|St. Louis Civil War Roundtable|
On the last day of November, I accompanied my writing friend and critique group member, Pat Wahler, across the Missouri River from St. Charles to the Civil War Roundtable of St. Louis event in South St. Louis.
Pat and I attended this special event to hear acclaimed biographer and two-time Pulitzer Prize winning writer and National Book Award winner, T. J. Stiles. His Pulitzer Prize winning works include biographies of Cornelius Vanderbilt and George Armstrong Custer, which also won a Spur Award.
Stiles' Civil War Roundtable talk highlighted some of the guerilla battles that savaged Missouri during the Civil War. He spoke with clarity and passion about how that vicious fighting impacted the life of Jesse James, the subject of his biography, Jesse James: the Last Rebel of the Civil War.
I’m interested in Missouri history, and Pat has completed a manuscript about the wife of Jesse James, so having an opportunity to listen to Mr. Stiles talk about Jesse James, one of Missouri’s most notorious historical figures, was an exceptional opportunity for both of us.
|T. J. Stiles on Jesse James|
After dinner, Mr. Stiles began his talk by setting the stage of a deeply divided Missouri, a state with Southern sensibilities and which shared borders with three free states. Violence against Jesse's family and other Southern sympathizers in the western part of Missouri near the Kansas border fostered James’ deeply held anti-Union feelings. According to Stiles, James was not only an outlaw bandit and a killer, he was also a complicated man with strong political convictions. For Jesse, the war was personal. James' path was encouraged by his iron-willed mother Zerelda, who was once described as “the meanest woman in Missouri.”
Mr. Stiles’ fascinating talk was followed by a brief question and answer session.
I’m generally more of a note-taker and listener than a questioner, but I was curious to find out how Mr. Stiles selects his subjects for research and writing. So, I stepped out of my comfort zone and raised my hand. Because he spoke directly to me when he answered my question, I didn’t jot down his answer, but here’s what I recall.
The subjects he selects are:
Something/someone he likes reading about
Something about which he wants to say something original or to take a different approach
Something that results in a change in emphasis or perspective about the subject
|Donna Volkenannt and T. J. Stiles|
Afterwards, Pat and I joined a long line of folks waiting to have books signed or wanting to chat with Mr. Stiles, who graciously stayed until he met with the last person in line.
He even posed for photos. The one on the left is of him and me, taken by Pat.
You can read more about T. J. Stiles and his critically acclaimed books on his website.
The Civil War Roundtable of St. Louis will hold its next dinner in January with guest speaker Molly Kodner, Archivist at the Missouri History Museum. I'm looking forward to that discussion.