Exploring the wild side of St. Louis Catholic schools in the '70s with author Kevin Killeen
KMOX radio reporter Kevin Killeen knows a thing or two about growing up Catholic in St. Louis in the 1970s. It’s apparently a subject a lot of you know about is well, as we heard from a plethora of listeners about their experiences in and out of school during that time period.
These reflections were spurred by a conversation with Killeen about his latest humorous novel, “Most Improved Sophomore.”
“This book is a comic book about 1970s high school: on one hand, you’re trying to be holy, holy, holy at some parochial prep school during the week but, on the weekend, everybody just went wild, driving to East St. Louis to get beer.”
Although the book is a novel, it is heavily based on Killeen’s real life. About 50 to 60 percent, he said. Killeen graduated from De Smet High School in 1978 and several callers during the program called to share their life experiences in St. Louis during that time as well.
“I have a sixteen year-old daughter and I don’t know if I want her to read this, but if she does, it will give her insight into ‘my dad was just like me,’” Killeen said. “The book deals with how young guys are interested in one thing mainly and how they’re under stress, hating school. There’s a lot of drinking, marijuana, which was the case in the ‘70s. This is something parents from the 70s often hide from their kids because, the truth is we were worse than they are now.”
Killeen has published three other novels prior, “Snow Globes and Hand Grenades,” “Never Hug A Nun,” and “Try to Kiss A Girl.” Each book has had some connection to St. Louis of yesteryear and his experience growing up here.
It is not purely nostalgia that draws Killeen back to this time period.
“I like the idea that when you went to schools like De Smet or SLUH or Visitation or Ursuline, it was a pressure cooker of theological self-improvement and you’re learning algebra. It is a big ‘how can I improve myself?’ timeframe where there’s a lot of pressure on a person. I thought that was a fascinating topic for a novel, where you have people in the midst of the ‘who am I?’ question at a high-energy prep school but on the weekend they’re trying to figure out who they are in a different way, with beers on the golf course and running around.”
Listen as a Killeen, and several listeners, reflect on their experiences in high school in St. Louis during the 1970s and how that winds into the novel-writing process:
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