Humans of St. Louis tells the story of the city in its new book
For the past eight years, Humans of St. Louis has brought your friends and neighbors’ stories to Facebook, publishing their words beneath gorgeous photos that show them in their complexity. It's crafted approximately 3,500 portraits and stories of St. Louisans — and, in the process, amassed more than 100,000 followers.
“We share really cute things kids say,” said Lindy Drew, co-founder and lead storyteller of Humans of St. Louis, “but at the same time, it's a platform to talk about so many larger issues that are happening in St. Louis.”
Now the online project is taking physical form. Drew and her team of creatives who live and work in St. Louis have curated a book containing the best of Humans of St. Louis. It includes stories and photographs published between 2014 and 2020.
Drew said the authors felt it was important to represent the fabric of St. Louis — to go beyond the tourist destinations and iconic imagery. “We wanted to dive deeper.”
Self-publishing the book was helpful in that regard, she added.
“There wasn't anyone ahead of us or above us saying, ‘Don't put that in there. It's too much, or that's too racy,’” Drew said. “The point of having this team was to bring all of our identities and experiences to the table. To say, ‘This is also my St. Louis.’”
Drew joined Monday’s St. Louis on the Air to talk about the project along with written and spoken word artist Pacia Elaine Anderson. Anderson is featured in the Humans of St. Louis book and also wrote a poem for the book’s introduction.
A native of Alton, Illinois, Anderson now lives in the city’s Gravois Park neighborhood. She said it was a challenge to write a poem that encompasses many stories and experiences — the good and the bad and everything in between.
"I tend to lean towards optimism, and collectivity, and community, and energy, and beauty — and St. Louis is not always that,” Anderson said.
With her poem, “The Making of Us,” she aimed “to encompass all those things that don't exist within what people would call traditional beauty.”
St. Louis’ 2016 Youth Poet Laureate Bisa Adero's poem about the Delmar Divide is featured at the book’s halfway mark.
"Oftentimes people don't want to talk about challenge and struggle, resistance and oppression, and people's experiences being different depending on what side of the street you stand on,” Anderson said. “I thought it was very beautiful that Bisa’s work was able to symbolically and literally represent this divide.”
While the book is designed to work well for casual readers, Drew said the placement of each photo and each poem was very intentional.
“There are no chapters,” she said “You're not going to know where you're at until you read the whole thing. But you can tell what section you're in.”
Pre-orders of the book are available now through March 1 on the Humans of St. Louis website.
“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 and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.