ways embodied an existing spirit of collaboration between the two publications, which regularly publish original work in a variety of genres.

“It seems like such a natural connection that Natural Bridge and Boulevard have,” University of Missouri–St. Louis faculty member, novelist and longtime Natural Bridge editor Mary Troy remarked as she introduced one of four writers who gave readings over the course of the evening.

William Trowbridge reading

Former Missouri Poet Laureate William Trowbridge elicited laughter during his reading of several “Oldguy: Superhero” poems at the event. “I was only going to write one [superhero] poem,” he said of the recent compositions, “but I got so interested I wrote a bunch after that.”

Together with Jessica Rogen, editor of Boulevard, several UMSL graduate students currently pursuing their master of fine arts degree in creative writing were key organizers of the launch event. Troy was quick to credit them with bringing to fruition yet another successful issue of Natural Bridge, which is published twice yearly by the Department of English.

“Everything seems to work really well as long as we have wonderful managing editors,” Troy said, specifically praising fiction student Dusty Freund for his two terms in the role. Along with giving him kudos for editorial expertise, she described Freund as a “terrific writer.”

“It’s Southern-Gothic-hits-the-Ozarks,” she said of the graduating student’s work.

Freund introduced St. Louis poet Jane Ellen Ibur, who co-produced and co-anchored the local weekly radio show “Literature for the Halibut” for many years. She kicked off the evening with a reading of several wide-ranging poems.

Her piece “Row Your Boat” appears in the new issue of Natural Bridge, which was for sale at the event and can also be subscribed to online.

Next up was Brigitte Leschhorn, a graduate of the UMSL MFA program and local English teacher at MICDS. While her contribution to Boulevard’s “Symposium” section discussed whether Bob Dylan deserved to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, she opted to read from another piece at last week’s event.

That reading focused on interracial relationships and marriages, a topic she said is often caricatured as merely “fantastical” or “taboo.”

A small army of Leschhorn’s friends and fellow English teachers turned out for the event, which offered a glimpse of a vibrant St. Louis writing scene populated with many UMSL connections.

Fiction graduate student William Morris was encouraged by the celebration of not just the journals themselves, which feature writers from all sorts of places, but of local writers appearing in them and standing on their own merits.

“There are people from St. Louis being published in St. Louis journals,” Morris said, adding that he was also pleased by the collaborative nature of the event.

Marie Carol Kenney, another fiction student, was struck by “the passionate readers” and “lovely writing.” She and classmate Brian Blair, who was also in attendance, are now serving as assistant editors for the next issue of Natural Bridge, which will come out this fall.

The third reader of the evening, Phong Nguyen, gave a reading from his funny and moving new piece that appears in Natural Bridge, titled “Senior Paper: On Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Matt Corolla.” It’s “one of a series of stories inspired by high school essays,” Nguyen explained.

Wrapping up the evening was William Trowbridge, who served as Missouri’s poet laureate from 2012 to 2016. He traveled from the Kansas City area to attend the event, and his poems appear in recent issues of both of the journals.

The entire event was recorded by UMSL fiction student Liam Cassidy for the Natural Bridge podcast, which was launched just this past year. Look for the new episode soon.

The UMSL Experience

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