In 1936, Mao Tse-tung was not dead, as his enemies would have China believe. Indeed, despite frequent reports of his demise, the 43-year-old communist leader was alive and well and giving his first-ever interviews to a foreign correspondent: Kansas City-born journalist Edgar Snow.

Snow had been living in China since 1928. Before leaving for his 13-year stay in China, Snow studied at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and briefly pursued advertising in New York. By 1936, he had written two books on China, the non-fiction travelogue Far Eastern Front and the short story collection Living China.

When Snow met with Chairman Mao at the communist capital of Pao An in far northwest China, the West knew very little about this son of a peasant who would fight a war with Japan, defeat Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, and later be responsible for social and economic upheavals such as the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

Food for Fines

Hey you – yeah, you, the one who’s been avoiding the Library because you’ve got overdue fines and money is tight right now. Today through Oct. 24, just bring a few cans of food into a Kansas City Public Library location near you, and, voila, our collection of four-squillion books, CDs and DVDs will once again be at your disposal. Why? Because it’s Food for Fines week.

Here at the Library, we like giving things away. Late fees, of course, are a necessary part of doing business. But it really bums us out whenever we hear that you aren’t coming to partake of our eighteen-quindupletillion free items (OK, OK, more like 1.1 million) because you kept that copy of The Ersatz Elevator too long.

That’s why every year, we team up with the wonderful people at Harvesters Community Food Network to bring you the one time of the year where you get the satisfaction of feeding your fellow citizens and having your foolish fines forgiven in one fell blow.

Each food item erases $1 in late fees for overdue items. And that really adds up. To wit, here’s a Harper’s Index-ian rundown of some of last year’s numbers:

Earlier this month, a boy with spiked hair and bright blue eyes sat at a table in the North-East Branch of the Kansas City Public Library, sketching his next piece of public art. The word READ burst from the page in red-orange lettering. Now, it blazes on a wall for the whole neighborhood to see.

Thanks to the guidance of the Hip-Hop Academy, kids like 17-year-old Giovanni may be KC’s next mural masters.

The Hip-Hop Academy was founded in 2005 by three friends -- musicians Aaron Sutton and Roscoe Johnson and visual artist Jeremy McConnell – who wanted to show that hip-hop is not all about the negative messages that blast on urban radio waves.

When the Hip-Hop Academy’s kids write a rap lyric, it’s always about something real happening in their lives – and it’s always positive. “We want it to be something they’re proud to share with their family, something their grandparents could listen to,” McConnell says.

Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America

In a July 6, 1971, speech before media executives at a Holiday Inn in Kansas City, Missouri, President Richard M. Nixon hinted at a future shift in foreign policy that would climax in his unprecedented visit to China. Trouble was, no one at the Holiday Inn fully fathomed what “Tricky Dick” was up to.

Though he warned that America’s economic power was waning and forecasted the need to “take the first steps toward ending the isolation of Mainland China from the world community,” Nixon – who had been a crafty poker player while serving in the Navy --  wasn’t showing many cards. (The full text of his address is available here.)

In Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, his compelling, rowdy and incisive analysis of Nixon’s rise and fall in the turbulent ‘60s and early ‘70s, Rick Perlstein conjectures that the significance of Nixon’s Holiday Inn speech wasn’t recognized until years later. Perlstein writes:

Don’t let all those books fool you. Though reading is our raison d’être at the Kansas City Public Library, we also impart life skills to people in the community, especially children and teens. And one of those skills we enjoy imparting the most: eating right.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, representatives from one of the Library’s closest local partners, Harvesters Community Food Network, visited the Southeast Branch to show a group of teens that eating healthy isn’t that hard.

“We empower kids by teaching them how to cook and showing them there’s more options than fast food and the microwave,” says Taryn Glidewell, Harvesters’ nutritional education coordinator.

Harvesters’ Kids in the Kitchen program focuses on educating kids about different food groups and how to shop wisely – namely, by going to farmers’ markets.

A fixture on the local literary scene, Gina Kaufmann has written for The Kansas City Star and The Pitch, spent two years on the air as co-host of KCUR’s Walt Bodine Show, and organizes regular storytelling events. Now a freelance writer working on her master’s in creative writing, she’s a regular at the Kansas City Public Library’s Plaza Branch.

Kaufmann is a lifelong Library patron. As a kid, she took drama classes at the old Plaza Branch and later researched papers there as a teenager. Once while working on a high school report on cystic fibrosis, she stumbled on her dad making photocopies of maps of Africa. He was trying to settle a dispute he was having with a friend regarding how the name of the country Zaire had changed over time.

“I ran into people in my family who had left the same home I did earlier in the day at the Library,” she remembers.

A book that highlighted the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960 caused some debate of its own at a special Kansas City Public Library book discussion of Theodore White’s narrative nonfiction classic about politics, The Making of the President 1960.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the debates that ushered in modern political campaigning as we know it, and the Library obtained special permission to screen the debates for the public. In conjunction with the screenings, there are multiple discussions of The Making of the President 1960. For the first meeting, White’s classic work of political reporting drew many interested readers who discussed this turning point in American political history and enjoyed comparing it to how candidates run campaigns today.

The first gathering was led by former mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, Kay Barnes. Ms. Barnes started the dialogue by saying she relished the opportunity to reread a classic she first discovered almost 50 years ago. She shared a memory of working in Nelson Rockefeller’s Kansas City campaign office and another about waiting for over an hour on her first election day to cast a vote for John F. Kennedy.

Everyday life can be loud – especially for young mothers raising kids in urban Kansas City. But on a recent Tuesday afternoon, a side room in the Lucile H. Bluford Branch of the Kansas City Public Library was a haven of quiet industry as a handful of women studied for the next phase in their lives.

The Even Start Family Literacy Program, a federally developed program managed by local literacy powerhouse the Upper Room, combines adult literacy instruction with teaching life skills to parents and children, separately and together. Its core principle: parents are the first teachers.

Five days a week, the Bluford Branch is home to the adult literacy portion of the program. In the large conference room, tutors prepare students for the high-school-equivalency GED exams – a must-pass for those without high school diplomas who want to rise in the workforce.  Meanwhile, their children, aged six months to 8 years, receive free child care and education, also provided by the Upper Room. Currently, nine mothers and 12 children are participating in the Family Literacy Program

Attention shoppers! It’s taken decades of research and a financial slap upside the head, but the CEOs of retail have finally seen what’s been in front of their faces all along: Women are driving the economy. And it took a man to point out that not-so-surprising-to-the-rest-of-us fact.

In his decade-spanning psychological shopping manuals, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping (2000) and What Women Want: The Global Market Turns Female Friendly (2010), retail consultant and shopping guru Paco Underhill presents a bizarre bazaar of economic information in a fun and stylish manner.

Women possess a financial power that has gone unrecognized by many industries, and yet it shows no sign of abating. What Women Want may sound like another dating manual, but it’s an eye-opening account of how global retailers are beginning to court the customer they’ve counted on but haven’t been counting.

August R. Meyer | Missouri Valley Special Collections

The 36,000 plots in Elmwood Cemetery at Truman Road and Van Brunt Boulevard compose a sweeping patchwork of history, telling the story of Kansas City from its frontier beginnings, to its role in the border conflicts of the Civil War and rise in the railroad era, to the sprawling city we know today.

Buried at Elmwood are some of the people whose names Kansas Citians see on a daily basis: August R. Meyer (1851-1905), mining magnate and father of the parks and boulevards system, who hired landscape architect George Kessler to design Elmwood Cemetery and other sites around town; Simeon Brooks Armour (1828-99), a meat packing patriarch whose family estate stretched from Warwick to Main along the boulevard that bears his name; and Jacob L. Loose (1850-1923), who made his fortune with the Sunshine Biscuit company, selling comestibles such as the Hydrox cookie, and whose name is associated with one of Kansas City’s most famous parks.

The Iliad may be the oldest narrative work in the Western canon. Homer’s epic focuses on an argument between Achilles, the greatest Greek warrior at Troy, and Agamemnon, the commander of the Greek forces, and the disastrous results of that argument.

What makes this work great? It looks at the serious matter of war, and at the devastating effects of armed conflict. Good men on both sides die, and their families and friends suffer terribly because of their loss. And it raises the issue of the individual and his part in society – to what extent are individual matters, such as honor, checked by obligations to the larger society.

It questions the validity of war – according to legend, the Trojan War began because Paris seduced Helen, wife of Menelaus of Sparta, and brought her to Troy. The Greeks attacked Troy to get Helen back. Stated baldly, that seems a silly reason to go to war. Most readers today would judge Menelaus well rid of his unfaithful spouse. Certainly his marital problems do not directly affect most of the Greek forces, which have only a remote connection to Sparta.

In Robert Stone’s newest collection of short stories, Fun With Problems, the characters have just that. They’re everyday people from all walks of life, yet all are addicts with something broken about them. Stone’s characters are slightly despicable but at the same time familiar enough to ease the reader into their world.

This is no feel-good read; rather, it’s for readers who can be painfully honest with themselves, who can recognize their own bad behavior mirrored in the characters and somehow find a way to defend those actions.  

The seven stories, ranging in length from four pages to nearly novella-length, build like a fitful night’s sleep of fever dreams -- the blanket tangles tighter and tighter as you toss. Though each story tells a different tale, they are linked together by a common core of loneliness and longing. These people’s lives would almost seem comical, if they weren’t so heartbreakingly true.

In the title story, a bitter, small-town attorney finds cruel delight in taking a pretty young thing and starting her down his same path to excess and corruption, before abandoning her to complete the journey by herself. In the shortest of these stories, “Honeymoon,” a man realizes after his second wedding that he has made a terrible mistake, only to follow it up with an even bigger mistake.  

Looking to take in a free flick? The Kansas City Public Library is offering three different film series, each consisting of handpicked films around a theme. A Presidential Perspective comprises movies inspired by the careers of JFK and Richard Nixon. Statuesque Spaniards features films starring Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz. And Animated Horror brings a quartet of cartoonish frights.

A Presidential Perspective

Saturdays at 1:30 p.m. in October at the Central Library

While Hollywood is often more captivated by idealized fictional presidents than actual presidents, this film selection offers cinematic depictions of both John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon. This film series is part of our Great Debates Revisited program of special events and book discussions.

Do you ever look up at the night sky and wonder …What else is out there? What’s left to discover in all those stars? What will they find in space in my lifetime? If so, you might enjoy reading Percival’s Planet, the new novel by Michael Byers.

Combining astronomy with a glimpse into 1930’s society, Byers spent five years researching every last detail for Percival’s Planet in order to successfully blend historical figures and facts with a supporting cast of fictional characters and subplots in a story which is ultimately about the discovery of Pluto.

The novel takes its name from Percival Lowell, an early 20th century astronomer who was highly ridiculed in his unsuccessful search for a planet beyond Neptune, which he named Planet X. Byers’ story re-imagines the early years of Clyde Tombaugh, a real-life, uneducated farm boy and amateur astronomer from Kansas who lucked into a job at Lowell Observatory and amazingly discovered Planet X (Pluto) in 1930.

In the brilliant and gritty HBO series Rome, Cleopatra is a crafty and ambitious seductress who charms first Caesar and then Mark Antony for the sake of preserving Egypt (and her power over it) at a time when Rome was transitioning from republic to empire.

In this clip from the series (below), Cleopatra visits Mark Antony in Rome to ask his help in getting a public declaration of paternity for her son, Caesarion. (In the show, as in history, Cleopatra claimed that her son’s father was the murdered dictator Julius Caesar.)

Is this flirtatious, soap-operatic scene ripped from the pages of history? Of course not -- well, not really. Like so many other depictions of Cleopatra in historical fiction and pop culture, from Shakespeare to Elizabeth Taylor, HBO’s is based scantly on fact and vastly on imagination.

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