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‘A city of gates that do not normally swing wide:’ Essayist Edward McPherson reflects on St. Louis

Edward McPherson, author of "The History of the Future," joined St. Louis on the Air on Tuesday.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Edward McPherson, author of "The History of the Future," joined St. Louis on the Air on Tuesday.

“St. Louis is a city of gates that do not normally swing wide,” writes author and Washington University English professor Edward McPherson in “The History of the Future,” a book of essays reflecting on American places which was released earlier this spring.

In the book, McPherson reexamines American history and identity through a series of essays, including one about St. Louis. That essay intertwines musings on the World’s Fair, gated communities and the Gateway Arch with reflections on segregation and even “Meet Me in St. Louis.”

It is not the most flattering depiction of St. Louis, but it does ring true.

“The essay started when my wife and I were moving to town and we were doing something as simple as trying to find an apartment,” McPherson told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh. “Just driving through the city, Google Maps would get it wrong because it would lead us to gated neighborhoods and these private streets. I thought ‘this is interesting,’ why can’t I move through this city as effortlessly as the maps made it seem. That led to bigger questions about who lives where, in what neighborhoods.”

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, McPherson joined host Don Marsh to discuss his book and how he views St. Louis today. 

McPherson and his wife, who is from Mexico, Missouri, have lived here five years and like living in St. Louis. He is a creative writing professor at Washington University.

St. Louis only comprises one chapter in the book of essays. Other chapters center on places McPherson has lived, like Dallas, Gettysburg and Brooklyn, while some focus on places he made a point to visit, like Los Alamos, North Dakota and Los Angeles.

“The book is about American places where the past is erupting unexpectedly, sometimes uncomfortably, into the present,” McPherson said. “That’s a theme that I only really noticed half way through it"

The essays are deeply rooted in the past and McPherson uses specific events and cultural phenomena as catalysts to describe the future of the places he encounters.


"[The book] is interested in an American amnesia," McPherson said. "There are places that consider its past, like Dallas and St. Louis, but in general most people focus on the future. I’m a big believer in that line attributed to Mark Twain, ‘History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.’ There’s a lot to be gained by looking at history, or histories because there is no single history often, and that will tell us where we are and tell us where we might be headed.”  

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.
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