Wayne Miller

recorded in Kansas City, MO/KS

 

Wayne Miller

This is Wayne Miller and I live in Kansas City, Missouri. I moved to Missouri eight years ago, and I moved to Kansas City after a year living in Warrensburg, Missouri, which was unacceptable. I moved to Kansas City and now I commute out to my job. Kansas City is a sort of mid-size Midwestern city. I think it’s slightly less than 2 million in the metro. The city itself is about 400,000 on the Missouri side. It’s very much a kind of white flight city, and I think you feel that in the city. I live in the Midtown area, which, given the city’s history –the city was developed across streetcar lines that run north-south –in fact two streets that way was a streetcar line going back up this way –and it’s maybe the first in the United States absolutely planned city, which is a really interesting thing about it. It was designed by this guy J.C. Nichols, who built the plaza down the street, and the plaza was the first mall in America. It was built in the 20s and finished during the Depression, and basically, Kansas City was a cow town and a jazz town and kind of a sin town, you know what I mean? It was a big party town. Lots of prostitution, lots of drinking, lots of jazz in the 20s, etcetera. And J.C. Nichols developed, really unnaturally, –normally a city would grow along the river and this city doesn’t at all –because he bought up all this land down here that was essentially a hog waller along this creek, developed all of this land, saying, basically, if you build it, the people will come here –as an alternative to all of the what a lot of people would see as moral turpitude in the downtown, with all of these bars and brothels and whatnot. So he built the plaza to be a kind of alternative to the downtown, and now one of the unique things about Kansas City is it really has two downtowns –it has the downtown, and then it has the plaza. And where we are is slightly less than halfway between them. And that’s a kind of interesting thing about the city. I don’t know what else to tell you about it. It’s an interesting city.  It creates a strange kind of de-centered city that is long and narrow. I always say it looks like Manhattan, New York turned upside down, so you have 1st Street by the river and it goes down, only obviously not as populated. It’s kind of ridiculous. You can go miles out into the country and there’s nothing and you’re at like 221st Street and you’re like, Hey, I’m in the Bronx.


The Knox Writers’ House

Do you like living here?


Miller

I don’t dislike living here. I like Kansas City fine. I don’t love its location. It’s a weird city because it’s the only city for miles in any direction. It’s a four hour drive to St. Louis, it’s a nine hour drive to Denver, it’s a seven hour drive to Chicago. You have those small cities, Omaha and Lincoln in Nebraska, but they’re not really big cities. And what that means is that it becomes a kind of weird, isolated magnet for people who are just looking for an urban environment, they’re just looking to leave their crappy small town, basically. So it has that kind of world, whereas growing up in Cincinnati, which is demographically a very similar city –slightly, maybe, larger in the metro, but not by much –the difference is, with Cincinnati, you’re an hour and a half to Columbus, three and a half hours to Cleveland, an hour and a half to Indianapolis, an hour to Louisville, an hour and a half to Lexington, or whatever it is, so pretty much everyone you meet in Kansas City either went to the University of Kansas or the University of Missouri. Bars divide immediately by school. And it just wasn’t like that in Cincinnati, where people went to Ohio State or OU or University of Cincinnati or one of the numerous liberal arts colleges –Kenyon, Oberlin, etc. Or University of Kentucky or University of Indiana. There was just more of a diversity of experiences in the city and that kind of isolation in Kansas City I feel.  Despite that, there’s a really vibrant literary world here. Just not necessarily people who are from here that often. But, you know, Michelle Boisseau and Kevin Prufer and John Gallaher and Whitney Terrell. It’s a city where, when people meet you or you meet people and you both kind of think the other person’s interesting, you’re like, “Listen, so we’re going to get breakfast tomorrow. You’re going to come over tomorrow night for dinner and drinks.” When people find each other and they like each other, there’s a kind of, “Okay, we’re not meeting that many people we love in this city, so let’s hang together.” And that’s really nice.

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Whitman by Larry Levis

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