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St. Louis Illustrator Mary Engelbreit Is Ready To Talk Politics At BookFest

Mary Engelbreit is speaking at BookFest this Saturday.
Mary Engelbreit

Before she became a household name for her internationally acclaimed illustration work, Mary Engelbreit was a typical young adult finding a way to make a living in St. Louis. In her late teens and early 20s, she worked at a local art store and an ad agency — and then landed a job as an editorial artist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

She was let go during her probation period, she told listeners Wednesday during an interview with St. Louis on the Air. The unceremonious goodbye came after she challenged the fact that men were paid much more than women. 

“I was being paid more than I ever, ever thought I would ever, ever make as an artist. I was perfectly happy with what I was being paid,” she said. “But I knew other women were also suing the Post for the pay difference, and I felt like I should say something. And so I was still in my probation period, and I went to whoever I went to and said, ‘I hate to complain, I’m sorry, but there’s really quite a difference,’ and they said, ‘Oh, you’re right!’ And they gave me all my backpay and said, ‘We’re not going to need you anymore.’”

Added Engelbreit: “I was thrilled. I did not like that job.”

Leaving the daily newspaper, she added, gave her the time to develop greeting cards, and from there, what would become a wildly popular company bearing her name. Throughout her career, her lifelong love for drawing has remained central. She continues to call St. Louis home.

Engelbreit said her career might have benefited if she'd been willing to travel more, or been a bit more ambitious. 

“I could have done the TV thing, or that sort of thing,” she said. “But that’s not what I wanted to do. I really just wanted to sit in my studio and draw. You could do that from anywhere. And I loved St. Louis. My family was here, all my friends were here, and I never had a desire to leave.”

Engelbreit said she’s looking forward to being interviewed by Left Banks Book co-owner Kris Kleindienst at Bookfest this Saturday. Kleindienst is a good friend, Engelbreit said, and her store was among the first to carry Engelbreit’s work. 

Engelbreit said she is looking forward to opening up a bit about her politics, which she has become more outspoken about in the wake of Ferguson.

“I was very upset by the killing of Michael Brown,” she said. “I felt like it was an important issue, and I had to say something. I feel like if you’ve got a platform and there’s something you feel strongly about, and you feel you might be able to make a difference or change a mind or two, that you should do it. You should speak up.”

Related Events

What: Mary Engelbreit and Kris Kleindienst in Conversation
When: 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, during BookFest
Where: McPherson Tent (near Euclid and McPherson avenues)

What: BookFest St. Louis
When: All day Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019
Where: Euclid and McPherson avenues and surrounding Central West End area

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. 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 assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.