Remembered by influential local writer, arts advocate and radio producer Lorin Cuoco
St. Louis’ literary community lost one of its most influential members, Lorin Cuoco, 64, earlier this month. The longtime writer and poet died at her University City home on August 8 after a long illness, as reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Cuoco is perhaps best known for her work alongside the late novelist William Gass, a dear friend and collaborator. Together, they founded and supervised the International Writers Center at the University of Washington (now the Center for the Humanities), and she has edited several books with Gass.
She has also been a force for the St. Louis Poetry Center, the River Styx literary organization, and other local efforts to raise the profile of the St. Louis literary scene. On top of all that, she was an accomplished radio professional.
Tuesdays Saint Louis on the air, host Sarah Fenske discussed Cuoco’s life and legacy with two people who observed his influence firsthand.
They included Mary Edwards, a longtime St. Louis Public Radio producer who worked with Cuoco, and Joel Minor, who oversees the Modern Literature Collection where Cuoco’s papers are kept, as well as those of many writers whose careers she has helped advance.
Edwards said Cuoco has served St. Louis Public Radio in all kinds of capacities over the years and has performed 28 different nationally broadcast audio functions.
âBack then, in the 1980s, St. Louis and the Midwest was definitely a flyover country when it came to NPR – they were so focused on both coasts,â Edwards recalls. “So she’s really done a great service to St. Louis and the many organizations that make it up by bringing ideas to the network and letting them know that, yes, great things are happening in St. Louis.”
Minor, who first met Cuoco in 2012, wrote a Wash U blog post earlier this week who described it as leaving âindelible marksâ on university library collections.
“She viewed this collection of modern Washington University literature as an important legacy for literary articles, especially in the St. Louis area,” Minor said. “And so she donated some of her papers, and through her job interviewing and correspondence with many literary talentsâ¦ Stanley Elkin, Howard Nemerov and others, she had many important papers there. “
The conversation also included several memories of listeners reaching out to share their own fond memories of Cuoco.
Roger Kaza, principal horn of the Saint-Louis Symphony Orchestra, described Cuoco as “a defender of the arts with few equals”.
âIn 1985, I was 29 and had no journalistic experience,â he wrote. âYet, as a member of the horn section of the Orchester symphonique de Saint-Louis, she trusted me as an ‘integrated’ reporter on our first European tour. Late at night, I called Lorin to give him news of each day’s events and concerts. Sometimes I would pass the microphone to others, like our guest pianist Emanuel Ax.
âWe were all jet-lagged, happy about the post-concert party and barely coherent at times. Still, Lorin edited every interview to put us all in the best light. Decades later, she made me a copy of the interviews, which she had archived.
Ann Haubrich wrote: â[Itâs] so difficult to understand that Lorin no longer walks, reads or laughs among us. Its imprint on the STL cultural community, from the mid-1980s until today, is indelible. I have had the distinct pleasure of working with Lorin on many projects over the years, from River Styx to the International Writers Center, from Bloomsday readings (at Left Bank Books and Wash U) to a marathon read of “Metamorphoses” from Ovid (to the Pulitzer)â¦ Lorin’s mind and intellect were razor sharp. Her taste was impeccable and she set the bar high with every effort. She didn’t suffer from fools, although she was always kind and professional.
Several listeners pointed to Cuoco’s influential role in the radio station’s transition, as his former colleague Richard Green put it, “from a sleepy little classical music radio station in the 1970s” to “the modern KWMU that we know today, which looks more exactly like a large city newspaper, in its beautiful offices in the Grands Arts district.
âWe take NPR for granted, across the country, now – but that only happened in St. Louis because of people like Lorin, with his relentless enthusiasm and enthusiasm for NPR programming. Lorin was determined, but invariably gentle. And she had an infectious laugh during her usual workday and was an inexhaustible source of encouragement to me, âGreen wrote.
Michelle Komie, who worked with Cuoco at the International Writers Center for several years, said: â[Her] The book ‘Literary St. Louis: A Guide’ began as a tour for visiting writers, and eventually grew into an illustrated book with maps, historical photographs and contemporary illustrations.
âLorin believed passionately in the importance of the arts and especially of literature and writing,â Komie continued. This book, which contains short stories from about 50 writers who were significantly affiliated with St. Louis – from famous figures like Mark Twain, TS Eliot and Tennessee Williams to lesser known but fascinating subjects like Zoe Akins, Emily Hahn, Kay Thompson and Irma Rombauer – is a prime example of what Lorin has done in her life: by throwing careful and rigorous light on a subject that has been overlooked or remains underfunded, she has helped shape and maintain a rich history .
Cuoco’s friend Stephen Schenkenberg also wrote on the show.
âLorin was a serious and generous intellectual citizen,â he said. âHer literature standards were high – she knew a great job and she knew why our lives would be richer just reading it. Although quick with a laugh, Lorin cared deeply for the substance. As she closed an email in March 2006: âI’m interested in the truth. “
MK Anderson, who said Cuoco was married to her cousin, recalls interacting with her as a child at vacation get-togethers.
âEven in a very carefully worded family, Lorin was the best at saying precisely what she meant,â Anderson wrote. âWhen I told her I was taking creative writing classes in college, she said, ‘Ah. You want to be an artist. ‘ I balked. It’s a big word.
âAfter I graduated, I visited Lorin and her husband, John. I arrived late in the evening, âcontinues Anderson’s note. âShe put on some jazz and talked about her residency in the Marfa Artist Colony and how she met her husband on a movie they both worked on. During the day we followed his itinerary of the things I must see in Saint-Louis. The Saint-Louis art museum, of course. We went to the exhibition of a current artist. She told the story of the buildings we passed through, of entire neighborhoods. St. Louis, she was proud of you. She took every chance she could to say she loved you.
Tom Barclay, a former St. Louis Public Radio staffer, also sent an email singing Cuoco’s praises.
âEverything Lorin brought to the media, the arts and letters in Saint-Louis came from [these] two virtues. She had great courage and she would accept no substitute, âBarclay wrote. âSo when I think of KWMU, I think of the many changes it has undergone since I left about 25 years ago. I watch and see and remember that somehow many changes started with Lorin Cuoco’s courage and refusal to put up with mediocrity.
Former STLPR and NPR producer SeÃ¡n Collins also shared a memory.
“Lorin single-handedly got NPR’s arts and information editors to pay attention to the art scene here in St. Louis, and that translated into millions of listeners knowing the writers, the musicians and arts organizations in our city, âCollins wrote. âIt’s a huge legacy in the creative life of this city. And if that wasn’t enough, she gave a generation of young producers the tools to create interesting radio with passion and intelligence. And that impact has been heard in newsrooms, production houses and agencies across the country.
âA lot of us owe him a lot. I know I do.
“Saint Louis on the airâBrings you the stories of Saint-Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah fenske and produced by Alex heuer, Emily woodbury, Evie hemphill, Lara hamdan and Alexis moore. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production support is provided by Charlie McDonald.
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