September 2021 I FREE I THEPITCHKC.COM
THE BOOK ISSUE Happily Ever After Redux BY J.M. BANKS
Wikipedian in Residence BY LILY WULFEMEYER
BLK + BRWN is Built on the Blassics BY CAMERON CAPERS
THE PITCH | September 2021 | thepitchkc.com
Publisher Stephanie Carey Editor-in-Chief Brock Wilbur Content Strategist Lily Wulfemeyer Associate Digital Editor Savannah Hawley Music Editor Nick Spacek Film Editor Abby Olcese Contributing Writers Emily Cox, Liz Cook, Barbara Shelly, April Fleming, Deborah Hirsch, Brooke Tippin, Beth Lipoff, Dan Lybarger, Anne Kniggendorf, Aaron Rhodes, Allison Harris, J.M. Banks, Kristen Thomas, Rachel Potucek, Vivian Kane, Kelcie McKenney, Nina Cherry, Cameron Capers, Dylan Pyles, Matthew Tran Little Village Creative Services Jordan Sellergren Contributing Photographers Zach Bauman, Chase Castor, Travis Young, Jim Nimmo, Chris Ortiz Contributing Designers and Illustrators Katelyn Betz, Austin Crockett, Jake Edmisten, Lacey Hawkins, Angèle Lafond, Bianca Manninger, Nidhi Shenoy Director of Marketing & Promotions Jason Dockery Account Manager John Phelps Director of Operations Andrew Miller Editorial Interns Aubrie Lawrence, Emily Standlee, Jacob Martin
Chief Executive Officer Stephanie Carey Chief Operating Officer Adam Carey
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The Show-Me Kansas City Pride Festival took place August 21-22 and began with a parade from Westport to Frank A. Theis Park.
22 Tales Untold, Fates Unfold
36 SEX & LOVE
Letter from the Editor Lay-ups and pay-ups BY BROCK WILBUR
Power to the People The metro’s award show for Black professionals hits year three BY J.M. BANKS
27 Eat This/Drink This Now
12 Revised Edition
Independent bookstores begin their next chapter BY LILY WULFEMEYER
Elevator Music The post-genre ups and downs of Elevator Division BY NICK SPACEK
16 Pen Pals
The Marathon Don’t Stop BLK + BRWN got built on the Blassics BY CAMERON CAPERS
Liberation Lit provides connections for incarcerated populations BY DYLAN PYLES & MATTHEW TRAN
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Black children’s book authors create their own happily ever afters BY J.M. BANKS
KCPL’s new Wikipedian in Residence gives us the tools to edit our own histories BY LILY WULFEMEYER
The whole cauliflower from Extra Virgin and the Mint Condition from Drastic Measures BY APRIL FLEMING
September For more events, visit thepitchkc. com/calendar BY AUBRIE LAWRENCE
Keep Them Coming Polyamory in the pandemic BY KRISTEN THOMAS
38 Savage Love
The daddy days are over BY DAN SAVAGE
Celebrating Alvin Ailey’s Whole Being on Film New documentary explores the life and legacy of the iconic choreographer, who made a lasting impact on Kansas City BY ABBY OLCESE
Brock Wilbur Buried In Books By Travis Young
thepitchkc.com | September 2021 | THE PITCH
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR LAY-UPS AND PAY-UPS BY BROCK WILBUR
In YMCA grade school basketball back in the early ‘90s, I was something of a star. I was triple the height of my point guard on our third-grade team. I towered over the next tallest kid in the league. Certainly, my family thought, I was on track to wind up somewhere in the mid 7 feet-tall range. Unfortunately, I was terrible at basketball. But, again, I was quite tall. Being tall can help mask many things. My wife and her friends will often debate whether a male celebrity is sincerely attractive, or if he’s just tall. I suspect that I do not want to know how the group would judge me within this binary. My primary hurdle regarding basketball stemmed from my complete lack of interest in basketball. This was, predictably, a roadblock in my otherwise inevitable future career as a mega-sportshero. One of the first times I met Roy Williams, instead of playing basketball for him, I just led a gym full of fellow summer campers in repeated rounds of Beatles singa-longs. This was not the purpose for which my parents dispatched me to Lawrence for the summers, and surely not what [then KU head coach] Roy Williams expected to be doing with his time. Do you think he ever ponders what happened to that kind-hearted doofus whomst had no business stepping on the court of Allen Fieldhouse? My heart was in books. My love language was books. I did whatever I could to avoid being any part of the real world when books remained an option. In school, my teachers constantly lost patience as I scribbled nonsense answers on my homework sheets, only to resume giving my full attention to some Michael Crichton novel that no grade schooler should have been allowed to possess. [My
fourth grade teacher threw my copy of Sphere in the trash one day while disciplining me. Madame, Sphere wasn’t the most adult text I read in your class. It’s also a book about other books coming to life to take revenge, so like, watch out Mrs. Tiffany.] My father hoped that my love of books could become the carrot dangling in front of me, compelling me to give a crap about basketball. Starting in the second grade, he made me the offer that for each basket I scored at our Saturday morning YMCA games, he would get me one book. Hence, a gangly weirdo kid that would retreat down the court after each bucket, while taunting my father with “That’s one book! One book!” while holding a single finger aloft. “That’s one buck!” is what the other parents heard. They found it a bit odd that my father was bribing me with money. Nothing could be further from the truth. He was bribing me with options at the upcoming scholastic book fair. Where the books cost more than a single dollar. I suppose... I was technically being bribed with more money than it appeared? Hm. Whatever, this isn’t therapy and we don’t have to unpack all that today. What is of note is that this love of books has never subsided. Not a day goes by where I don’t add some new text to my list, or dig up a bound set of pages that I’d forgotten how thrilled I was to tackle when I first purchased it, or how ecstatic I am to tackle it again. Books have always been there for me, and I for them—as you can probably tell from how I’m buried in a fraction of my library on the cover of this magazine. Normally, The Pitch goes into a themed print issue with a theme in mind. Once in a
Take a look, it’s in a book...
while, the writers seem to just be ~vibing~ on the same frequency, and we discover that the whole team has their passions aligned. Such is the case of this September issue. We expected our primary stories to circle the transition into a new school year, coronavirus spikes, and the return of concerts. Instead, the whole SuiScribe Squad wanted to talk about books and bookstores. Sometimes in this job, it’s easy to surrender control over what we’re doing, especially to those who can’t help but follow their personal passions. And who am I to disagree? I was the kid trying to figure out how to fumble my way into a successful layup in exchange for the latest Encyclopedia Brown, Goosebumps, or Boxcar Children release. To still be surrounded by
a diverse and expansive network of Kansas Citians, whose passions can be found in the secret worlds of the printed word? Gosh darn, I’m brimming with joy. And this (now bookthemed) issue of the magazine is a chance to let that joy be contagious unto you. If you’ve forgotten the wonder of the bound page, during this time of nothingness and distraction, let this be a reminder that we are your bookmark and we never stopped saving your place. Pitch in and we’ll make it through,
Sex is better when you’re PrEPed. PrEP is a daily pill that can lower your chances of getting HIV from sex.
Book online: ppgreatplains.org
THE PITCH | September 2021 | thepitchkc.com
MEET US AT CHURCH!
We were created for community. Something special happens when we gather together to worship, study and serve. Church of the Resurrection invites you to join this weekend. Discover a community that welcomes all to join us on the adventure of faith and life. IN PERSON AT ONE OF OUR FIVE KANSAS CITY LOCATIONS
Sundays @ 9 and 11 am Locations and directions at cor.org
BROADCAST ON KMCI, CHANNEL 38 THE SPOT Sundays @ 8 and 11 am
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Le awo o d | O l a t h e | D ow n tow n KC M O | B l u e Sp r i n g s | O ve r l a n d Pa r k | O n l i n e thepitchkc.com | September 2021 | THE PITCH
POWER TO THE PEOPLE THE METRO’S AWARD SHOW FOR BLACK PROFESSIONALS HITS YEAR THREE BY J.M. BANKS
August 8 marked the third annual Kansas City People’s Choice awards, where an outstanding collective of Black professionals working in dozens of fields throughout Kansas City were honored for their excellence. In the past, there have been few opportunities for individuals in the metro to be high-
THE PITCH | September 2021 | thepitchkc.com
lighted and recognized for their work. This event has become the high point for many Black businesses and organizations, as well as individual creators and leaders. The Scottish Rites Temple, home to the event this year, was filled to the brim with the who’s who of the Black urban core.
Top left: Winner for Best Hair Salon Angela Simpson owner of Colorful Creations accepting her award. Top center: Best Male Rap Artist 2 Gunn Kevi performing. Top right: Best Author Finalist Kecia Hunter presenting the Fresh Start Credit Services Best Business Award. Lower left: Performer Z Baby (Za’ Hara Broxton). Lower right: Event vendor Love Us By Dee. H. ERVIN PHOTOGRAPHY
The KCPCA is the brainchild of local Kansas City businessman Tyrell Ray. In 2019, he started the awards in an effort to bring the Black community together in a positive way: specifically, those striving to build the community up through hard work, dedication, and perseverance. “I was actually at home watching the BET Awards a few years ago,” says Ray. “As I was posting about it online and doing commentary, people were telling me I should do an awards show for Kansas City. I laid in bed and thought to myself that I could actually do this for KC. The very next day I got to work.” He adds: “The first year it shocked me because you don’t know the fields people work in or the categories they work in, and you are
like, ‘Wow I had no idea this person did this,’ until you see them on a nomination. We have neighbors right next to us doing amazing things we don’t know about,” Ray says. “We received over 100,000 votes for nominations in that first year. We started with 55 categories, now we are up to 66 and plan on adding more in the future for YouTube, bloggers, and content creators.” Every spring, a fierce but friendly competition occurs on Kansas City’s social media. Voting is performed entirely online by the community itself, starting with an open nomination period. Then a round of semi-finalist voting, so those pushing for a win often complete a media tour with a focus of getting the support they need to take home a category (or
thepitchkc.com | September 2021 | THE PITCH
Top left and top right: The Gateway Highsteppers from KCK. Above left: Best Male Fitness Trainer Finalists Craig Donnel presenting the Best Videographer & Photographer Award. Above center: Winner for Best Community Organization, Jessica McCallop with Giving Help & Hope, presenting the Best Realtor Award. Above right: Best Female Fitness Trainer Fit Ree accepting her award. H. ERVIN PHOTOGRAPHY
multi-category) victory. This publicity tour includes everything from podcast appearances to photo shoots. Family, friends, clients, and personal contacts are extremely important to help secure a spot in the finals. This nomination process is a source of pride for the urban core. The KCPCA has built connections and relationships that are essential for Black businesses and organizations. Ray’s initiative succeeds by creating a method that promotes networking and community support for Black entrepreneurs, service providers, and artists in the metro area. After the initial success of the first two years of KCPCA, Ray was contacted by interested parties to assist other cities such as Chicago and Dallas in starting similar events
THE PITCH | September 2021 | thepitchkc.com
WE HAVE NEIGHBORS RIGHT NEXT TO US DOING AMAZING THINGS WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT. WE RECEIVED OVER 100,000 VOTES FOR NOMINATIONS IN THAT FIRST YEAR. —TYRELL RAY, KCPCA FOUNDER
celebrating Black professionals and creatives. Kim Newsome, host of Kimology, won Podcast of the Year. “When I didn’t make it to the finals last year, I used it as motivation to really get out there and pursue every idea that I had been sitting on for so long,” Newsome says. “I also wrote down in a journal all the goals that I wanted to accomplish within a year’s time. And one of those goals was to win a KCPCA award. Everything feels so surreal right now, but I am grateful.” She adds: “I think the KCPCA awards has created a space for Black creatives to receive their flowers, and is catering to our arts and entertainment scene. To be a KCPCA recipient means that people are watching me and being inspired in some kind of way. It means
that Kimology is no longer just a brand, but a movement.” The KCPCA is more than just a gathering of well-dressed people hoping to win a small golden statue. This ceremony represents the greatness thriving within the urban core. Black Kansas Citians came together for a purpose. Not to beat the competition, but to lift each other up. This path for many young Black professionals can be a long and lonely one, but the KCPCA is a reminder to all that they are less and less alone in that journey—as a collective of support continues to swell in a city that’s learning how to help propel its own community members to the next level. Congratulations to all winners this year. The Pitch can’t wait to see what accomplishments get the spotlight in 2022.
Voting opens September 1 for Best of KC 2021! It’s showtime! What’s your favorite everything in our Paris of the Plains? Voting is open now! vote.thepitchkc.com
Best of KC 2021
thepitchkc.com | September 2021 | THE PITCH
BOOKS cussed in class, I recognized early on that I exist. Therefore, stories about people like me must exist as well. I have my grandparents and mother to thank for all the trips to the library without fail, the visits to The Coterie Theatre whenever Black plays were performed, and always keeping Black books flowing through our house. Wyandotte County has always felt very Black and Brown. The culture there is very much ours. Sadly, it doesn’t look that way aside from residence. The resources are all being pushed further and further west towards the Legends [Outlets]. But, we are very much still there. You mentioned the excitement you felt as a kid when your mother took you and your brother to the library. Was there a specific genre that you gravitated towards? From a young age, I was always obsessed with history! My favorite genre was nonfiction. I loved hearing about the Civil Rights eras, the Ruby Bridges, the Black Panther Party, slavery by any and all other names.
Cori Smith outside her bookstore, BLK + BRWN.
PHOTO AJ MCINTOSH (WE ARE HERE STUDIOS)
THE MARATHON DON’T STOP BLK + BRWN GOT BUILT ON THE BLASSICS BY CAMERON CAPERS
It doesn’t take a well-read historian to know the complex and ugly history of the Black community’s erausre from the narrative of the United States’ past. As a Black person who came up through the U.S education system, the format always seems to be: slavery, Martin Lurther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Obama. When chattel slavery is the foundation of your Black history knowledge, it dehumanizes Black Americans and robs young Black folks of the opportunity to learn how deep our history truly runs. Despite centuries of slavery and colonization, Black culture permeates the world through diaspora, and with it, Black history. Cori Smith of the new Black-owned book store BLK + BRWN is doing her part to maintain and cultivate our history. On Juneteenth, Smith welcomed Kansas City into her new bookstore, BLK + BRWN, with overwhelming support from fellow bookstore owners, the press, and citizens alike. Coming off of the heels of her grand opening, I spoke to Smith about her upbringing, the intersection of Blackness and education, and plans to expand BLK + BRWN.
THE PITCH | September 2021 | thepitchkc.com
The Pitch: Inadequate access to education is still a huge problem in Black and Brown neighborhoods throughout the United States. Can you talk about growing up in Wyandotte County and how the education system there inspired your passion for literature? I was fortunate to still get the benefit of the Black and Proud ‘90s and was exposed from a young age to what it really means to be proud of our Blackness. I attended Kiddi Kollege on Quindaro for pre-K and kindergarten. There, I learned about Harriet Tubman and was inspired by the greats such as Venus and Serena Williams. Our fiercely unapologetically Black teachers—Ms. Gray, Ms. Chandler, and Ms. Castleberry—made sure that we knew love and had an abundance of love for ourselves. From there, the fire for more was ignited. It was not until I started at Sumner Academy [of Arts & Sciences] in eighth grade that I would have another Black teacher—but, in the meantime, I read everything that I could from the West Wyandotte Public Library. Although, like most curriculums across the nation, there was not much Black or Brown literature dis-
Have you always known you wanted to open your own bookstore or was it something that you considered during your college years? Honestly, I’ve always wanted to have my own library—like in my home. But, it was not until my brother passed away that I finally started thinking that I could open up my own bookstore. He was the free spirit of us two. In 2019, I started to seriously consider what it would take to make it happen. Growing up I had three careers in mind: Hairstylist, criminal defense attorney, and librarian. I quickly discounted the hairstylist after hearing how hard it is on your body. I actually went to law school and left after completing my first year. I was in Florida during the 2016 election year and things just felt way too violent. And, as for the librarian part, I applied for positions with the library every year from the age of 14 until even recently, and never got so much as a call. So I dismissed that, as well. Then I finally found the courage, thanks to Cody (my brother) to just create my own seat and my own table. Do it my way. As a Black man who’s loved reading my entire life, it’s so cool to see multiple book stores in Kansas City owned by Black people. Can you talk about the first day BLK + BRWN opened to the public and the huge amount of support you’ve received so far? I did very little actual promo around the grand opening. I was going for a truly organic situation. It was that but also so much more! A couple of news outlets reached out to me to do a few stories. I thought they’d be back shelf stories just to fill space in the coming months and they absolutely proved me wrong. I planned for maybe 50 people to show up throughout the day. From the time I officially opened there were so many people in and out of BLK + BRWN. Mayor Quinton Lucas came by, signed my
door, and bought some swag. I was shouted out by the West Wyandotte Library as a destination on their Juneteenth Passport this year. I had a massive cake in the shape of books that I offered to guests, and we cut a ribbon. The news showed up a few times and did some interviews. By the time it was said and done, I had less than 20 books on my shelves. I have since been shouted out on The Friend Zone podcast as a Black Business of the Week, and I’ve been featured on several news sources (print and on-air). Every day I get the pleasure of talking to amazing Black legends. Mr. Alvin Brooks, Kansas City activist, has dropped off books to me; Mr. Larry Lester, co-founder of the Negro League Baseball Museum, has dropped off books as well. People have come by the store and shared about the store from so many other places outside of Kansas City, and that just feels so surreal. I have had a few schools and universities reach out to me to facilitate conversations with their students/staff/parents. I’ve had a few comrades in the system who have reached out to me to send literature to them/ I’ve had churches have me come out to speak, as well. It’s really rewarding seeing so many new Black authors finding success around the world. Not only authors, but people in their communities making books more accessible. For example, Chicago-based rapper Noname has a book club and sends free books to incarcerated Black folks. When you look to the future, what are some things you want to accomplish with BLK + BRWN? I love Noname. I hope to have a larger space that can truly serve as a separate art gallery. I have a Mentorship program, Cody’s Homies, that I plan to grow to add more little and big homies tenfold in the next year. I also hope to work with school systems, prison systems, and other spaces to help diversify their libraries. Lastly, I hope to grow BLK + BRWN events and expand my space. I’ve always wanted a community center that felt like family. I’m always looking for new books to read. For myself and the readers, what are some of your favorite books you’ve read recently? When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole. The Marathon Don’t Stop by Rob Kenner was definitely pivotal in my journey to opening BLK + BRWN. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. After the Rain by Alex Elle. Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Dr. Nedra Tawwab. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks. Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem: A Memoir by Daniel “Dapper Dan” Day. And Pushout by Monique Morris. To read more of Cameron Capers’ interview with Cori Smith, head to thepitchkc.com BLK + BRWN is located on 104 1/2 W 39th Street in Westport. Visit their official website at blkbrwn.com
thepitchkc.com | September 2021 | THE PITCH
REVISED EDITION INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES BEGIN THEIR NEXT CHAPTER BY LILY WULFEMEYER
“We opened in, technically, December of 2019,” says Dylan Pyles, manager and co-owner of Wise Blood Booksellers alongside Judy Mills. “We had two and a half months of ‘normalcy.’ But it wasn’t really normalcy because you’re just getting going—we were making plans for advertising campaigns and setting up events for the summer, booking authors. And of course, we all know what happened.” Pyles is referring to COVID-19, which sent a shockwave through the nation’s small, local businesses. In the volatile period, physical bookstores found themselves fighting a number of battles. One of their main offerings—a haven for slow, thoughtful browsing amongst print books—was temporarily eliminated. At the same time, the pandemic drastically altered our relationship to the consumption of art and media. We wanted more of it, and we wanted it delivered to our doorsteps immediately. That’s a tall ask of a short-staffed local bookstore. Yet, throughout the shuffle, they’ve managed to avoid shuttering at the rate of other small businesses. According to an investigative piece from Alternative Press in May, the American Bookseller Association’s membership increased from 1,635 to 1,701 over the course of a year. Of ABA members, there were only 14 closings in 2021 and 70 in 2020. While the industry is not without its casualties, some of our hometown favorites have not only managed to stay afloat, but to push the boundaries of what a bookstore can do for the community. Such is the case for Bliss Books & Wine. The owners had to think on their feet to reinvent their business model. Sisters La’Nesha Frazier and La’Nae Robinson founded Bliss Books & Wine with the motto “Read, Sip, Relax” well before the pandemic loomed on the horizon. The concept was spawned from a different brand of chaos. “I was reading a book at work over lunch,” says Frazier. “It was getting great at the apex of the book, and I had to stop because I had to go back to work. I was really, really frustrated, and my frustration extended because I knew that once I got home, mommy duties and wife duties would kick in.” Frazier, who works as a full-time physical therapist, wanted an asylum to read, enjoy a glass of wine, and retreat from the daily insanity. She struggled to find the right place for herself in Kansas City. She figured Robinson,
THE PITCH | September 2021 | thepitchkc.com
an engineer, might feel the same. “I started bouncing ideas off of my sister, and she was just like, ‘Yeah, that sounds amazing. That sounds like bliss!’ And thus, Bliss Books & Wine has been created.” Frazier and Robinson had a few months to get the business up and rolling. They hosted three pop-ups around town featuring local authors and served up boozy book pairings. Then, the pandemic hit. “We had to pivot and figure out how we can still make this work,” says Frazier. “Everything went virtual, everything went online, and we’ve been rocking and rolling ever since.” Now, the front page of their website reads, “Our mission … altered.” These days, they sell most of their books through their website—new stock goes straight from the distributor to the reader’s
doorstep. Bliss still sells used books, and they started holding in-person pop ups again in early 2021. When asked where they store their physical stock, the sisters start laughing. “I have the new inventory that we’re taking to the pop-ups and all of the used books that we have on our website—that’s stored in my house,” says Frazier. “I have a Bliss Room downstairs in my basement that’s just full, and then I went into our basement gym area as well. So, I’m stacked to the brim here.” “We are so ready [to have a brick and mortar]!” Robinson chimes in.
The sisters are now selling at a breakneck pace. But they didn’t start off the pandemic with the dial turned to 100. “Initially, life in general slowed down,” says Robinson. “And then June happened with all the unrest and protests, and we had a mad rush of people looking for antiracism books. That brought a lot of people to our site, to our social media—people were just flooding us looking for books, which was great.” Still, Robinson reflects, “It was a lot of pressure to keep up with the demand, the orders, and a knowledge of the books that were available that people were asking for. I wouldn’t say it went against the flow of our bookstore and what we’re trying to do—but, that’s a serious topic. That’s heavy.” Folks across the country turned to bookstores like Bliss last summer as outlets for both education and joy reading. The influx of orders
Above: Bliss 2019 Fall Pup-Up featuring KC author Marcus Dickerson (standing) speaking with customers. LA’NAE ROBINSON Below: La’Nesha Frazier speaking to customers at Bliss’ Mom’s Day Market pop-up at Mean Mule Distilling Co. in May. CHERYL CLAYTON
became a test for Frazier and Robinson. They needed to meet the community’s needs while also respecting the core mission of their store. “People were still there to hold those conversations, which was great,” says Robinson. “And they hung around a little longer to enjoy the fun part: Listening, just reading for pleasure, and holding easier conversations, and talking about wine. It hasn’t been too overwhelming. The two sides are there, and they’re flowing naturally.” Frazier and Robinson also had to reenvision the “boozy” half of the “boozy bookstore” concept. While there was no magical solution to providing an in-person reading plus drinking experience, the sisters have found ways to provide a spot of bliss and a good glass of wine to their literary family. They’ve partnered with regional wineries including Jenny Dawn Cellars in Wichita, Kansas and KC Wineworks to marry great books with the perfect bottles. Robinson and Frazier have also figured out how to bring happy hour to Zoom. “The first Wednesday of every month, we hold our book club virtually [called Wine & Spines],” says Robinson. “We started that in May of last year, early on in the pandemic. We
pick a book, everyone reads it over the next four weeks, and then we get on Zoom, we talk about it, and we drink wine. Sometimes we’ll spotlight an author and they’ll come on and talk. We’ve had some of the local wineries attend and then we do a pairing, talk about their wines, and we did a virtual tasting.” While they’ve started dipping their toes back into the waters of in person pop-ups, their pandemic-era innovations aren’t going away just yet. You can find a link to purchase digital audiobooks through Libro.fm on their website. All purchases will benefit Bliss. They’ve also partnered with Hummingbird Digital Media to provide readers a digital ebook storefront. Frazier and Robinson will also continue to host Zoom-based monthly book clubs, bolster local and emerging artists, and build their community. “The interactions that we’re having on social media—people are emailing us all the time, they’re calling all the time, they’re looking for different books to see if we can get them in. That’s how we populate our online shelves,” says Robinson. “It brings the community aspect in that way as well because people feel like they have a vested interest in what’s going on.” They also get some of their trendiest book recs from those closest to home. “My oldest, she likes to give me [middle grade] recommendations,” says Robinson, “so she’ll talk to all of her friends. And my son does some elementary stuff in his time, too. The hope is I’m going to give those two a space on the website to do a blog where they can post the recommendations.” Ultimately, the flood of support provides relief for the sisters. When they began devising their business model, they were nervous about competing with larger retailers such as Amazon.
ABOVE: Wise Blood Booksellers in the Mills Record Company building. RIGHT: Dylan Pyes, co-owner of Wise Blood, in front of the fiction section. ZACH BAUMAN
“I was a little hesitant initially—the turnaround is not as quick and shipping costs a little bit more [than with Amazon],” says Robinson. “But the community has been very understanding. I would say more than that. And I don’t think they expect us to be on the exact same level as the big boys. And they’re okay with that and they want to support local; they want to support independent bookstores.” Indeed, indie bookstores offer resources that Amazon simply cannot and will not. In a Twitter thread that went viral in April 2019, the Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kansas outlined precisely why we should turn to our local bookstores before we turn to Amazon. They provided myriad reasons such as indies supporting local and emerging authors and artists; giving folks a chance to meet their favorite authors during readings; hosting open mics; providing steady local jobs; and partnering with other cultural organizations. “Last year was a good year for print book sales,” says Danny Caine, owner of the Raven. According to a January article in Publisher’s Weekly, “unit sales of print books rose 8.2% in 2020 over 2019 at outlets that report to NDP BookScan [that tracks sales data across the American publishing industry].” “But bookstore sales were down,” Caine adds. “Which tells me that Amazon is gobbling up more and more of the book market. We need to help people learn about the importance of an independent bookstore, and telling that story has always been a part of what the Raven does.” They’ve done more than tell the story; they’ve demonstrated it repeatedly. Over the
last year, the booksellers at the Raven have organized around saving the USPS and hosted dozens of free, virtual events. The team even worked with the owner of Ladybird Diner to create a collection of essays about the eatery, entitled Ladybird, Collected—it was their highest selling book of 2020, with all profits going towards the diner’s community meal program. The Raven is not just a haunt known to locally-minded Lawrencians (and Ladybird-goers). They’re a national indie bookstore sweetheart. After making waves with the Twitter thread, Caine published a chapbook titled How to Resist Amazon and Why, and the store began to garner coverage from national media outlets such as The New Yorker. All of this attention, unsurprisingly, led to a spike in sales. “[Also,] among the uprisings about civil rights, there was a huge interest in buying
nonfiction books about race and racism, and those were close to holiday numbers for us last summer,” says Caine. “There were a couple of moments, like the holidays, where I’ve never worked harder in my life. It’s been really hard. I’m thankful for the booksellers. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.” The Raven didn’t reopen up their store for browsing until this past June, relying exclusively on online sales, pick up orders, and local delivery. “The act of going into a bookstore and picking up a book off the shelf and buying it right there is blissfully simple and wonderful,” Caine says. “And when you make all that remote, it becomes much more complicated in many ways. There’s like 10 or 11 steps in fulfilling a web order. And so, we were adding extra shifts at night just to stay on top of the huge piles of stuff that needed to go out.” Despite the exhaustion that Caine and the booksellers experienced, he’s incredibly grateful for the national support. “In general, supporting a small business benefits surrounding small businesses. A rising tide raises all ships. And I talk about this with Amazon a lot, but if you divest from Amazon, they’re not going to notice your absent purchases,” Caine points out. “It’s too big to feel a single person or a few people pulling away. But small businesses are small enough that they will feel the addition of your business.” Raven certainly felt the rising tide. As a result they’ve been able to rent a new location directly on Massachusetts Street, the main thoroughfare of downtown Lawrence, where they’re sure to gain more foot traffic. The store wrapped up their move in late August—the former location of 30 years is officially closed and they’re ready for customers at their new home on Mass. “An expanded shipping program and local delivery require space to process,” Caine explains. “Our new release fiction section turned into a shipping desk. We can’t get rid of new release fiction and we can’t get rid of the shipping desk. So, we need a more permanent solution to this hybrid online-and-in-person-bookselling model. And the new location offers that because it has a big back room [with] a workspace for shipping and processing.” For his part, Caine has long wanted to see the store become more accessible to disabled shoppers. At their old location, the door was elevated multiple inches from the ground. “We can talk about being accessible all we want, but trying to get in the front door as a wheelchair user—we have a ramp, but it’s clunky. It’s much easier and more accessible to go right in the front door, even with a stroller and for people with kids. I really wanted something at street level for a long time.” The pandemic presented the perfect storm to make the big move. From every angle, Caine says that positive growth has prothepitchkc.com | September 2021 | THE PITCH
vided the motivation to seek out a new home for the Raven. With room to stretch out, for example, the booksellers will be able to add an expanded children’s section with storytime and other programming for kids. “It was a blank canvas,” says Caine. “And we were able to get in the process really early and kind of shape the remodeling process to our specs. It means we’re going to be in a brand new space custom-built for us, and a lot of it is being paid for as part of the renovation effort, and that is out of our pocket. So that ended up being a really sweet deal for us.” Their new space was previously occupied by an axe-throwing fad business before it suffered a fire that left most of the building gutted, with the exception of a vintage tin ceiling that was restored and reinstalled for the Raven. Aaron Marable, a Raven regular, designed the interior scheme and made brand new custom-built bookshelves for the space. For fans of their new delivery options, don’t fear. The new location does not spell the end of doorstep drop offs. “Local delivery is going to be a permanent part of our business model now,” says Caine. The same holds true for Wise Blood Booksellers in Westport. “Even before we shut down [at the start
The rear entrance of the new Raven location.
of the pandemic], we were doing porch deliveries for folks within a ten mile radius,” Pyles recalls. “[We were] able to offer that and not really question, ‘Is this good for business? Is
this a business practice?’ We are in the book business because we believe that this stuff is really important. It enriches lives. It is our duty to make sure that people have access to
[books] during this time that’s going to be really hard for everybody.” Wise Blood grew from a small selection of music books that co-owners Pyles and
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Mills began stocking at Mills Record Company. Sans a strong digital inventory system or even the customer base of an older business like the record company, Wise Blood had to think outside the binding in order to support their customer base in 2020. “We started to get really creative about what we could offer people that was connected to finding some sort of solace or reprieve in the midst of the pandemic,” says Pyles. This included Boredom Bundles, an online order option where you pay either $25 (or more) to receive a surprise crate of books hand-picked by the booksellers in the genre of your choice. They also run a partnership with University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Arts and Letters program. UMKC provides Wise Blood copies of their latest book club selection to hand out at the store to folks who sign up for the chat. Additionally, the bookstore collaborates with Liberation Lit, a project that runs solidarity campaigns with incarcerated folks to provide them with educational materials and good reading. All of the books that go to the incarcerated first run through Wise Blood’s system to pass clearance at the facilities. And of course, like the Raven and Bliss, Wise Blood has turned to hosting virtual events. In March of 2021, Kansas City was slated to host the Association of Writings & Writing Programs’ (AWP) annual conference. The event typically attracts some of the country’s best and brightest literary talent and thousands of attendees. “We had four or five things already on the books a year in advance for AWP, and had people reaching out to us literally a year in advance,” Pyles laments. “And that doesn’t mean that we didn’t get a chance to do some cool virtual events, get some good opportunities to work with authors, but it’s not the same as growing a community and having a collective of physical people in your store.” Originally, Pyles and Mills had hoped that both stores would have a full staff. Without the ability to hire during the pandemic, Pyles and the other employees found themselves quite literally jogging back and forth between the two stores to cover shifts, causing energy attrition. “[I knew this was] not really a sustainable way to do this,” says Pyles. “And what it’s actually doing is wearing our people down when we could be empowering each other if we’re in the same space. And I think that’s ultimately what it came down to for me: For what we do as a bookstore to be powerful, our people need to be powerful. And our people lose power when we are jogging back and forth between two spaces.” They made the decision to move Wise Blood back home into Mills Record Co’s building, eliminating the overhead from the second location. Thanks to some clever interior design, they’ve been able to increase their
literary inventory and curate newer releases that they didn’t have the space and funds for before. Now, Wise Blood can operate with the same hours as its sister store—it’s gone from being open 20 hours a week to over 50. But there’s been another exciting and somewhat unexpected benefit to come of sharing the space. “The thing that I was relatively surprised about when we announced the move was how many people who were regulars at the bookstore had never been to the record store, and how many people who were regulars at the record store had never even heard of the book store,” says Pyles. “One of my new favorite things is the couple that comes in to shop for books and ends up spending an hour digging through the dollar record bins, and vice versa, the people who come to shop for records and end up taking home a Toni Morrison novel.” At a time where it is difficult for business owners to ensure a comfortable and safe customer service experience, Wise Blood is operating with a community-first mentality. “One of our philosophies for the record store is that sometimes [they can] get a reputation for being exclusive or intimidating, but we try to push against that at every turn. And we did the same with Wise Blood. This is your space, it’s our space, it’s a shared space.” It looks like it will be a shared space for Mills and Wise Blood for a while to come. “Right now, we’re really happy having the two stores together. As I mentioned before, part of the vision for Wise Blood is to eventually give it its own space, but we’ve got no timetable or plans for that at the moment because things are working quite well as they are,” says Pyles. “It’s been great to meet new customers and expand our reach.” Whether they’re a 30-year-old veteran shop or a fledgling operation, our local bookstores have once again proven that they are vital resources. They are capable of—and indeed, exist precisely to—adapt to the needs of those they serve. The work of the bookseller, from cramming their basements full of used reads to literally jogging across Westport so that we can browse the aisles, is an act of service to our city. So, what can you do in return? Not everyone is in a place to afford that shiny new hardcover. Instead, you can like and share their posts on social media. Be patient if your orders aren’t turned around in a single day. Attend virtual events—especially when they’re free—and drop a nice message in the chat (you can tell them The Pitch sent you). Even supporting the other businesses around your bookstore makes a world of difference because, as Caine pointed out, a rising tide raises all ships. The literary industry is tumultuous and our booksellers are tired. But without them, we’d be poorer in knowledge, arts, community, and the sheer joy that comes from finding a really darn good book.
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A letter writing night from August 19 at Wise Blood Booksellers. JIM NIMMO
PEN PALS LIBERATION LIT PROVIDES CONNECTIONS FOR INCARCERATED POPULATIONS. BY DYLAN PYLES & MATTHEW TRAN
Liberation Lit started last fall as a simple pandemic project. Spurred on by the ways that incarceration has touched our own families, we aimed to build relationships with our local incarcerated community through sharing books and literature. Our mission is straightforward: We work alongside inmates to move books, letters, and relationships through bars, intentionally bypassing bureaucracy and institutionalized “charity.” Incarcerated members lead our program, shaping the book selection and our pen pal program to their interests and needs. In the year since we began, we’ve matched dozens of pen pals, sent over a hundred books, and exchanged even more letters with incarcerated folks in Kansas and Missouri. As one of our group’s members on the inside puts it, these simple exchanges “bring awareness, literature, and success to those incarcerated, as well as happiness to those that don’t have much in that department.” Through this work, we’ve also come to an undeniable understanding: There’s a crisis with our prison system, and it didn’t start with COVID-19. The pandemic has laid bare many ugly inequalities shaping our society, and our criminal justice system hasn’t escaped notice. While the outside world navigates viral surges, variants, and ever-shifting safety guidelines, incarcerated individuals have been weathering a neglect that renders outside safety recommendations nearly impossible to enact.
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The increasingly difficult conditions inside American prisons are not just a symptom of the pandemic, but a baked-in result of ongoing systemic oppression. The fundamental premise of crowding people into cells has provided kindling for deadly health crises since the 1700s with typhus outbreaks. As recently as 2019 The Wichita Eagle reported dire conditions in Kansas state prisons due to “overcrowding and staff shortages.” Throughout the pandemic, there have been community calls for decarceration in order to remedy infection rates. Decarceration, according to Merriam-Webster online, is “release from imprisonment,” or “the practice or policy of reducing the number of people subject to imprisonment.” Forrest Behne, of the COVID Prison Project, notes that national attempts for decarceration were sporadic and lackluster. “Many of the population reductions were fleeting,” says Behne, “as they are reflective of a temporary embargo on new arrivals, rather than a deliberate attempt to meaningfully reduce the number of incarcerated individuals.” COVID-19 should not threaten a death sentence for those living behind bars. But due to the way the system has been set up for centuries, this is the reality. Around the country, COVID cases inside prisons are soaring, and the numbers are especially grim in Kansas and Missouri. Recent data from University of Califor-
nia, Los Angeles Law’s COVID Behind Bars Data Project shows massive case surges in two Missouri facilities during the month of July 2021. “On June 20, there were 33 active cases among incarcerated people in Missouri prisons,” notes UCLA researcher Hope Johnson. “By July 18, there were 358 active cases, or a 1.5% positive case rate.” The Women’s Eastern Correctional Center (WECC) in Vandalia exploded from nearly no cases at the beginning of the month to 179 by mid-July, and the Fulton Reception and Diagnostic Center reported an increase of over 100 new cases during the same period. Even as some vaccinations are made available to inmates, the fight for vaccines and testing in American prisons has been fraught with institutional pushback. This has been a flagrant issue in Missouri, where incarcerated individuals were placed in the final phase of vaccination rollout. Meanwhile, Kansas facilities have the fourth highest case rate in the country, where 1 in 5 inmates swabbed test positive. At the beginning of the pandemic, the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) came under fire due to its inability to provide masks and temperature checks to inmates. In an interview with The Intercept, a former correctional officer at Lansing Correctional Facility says that staff knew how bad it would get, and that “preventative measures were all essentially ignored [and]
scoffed at” by prison officials. When it came to Covid-19 precautions, he says, “There was a level of intentional ignorance.” Kansas inmates have additionally suffered from unstable private healthcare contracts. After much criticism from the inside and outside, the DOC removed its private healthcare provider (Corizon of Tennessee) in the middle of the pandemic, and entered into a new contract with Kansas-based provider Centurion, throwing healthcare protocol amongst inmates into a poorly defined loop of issues. Missouri and Kansas both report vaccination rates above 50%, but Johnson notes that UCLA data suggests Missouri might be “misreporting its own vaccination numbers.” She adds, “Given that a large portion of people in prison, especially staff, are yet to be vaccinated, and that many facility populations are over capacity, more surges in carceral facilities are increasingly likely.” Along with outbreaks and lack of prioritization of vaccines in prisons, we’ve learned of the barriers that incarcerated individuals have to hurdle to access resources many of us take for granted. For example, several months into the pandemic, inmates (and staff) were still without personal protective equipment and basics like hand sanitizer. One incarcerated individual we’ve spoken to remembers that, early on, prison officials purposely removed access to hand sanitizer because it contains alcohol. The prison system has also made it difficult for incarcerated folks to access government financial assistance, which benefits both individuals behind bars and their families. In 2020, a federal court ruled that inmates were rightfully entitled to CARES Act stimulus money, but the Kansas Department of Corrections had already returned $200,000 worth of checks to the IRS which were legally owed to incarcerated individuals. When Liberation Lit organized a campaign to send informational packets directly to inmates regarding their eligibility for stimulus money, we found that most institutions had little to no resources in place to help individuals through the red tape. We were reminded, again, that resources readily available to the outside world are made inaccessible to those on the inside by institutions that seem largely unconcerned with the survival of inmates. This never-ending list of systemic ills both propels and exacerbates current challenges faced by those on the inside. During a time when physical isolation and social distancing became public health mandates, prison life continued as normal with inmates sharing meals and common spaces in the hundreds. Incarcerated populations already living in cages together in the thousands were thrust
into an impossible position by intentionally neglectful prison staff who ignore signs of folks falling severely ill and private healthcare providers that often only responded once it was too late. Over the last five years, and well before the pandemic, state cruelty has forced multiple prison uprisings over access to necessities like healthcare. In early April 2020, an uprising occurred in Lansing where inmates cited specific demands for PPE and personal care supplies. In response, masks and temperature checks were finally administered to the prison population. But we must remember: This could not have happened without organized retaliation to institutional negligence. Even in the face of these failings, our government upholds the status quo of prison policy. While Jackson County fails to fund affordable housing, $250 million is easily put aside to build a new detention center. Incarceration numbers continue to balloon while conditions counterpose the very survival of those being incarcerated. Each year, the city passes a budget apportioning hundreds of millions to fund criminalization and enforcement over opportunity and prevention. Like other areas that feed into the prison system, our struggle is funding human necessities over inhumane punishment. The American prison is a racist and outdated system of punishment that disappears
humans as a fix-all for social problems. When those of us on the outside hear about appalling conditions on the inside, we often respond with sadness and frustration, but continue about our day as if prisons are a necessary evil. What can we do, instead, to support and show solidarity with incarcerated individuals? How
do we act, knowing that pandemic conditions are but the newest point on this continuum of crisis? Our incarcerated member C tells us, “This variant is very problematic to say the least. In these trying times when tempers are raised and fears are at the forefront, it is good
A letter writing night from August 19. JIM NIMMO
to have those of like-mindedness, as well as of [a similar] heart, close.” We need an overwhelming coalition of allies on the outside who are willing to engage
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in the long-term work of supporting and encouraging the imaginations of incarcerated folks in their journey toward liberation. We consider the solidarity work of our book and pen pal program part of the broader struggle to destabilize and divest resources from prisons and the larger carceral system. At the same time, simple human exchanges can have a transformative effect on those inside and outside. One of our members in a local facility has a friend whose wife living in Maine passed away while they were incarcerated together. Our member says, “[He] has been alone and 2,000 miles from his home in Maine. It seems that he has a renewed hope that someone cares after getting a letter.” We cannot afford to be apolitical. Liberation Lit imagines a world without prisons, but the work begins with solidarity and support. The ones who will lead us to a world beyond prisons are currently behind bars, but the resources they need to lead are withheld from them by a system that profits from their incarceration. To empower our Liberation Lit community, we share books by thinkers and organizers such as Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and Mariame Kaba, who have pushed us towards what that future might look like. We know that working alongside the system necessitates learning about the racist, classist,
and profit-making soil that our state institutions have bloomed from, so that we can begin to imagine building something new. From our reading and from the knowledge of the incarcerated, we also know that this system funnels disinvested communities into cells, so that we can fund communities, education, jobs, and healthcare. The only incarceration “prevention” method that truly works is to dismantle the criminal injustice apparatus altogether. Until this wider change can take effect, we can provide books, conversation, and understanding—all while following the recommendations and suggestions of our incarcerated leaders. We’re responding to the crisis in American prisons with small actions that we believe will culminate in systemic change. As our incarcerated member K says, “We are all a collective in this struggle for knowledge and awareness. Books are a huge outlet for all of us in here.” If you’d like to support, join, or donate to our work, find us at liberationlit.org or on social media. Opportunities for action include joining our pen pal program, donating toward the purchase of new books for incarcerated folks, or helping us develop and distribute our book catalog. We are a non-funded, volunteer organization that survives through collective action.
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WISDOM OF THE CLOUD KCPL’S NEW WIKIPEDIAN IN RESIDENCE GIVES US THE TOOLS TO EDIT OUR OWN HISTORIES BY LILY WULFEMEYER. ILLUSTRATION BY KATELYN BETZ
In June 2021, the Kansas City Public Library announced a new staff position that reimagines the “traditional” librarian role with a digital twist: the Wikipedian in Residence. Miranda Pratt, who graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in 2019, is filling the post for the inaugural year-long tenure. Wikipedia is a crowd-sourced and opensource digital encyclopedia, meaning anyone with access to a computer and extra time on their hands can contribute an article or make edits to its content. Those who do volunteer their time to work on the backend are known as “Wikipedians.” There has been a growth in paid Wikipedia in Residence, or WiR, positions at private institutions such as Harvard University, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the Smithsonian Institution Archives over the last ten years. In 2018, New Zealand even received a grant to host a national “Wikipedian at large” position. But Pratt will be the first WiR to hold a paid position at a public library in the United States. “People have done Wikipedia work at public libraries,” says Pratt. “But it’s usually libraries; other public institutions are underfunded. [And it’s often] just one person doing a bunch of work and there’s not really a specific allotment of the position.” Pratt’s job is multifaceted and, in many ways, community-facing. One of their primary responsibilities will be to update and edit Wikipedia and its metadata based on resources from the library. “A majority of my personal edits will be made utilizing the materials from the Missouri Valley room, [a physical archive] located at the Central Branch of KCPL. Since their collections are so focused on local history, it makes a lot of sense for me to pull and cite resources as source material,” says Pratt. Additionally, they’ll be pulling research from some of the library’s digital databases, including Missouri Valley Special Collections, The Pendergast Years, and Civil War on the Western Border. They’re also working towards linking the “Hispanic Oral History Project,” housed in the Missouri Valley database, on Wikipedia so it gains more traffic. “For my personal work, I’ll be looking at [these resources] with an eye on equity,” says Pratt, who is taking an approach of telling history from the bottom up. This means they will focus on the stories of citizens, the working class, and marginalized folks as they’re editing.
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They will also lead free workshops teaching folks how to edit Wikipedia, and host events to encourage the growth of the local Kansas City Wikipedia community. As the library stated when they announced the position, the WiR “highlights the role of the collaborative online encyclopedia in shaping public understanding of our community’s history.” “Going to art school, ‘the archive’ is this whole concept, right?” Pratt says. “You use ‘the’ before ‘the archive,’ and it’s so inaccessible. When I was in school, I found myself making work about the archive. And then I realized it didn’t make any sense. Like, I could just work in an archive.” While studying fiber and creative writing, they began a work-study job at the Jannes Library at KCAI and did an internship at the Spencer Art Reference Library at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The internship was centered around writing one Wikipedia article, an intensive process that took Pratt three months. When they graduated, they worked across a number of industries including as a lunch person, a barista, and a fulltime employee in The Nelson’s library, hosting Wikipedia-related events. “People can do really poetic things with archives, and they are doing really poetic things and really powerful things about their own histories,” says Pratt. ”And I think that knowing how to use Wikipedia is just one tool, and this can help people find specific information.” For those of us who grew up with Wikipedia at our fingertips in school, we know most teachers are adamant that it isn’t a reliable source for research. A former president of the American Library Association, Michael Gorman, argued that academics using Wikipedia were “the intellectual equivalent of a dietician who recommends a steady diet of Big Macs with everything.” But there’s a growing movement of Wikipedians worldwide, such as Pratt, who would disagree with this stigmatization of free knowledge. “I don’t think you’re supposed to cite an encyclopedia. [It’s] just supposed to give you an overview of a topic so you can learn how to research deeper. I don’t think it’s inherently bad to start out at Wikipedia, because it has so many sources, and so many people are editing these articles. Especially articles about really ‘notable topics.’ Often, you can find more reliable information than in other places.”
Wikipedia is currently the fifth most visited site on the entire internet, and all of its information lives outside of a paywall. Through the Google Knowledge Graph project, Google uses information from Wikipedia to display knowledge panels for general search results. Megamedia sites like Facebook and YouTube use the site to fact-check their own content. In short, Wikipedia isn’t going away any time soon. Knowing how to navigate—and even edit and improve—the encyclopedia is crucial to operating in our modern information age, and combating the tides of fake news. “There’s this thing called lateral reading which I think especially people in [younger generations] do,” says Pratt. “You have five tabs open, and you’re fact-checking each tab against the other. But a lot of people will only read one tab, and you could be on a site that’s a conspiracy theory. When you get immersed in this one site without checking it against five other ones, then you could believe the site. Wikipedia helps really quickly check for stuff like that.” On July 30, Pratt hosted their first free,
becomes paid content on sites such as JSTOR, or is hidden in physical archives only accessible to a local community, Pratt’s position at a public institution is groundbreaking. It is a position rooted, ultimately, in information activism. It is a position to address inequities and barriers to access of that forbidding archive. “The people that know how to use libraries are the people that work in libraries because you have to know how to research and all of your research methods—even keyword searches,” says Pratt, “[There is] a generational gap and an income gap, and all sorts of intersectional gaps in this kind of research knowledge.” During their “Wikipedia 101” webinar, Pratt quoted Merilee Proffitt, author of Leveraging Wikipedia: Connecting Communities of Knowledge on the significance of Wikipedia to the public library. “Wikipedia has the visibility on the open web that libraries lack,” Proffitt writes. “Libraries, whether public or academic, hold collections that can bring depth to Wikipedia
WIKIPEDIA ISN’T AN INFORMATION ACCESS UTOPIA. UNLESS YOU’RE LUCKY ENOUGH TO FIND AND LAND A POSITION LIKE PRATT’S, WIKIPEDIANS WORK ON A STRICTLY VOLUNTEER BASIS. PAID EDITING IS A CONTROVERSIAL TOPIC WITHIN THEIR COMMUNITY—BUT, WITHOUT IT, ONLY THOSE WHO CAN AFFORD TO TAKE THE TIME TO LEARN THE BACKEND AND MAKE EDITS ARE ABLE TO DO SO. public workshop through the library entitled “Wikipedia 101.” They began with an access check, inviting Zoom participants to evaluate their wellness that day and whether they felt more comfortable turning off their cameras, muting themselves and participating over chat, or exiting the call early. Throughout the workshop, Pratt provided a brief Wikipedia overview. Using the article on “Cats” as an example, they walked us through the anatomy of a typical page and dove into the nitty-gritty of editing principles and Wiki ethics. We learned an active vocabulary for discussing Wikipedia culture; biases that arise on the site; movements to improve its content; and even got our first glimpse into how we can become contributors. “I’m hoping to grow a community of people [who regularly attend events] that are less intimidated by the internet because Wikipedia culture can be very toxic,” says Pratt. “It’s like any forum that’s open, where anybody can comment anything. But I want to have enough people who know what they’re doing and how to navigate the platform that they can feel comfortable writing their own histories.” In a world where academic knowledge
articles and can provide high-quality support materials in order to help build better articles.” Unfortunately, Wikipedia isn’t an information access utopia, either. Unless you’re lucky enough to find and land a position like Pratt’s, Wikipedians work on a strictly volunteer basis. Paid editing is a controversial topic within the Wikipedian community—but, without it, only those who can afford to take the time to learn the backend and make edits are able to do so. “You have to be a certain class, and a certain race, certain sexes, certain gender identities, in order to have the time to edit Wikipedia,” says Pratt. In 2010, United Nations University-Merit conducted a survey to study the demographics and motivations of Wikipedia editors and readers. They found that “among respondents, only 12.64% of contributors [were] female.” Contributors who identified as neither male nor female numbered at 0.63% of surveyed participants. According to a statement from KCPL, “Fewer than 20% of [Wikipedia’s] biographies feature women and fewer still highlight women of color or those in the LGBTQIA+ community.”
BOOKS As Pratt explains, “[Wikipedia hasn’t] even taken data on a lot of queer people, or Black and brown people. They don’t take data on any of those intersections. Then, the information that you’re reading is super skewed because people aren’t writing their own histories.” Pratt will be addressing this issue on a local level throughout their tenure as KCPL’s WiR. “[I’ll be] building the Kansas City Wikipedia community beyond that which already exists, which is pretty small and not very diverse on many different factors of intersectionality. I think I found a lot of Wikipedians that are really into writing about architecture, but I found fewer people that are into writing about people that are currently active.” Part of this community-building includes workshops like “Wikipedia 101,” where Pratt also seeks to educate us on the flaws that exist within Wikipedia’s system. Due to a lack of diversity in contributors, the information on Wikipedia is often skewed and reveals contributor biases. This issue plays out in articles that hit close to home. The Wikipedia page on J.C. Nichols, the real estate mogul who developed large swaths of Kansas City in the early to mid1900s, never directly states that he participated in segregationist practices of “redlining.” Instead, the article refers to them as racist “deed restrictions” and “restrictive covenants.” Such nuances, while subtle, fail to connect Nichols to a larger national pattern of redlining. At the same time, KC Black history is poorly documented—if at all—on Wikipedia, which is unfortunately in line with global trends. “I recently took stats on [the African American Biographies section of the Missouri Valley Special Collections database] and found that out of the 63 biographies in the portal, only 61% have Wikipedia articles. Out of those articles, 92% could use significant improvement on Wikipedia.” Pratt will be inputting metadata, such as basic biographical facts, on each person in Wikidata—which functions as a repository for Wikipedia to pull information from. “Google search pulls this data for their infoboxes,” Pratt explains, “making them easier to find online and laying the groundwork for other folks to write their Wikipedia articles.” Pratt is also looking to fill gender gaps in local history on Wikipedia. “I did a data assessment on the UMKC Starr Women’s Hall of Fame (which is still very cisgender and straight, etc.) and out of the 25 individuals in the dataset, only 28% have Wikipedia articles. 100% of the existing articles can use substantial improvement.” According to Pratt, Wikipedians agree that the online encyclopedia will live for quite a while because it “is so open.” So, should we feel absolutely hopeless about the inherent flaws in the system? “I think we have an opportunity to change [the biases],” says Pratt. “Wikipedia is being
used by all sorts of organizations to close information gaps and increase diversity online, both in editors and content. We have to focus on increasing our representation and diversity online, and correcting these things that are inherently biased and citing them with sources. And I think anybody can do that.” Anybody, including us. “I think that is a really tangible way for Kansas Citians to [get involved],” says Pratt. “Learn how to edit Wikipedia and then write what they believe is important.” In addition to future installments of their Wikipedia webinar series, Pratt will be organizing edit-a-thons, virtual or in-person events where folks convene to edit Wikipedia articles on a predetermined topic. Edit-athons are open to experienced contributors, as well as those just starting out. KCPL hosted their first edit-a-thon in a series of partnerships with the Black Archives of Mid-America August 28 on the history of the Women’s Basketball Association. Pratt hopes to host an edit-a-thon focused on queer history in the future, as well. They envision these events as tools for empowering communities to write their own histories on Wikipedia. “As a white person working this position, it feels more ethical to me to engage with community partners who have lived experience in areas [such as Black KC history] to collaborate on edit-a-thons where they curate the content and I help with tech, training, and edits.” Pratt adds: “I’d also like to create a series of Wikipedia ‘zines because I like ‘zines. They’re a fun, accessible way to share information.” And of course, in the spirit of the public librarian, they make an open invitation: If anyone is interested in hosting Wikipedia events but would like a helping hand, reach out to them. They’re also available for one-onone workshops, questions, or for help setting up Wikipedia accounts. “And it’s all free because it’s through the library, which is really rad,” Pratt points out. As more and more library science schools across the nation are turning their focus to data and technology under the umbrella of the iSchool, one can only hope that positions like Pratt’s become more widely available at public libraries. The WiR role at KCPL provides an excellent, scalable model. “That’s the ideal: out of this job, more jobs will come. People besides myself can also do it. It’s really cool to have a job where you can engage the public on this sort of platform,” Pratt says. “I do truly think it will open up more job opportunities for folks at other public libraries in the future. I want more folks to get paid to improve the internet.”
AFRICAN AMERICAN ARTISTS COLLECTIVE
Celebrating Kansas City-based artists, invited to express their personal truths. Closes March 27, 2022 Joseph A. Newton, American (b. 1972). The Hues of Her Father’s Dreams, detail, 2021. Acrylic on wood panel, 36 x 48 inches. Courtesy of the artist.
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On Sep. 23, KCPL will host an edit-a-thon on Missouri artists in collaboration with The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the St. Louis Public Library, and the Kansas City Art Institute. You can reach out to Pratt with any questions about Wikipedia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kansas City Based Field Data Specialist thepitchkc.com | September 2021 | THE PITCH
TALES UNTOLD, FATES UNFOLD BLACK CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHORS CREATE THEIR OWN HAPPILY EVER AFTERS BY J.M. BANKS
Inner city kids are subject to the harsh realities of life at an early age. Encounters with loss, trauma, and racism become early companions for many Black youth, effectively stealing the spaces that should be occupied in childhood development by imagination and wonder. In a world where children are forced to grow up fast, fantasy becomes a privilege, and “happily ever after” is less of a promise than a joke in poor taste. The KC metro has a growing number of first-time writers in the Black community who see the need to correct the lack of representation in children’s literature. Many are self-publishing because this entire arm of the book industry still turns a blind eye towards African American stories and the complicated truths that might be built into their foundation. In May of 2020, Dayonne Richardson joined that growing number. Her debut book I Told The Storm features a young Black boy named Emry who is navigating both figurative and literal storms in life. “I wrote the entire book on the 14-hour plane ride back from a trip to China,” Richardson says. “When I landed I read it to my nephew and he kept wanting me to re-read it.” Richardson, who was born in KCK and has been an educator there since 2012, was happy to create something that would apply to what she saw in her classroom as well as her everyday life. Her first book—published
THE PITCH | September 2021 | thepitchkc.com
Above top: Dayonne Richardson at a reading. ARTIS STACEY
Above middle and bottom: Richardson and her book I Told The Storm. VIC JACKSON
in the height of the COVID pandemic last year—found itself awash in a sea of both challenges and opportunities. “I released in a type of storm,” Richardson says. “The pandemic, racial unrest, everyone at home—it was a good platform for parents to have to assist in discussing those hard issues and have a way for parents to say to their kids, ‘Are you ok?’ To ask their kids what’s going on, and have another way [for kids to show parents they] are okay instead of using anger and lashing out. As an educator, I saw the emotions in my children and saw the impact of their fear and nervousness.” Richardson understands the cultural significance of young children relating to a main character. “Representation is everything, it affirms their self-identity and confidence,” Richardson explained. “Books are a mirror for students. There is an importance for kids seeing themselves in the books they are surrounded by in the classroom, in seeing a lot of little Black boys that look like Emry holding the book. My main character being in a hoodie was intentional. In some schools, a hoodie is still seen as a form of defiance. You see more stories revolving around animals when it comes to children’s books than you see characters that look like our kids.” The Cooperative Children’s Book Center in Wisconsin has some bleak statistical data around children’s books: The genre is made up of 41% white characters, 29% animals, and 12% Black characters. There is something regrettably systemic in Black children seeing less than half as much representation in these tales than animals. “In the last four years I have met so many other Black children’s book authors, because people have a story,” Richardson says. “You can either hold on to your story or you can share it, and help someone along the way.” Death is a regrettable occurrence that many Black children experience, however they don’t have appropriate outlets to appraise complex feelings and emotions that are difficult for even most adults to cope with. Of the 176 homicide victims in the KCPD’s final homicide analysis in 2020, 127 of them were members of the Black community. Studies from the Center for Disease Control throughout 2020 showed Black people accounted for 18.7% of all COVID-19 deaths, while only making up 12.5% of the population. Infant mortality, heart disease, and diabetes are also categories with overwhelming numbers for members of the Black community. Christle Reed set out to use her experiences with loss to help children find a way through their own grief. Reed released her first self-published book, Hugs From The Sky, in January 2021. In addition to writing, she runs Love Creed, Inc., a non-profit organization that provides resources to children and families in response to hardships and trau-
matic experiences. Reed’s book was written to assist young children with the process of healing after losing a loved one. Based in part by the experience of losing her own father at a young age, Reed hopes that children will understand that they are not alone in their struggle. “Eighth grade was extremely hard for me,” Reed says. “The death of my father had truly set in. My mother was working extremely hard to climb the corporate ladder and my sister was no longer at home. I had been expelled for fighting and was now adapting to attending private Catholic school. I barely passed the eighth grade because I was so disconnected from life. I mean, I was literally backstage at our graduation doing make-up work to pass.” Writing this book was important to Reed not only to tell a piece of her story, but to also alleviate some of the stigma surrounding death and children’s books. “My children’s books focus on topics that are real for children, but rarely spoken about,” Reed says. “Loss and grief is something that is very real in the African American community. It happens daily, in some of the most tragic ways. However, it is rarely talked about.” A humanitarian at heart, the first-time author hopes her message surpasses themes of race because, as she says, “Grief and loss are real for everyone. COVID-19 has amplified the statement.” Reed hopes that all chil-
Christle Reed and her book Hugs from the Sky. COREY REED
dren of all communities can draw inspiration from her journey and work. She also wants Black children receive the benefits of representation she had as a child. “My parents were extremely proactive in ensuring my sister and I had books and toys that looked like us. In retrospect, this had a positive impact on my overall self-esteem,” says Reed. “In a white-washed world, I am very proud to be an African American. When Black children are able to see themselves in literature, their potential increases and their imagination about their future expands.” The Thought Jar by Nikiyah Crosdale is another local book aimed at helping children with mental health and enforcing the power of positive thinking. Crosdale saw how bleak early 2021 had become and moved to help the only way she knew how. In the story, a little girl discovers how her negative thinking directly affects her actions and reality. Her teacher introduces her to The Thought Jar, a tool Crosdale herself used as a child to manage her thoughts and create habits of positive thinking. The little girl is empowered to use positivity to twist her bad days into good ones. “Growing up, some of my favorite books Nikiyah Crosdale and her book The Thought Jar. ANNA PATRICE PHOTOGRAPHY
had characters that looked like me. There’s something about being able to see yourself in the characters that create a different level of intimacy and connection to the story,” says Crosdale. As one of many first-time authors entering this self-publishing space, Crosdale had to pay for copyrights, advertisement, marketing, illustrators, and to get the book in stores independently—hurdles that authors with established industry connections and support rarely struggle with. “As a Black person, I can’t expect other ethnic groups to represent us,” Crosdale says. “It takes new Black authors to step up and be the change they want to see.” One must wonder why the visible emergence of Black authors has only begun in recent years, and why this process so often requires self-publishing. Do mainstream publishers simply not see the value of sharing these experience, or has a lack of diversity in publishing resulted in a type of main character that seems unprofitable on paper? There are a number of excellent Black authors who do manage to get their books to mainstream audiences, and they became all the more prominent during the wave of anti-racism reading last summer. Jason Reynolds, a prolific storyteller who writes children’s and young adult books centering
Black characters, is the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature through the Library of Congress. Black writers have become more visible in children’s genre literature, as well—Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, a Nigerian-inspired young adult fantasy novel, has lived on the New York Times bestseller list under the Young Adult Hardcover category for 92 weeks. Currently, it is second only to Children of Virtue and Vengeance, the second book in Adeyemi’s series. These successes, of course, are not enough. Black children deserve even more “Chosen One” stories with relatable leads, and those stories need to keep hitting the NYT bestseller lists for all to read and learn from. Even as Black authors of our age are fighting to assist Black children with the pains of daily reality, they battle an inequitable publishing landscape. Still, this new generation of writers are doing their work to ensure that the future of the urban core includes literature where kids can see themselves and their lives reflected. With any luck, those kids will grow up in a world where that reflection doesn’t feel like a fluke. The day that the publishing world become truly equitable, awash with the wealth of brilliant Black writers seeking a platform—that’s when we’ll know the tide has changed.
thepitchkc.com | September 2021 | THE PITCH
NOVEL TACOS TORTILLAS OFF THE TOURISM TRAIL BY LIZ COOK
Are we ready for pandemic silver linings yet? I’ve got one in the chamber: Kansas City’s contrived (but deserved) renaissance as a Taco Town. Locals have been grazing at the taquerias lining Southwest Boulevard for decades, but last year, the city of Kansas City, Kansas shrewdly branded them as a “taco trail.” Yoli Tortilleria opened a new retail shop on the Westside and has kept its front yard reliably busy with innovative pop-ups from taco-slinging chefs. A Brooklyn-based freelancer proclaimed KC the “true taco capital of the United States” in Forbes (for suspicious journalistic reasons), and Texas got mad about it (for predictable ones). Torchy’s Tacos, a popular Austin-based chain, entered the metro market. Chef J BBQ started selling enviable brisket and barbacoa tacos in the West Bottoms. In-A-Tub is … still around. Much to be thankful for. In honor of our burgeoning reputation, this month, I tried tacos at three new spots well off the KCK tourism bureau’s trail. All of them opened during the pandemic, all of them are miles south of the Boulevard, and all of them use locally made tortillas. Also— let’s just get this out of the way—all of them sell tacos that cost more than $2. Some of them sell tacos that are almost $4. This is fine. Good, actually. There was a time in my life when I bought into the myth that “authentic” tacos had to be simple and cheap and served in Styrofoam—a viewpoint that pins Mexican cuisine in place with dated street-food stereotypes and resigns all of us to rubbery tortillas made from commodity corn. The sub-$2 taco still has a place in my heart (and on my lunch plate). But I’m more aware these days of the sacrifices taquerias make to keep costs down and more skeptical about why some cuisines and categories of food get to be “elevated” while others stay pigeonholed as “cheap.” We’re a taco capital now—we have room for all kinds. Plus, in the end, “Is this authentic?” just isn’t a very interesting question. I recommend: “Is this any good?” Taco Naco KC Market & Taqueria Great taquerias don’t always cater to the chips-and-margs set, but Overland Park’s Taco Naco mostly succeeds in balancing regional Mexican flavors with nods to CalMex and Tex-Mex-loving customers. It’s hard to blame chef Fernanda Reyes and her husband and co-owner, Brian Goldman, for listening to the locals. Although the
THE PITCH | September 2021 | thepitchkc.com
pair took on intermittent catering jobs and pop-ups in 2019, they found success in 2020 once they began selling their tacos (and later, their margarita mixes and meal kits) at the Overland Park Farmers’ Market. The pair opened the brick-and-mortar Naco in a stripmall at 82nd and Metcalf this January, and the taqueria and market have been reliably busy since (don’t worry; the line moves fast, as do the line cooks). The space is suffused with light-hearted touches and cartoon colors, from salmon and azure accent walls to an altar of snake plants to cute cucumber garnishes stabbed with Mexican flag toothpicks. All tacos here use Yoli corn tortillas, which are excellent, and all of them are $3.75 (except on Tuesdays, when they’re three for $9). The best pork option is the cochinita pibil, which features pork shoulder marinated in a blend of annatto paste and bitter orange, and slow-cooked in banana leaves. The shredded pork in my taco was tender and moist—and flavorful enough that I didn’t need the heavy-handed drizzle of chipotle aioli. I preferred that aioli on the brisket barbacoa, where it added a velvety richness to the lean meat (balanced by tangy pickled onions). I wanted to love the mushroom mole taco (one of two vegan options here). But the mole tasted flat, adding only a slight sweetness to the earthy mushrooms. For now, I’ll stick with the meats. If you want to dawdle here, order a king-sized margarita, which the restaurant serves in a plastic pint cup with a lipstick rim of Tajin and chamoy. The classic lime margarita ($9; $5 at happy hour) tasted fresh, with the right balance of tart to sweet. You can have a fine time just sipping one on the sunny patio and grazing on a quarter-sheet pan of Taco Naco’s fresh tortilla chips. Every order of guacamole or salsa arrives with enough chips to get a small bear through hibernation. The six-salsa sampler ($5) is a good way to try them all, but the restaurant also sells 8-ounce cups of individual sauces. If you go that route, I recommend the creamy jalapeno (an avocado-cool contradiction with a snaking, sneaking heat) or the tomatillo (AstroTurf-green; vegetal and mild).
Above: The house margaritas, cochinita pibil tacos, chips and salsa, and six-salsa sampler at Taco Naco. Below: The beef quesadilla at Taco Naco. ZACH BAUMAN
TACO NACO KC MARKET & TAQUERIA 8220 Metcalf Ave, 913-730-8565 taconacokc.com Hours: Tuesday–Thursday 10 AM–8 PM Friday–Saturday 8 AM–9 PM Sunday 8 AM–4 PM Prices: Tacos: $3.75 Sides: $2.25–$5 Reyes tells me she used to make her salsa macha the traditional Veracruzana way— less blended sauce than chile oil, with a sediment layer of ground peanuts and chiles de arbol. When that version didn’t sell, she started using peanut butter (and blending it). “Some people—and more here in Overland Park—they don’t like to see a lot of oil.” That’s a shame, because the version I tried tasted uncannily like roasted veggie cream cheese. Customer preferences dictated the Tex-Mex salsa as well—the only one of the restaurant’s salsas to use canned tomatoes, and the only one mild enough for a goldfish to swim in. “That one we just do because everyone says, ‘I want my regular ketchup-flavored salsa.’” Reyes laughs. “I don’t know how to say ‘no’ to my customers.” Reyes has good culinary instincts, and Taco Naco is likely to keep improv-
Best bet: Sip a classic lime margarita and pick over the salsa sampler while you wait for your cochinita pibil and brisket barbacoa tacos.
ing as she and Goldman refine where to adapt and where to stick to their guns/ guts. For now, the restaurant is already a mood-lifting place to eat and shop, with tacos worth the drive for urban core-dwellers. South of Summit Taqueria & Tequila South of Summit has had plenty of time to get its feet under it—the Waldo hangout opened in February 2020 next to sister restaurant Summit Grill. But the tacos here suggest the kitchen is still working out some kinks.
crisp potatoes, and small-curd scrambled eggs. The cramped, ocean-blue dining room is energetic at best and frenetic at worst, with an open kitchen and galley orientation that crowds the entryway with bodies at peak times. The small courtyard between the taqueria and Summit Grill is a quieter place to sit and snack on chips and dip. Granted, the salsa roja that comes with the pre-meal basket of chips is about as spicy as a recorder concert (Taco Naco should send their ketchup fans here). But the guacamole ($7.75; half-price at happy hour) is well seasoned, with hefty chunks of avocado and a spicy snap from sliced serranos. South of Summit has good ideas—and good ingredients—but the execution isn’t quite there. I’ll return if they dial back their fillings (and dial up their flavors).
Above: The elote at South of Summit. Below: The cheese curd taco at South of Summit with a house cocktail. ZACH BAUMAN
The menu—developed by restaurateurs Andy Lock, Domhnall Molloy, and Po Wang—has a small selection of entrées (burritos, taco salads), but tacos are the main focus. When South of Summit first opened, it advertised “made-from-scratch” corn tortillas, but the restaurant has since switched to using Yoli corn tortillas (soon, all of Kansas City will be made from Yoli masa). I’ve probably eaten hundreds of tacos on Yoli tortillas at this point and they almost never blow out their bottoms. Here, four different tacos split open on me. Part of the problem is that nearly every taco was so overloaded, they looked more like floppy tostadas. The barbacoa taco ($3.50) was piled with a sandwich portion of slow-roasted beef that tasted dry despite being sogged with broth. The al pastor taco ($3.25)—here, pork cooked on a spit grill— had a mountain of tough meat dripping with annatto-red oil. The marinated pineapple added a brisk acidity, but the pork tasted bland on its own. And the chicken tinga taco ($3), a bargain for size queens, was nearly impossible to eat without a knife and fork. I had better luck with the fried cheese curd taco ($3.75). The curds were a prepared product—South of Summit doesn’t bread them in-house—but they were crisply fried and chastely topped with a creamyspicy jicama slaw. And the chorizo verde ($3.25) was my favorite of the tacos I tried. The housemade salsa verde brought a wash of gentle heat to the even blend of chorizo,
SOUTH OF SUMMIT TAQUERIA & TEQUILA 516 W 75th St, 816-491-8001 southofsummit.com Hours: Monday–Thursday 11 AM–10 PM Friday 11 AM–11 PM Saturday 10:30 AM–11 PM Sunday 10:30 AM–10 PM Prices: Tacos: $2.75–$3.75 Sides: $3.00–$4.75 Cocktails: $5.50–$10.75 Best bet: Snack on chips and spicy guac at happy hour along with a chorizo verde taco.
Taco Cacao When Cacao Restaurante co-owner Alfonso Esqueda opened Taco Cacao this January, it felt like a Hail Mary. “With COVID, we were this close to closing the restaurant,” he tells me. “We had to do something different to survive.” “Something different” meant something casual—a small taco truck with online ordering and a semi-permanent residence at 79th and Wornall. If the line outside the trailer on weeknights is any indication, Esqueda and Cacao are going to make it. The tacos here are small and simple, with minimal adornments to let the meats shine. They do. The red pork cochinita taco ($2.25) is compulsory: The rosy chunks of pork were slightly grassy from a slow steaming in banana leaves and soft enough to threaten known states of matter. The cubes of steak in the asada taco ($2.25) were tender and spice-crusted, rounded out with a few slices of grilled onion and a sprinkling of cilantro. Most of the tacos are served on two corn tortillas—locally made, Esqueda tells me, though he’s cagy about the supplier. The double-stack treatment is ostensibly to help the tacos travel well: Though Taco Cacao has a small picnic table, most diners take their orders to-go. I’m not sure Cacao needs the taco insurance. I transported a family pack of tacos for 20 minutes, and the fillings never breached the first layer. The only single-ply taco is the birria ($2.25): tender, fatty morsels of beef nestled on a single corn tortilla burnished with consommé to a turmeric-gold. Even with the consommé, the taco held its shape; if you can tear yourself away from the cochinita,
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Above: Folks getting takeout at the Taco Cacao food truck. Below: Birria and asada tacos at Taco Cacao ZACH BAUMAN
TACO CACAO 7927 Wornall Rd, 913-257-6494 tacocacao.com Hours: Monday–Saturday 11 AM–3 PM, 5 PM–8 PM, Sunday 11 AM–3 PM Prices: Tacos: $1.99–$2.25 Burritos: $6.99 Sides: $1.49–$2.99 Best bet: Feeding a crowd? Order a family pack of tortillas heavy on the birria and red pork cochinita. Party for one? Grab a beef burrito and an extra side of spicy salsa roja. this is a solid second choice. Larger appetites may prefer the burritos ($6.99), which I sliced like sushi to share with friends in an act of Midwestern violence. The burritos are packed with meat, beans, rice, and chipotle mayo, and bronzed on a flat top to give them a little extra flavor and structure. They’re tidy enough to eat one-handed while driving if you can’t wait
until you get home. Esqueda recently opened a second trailer at 75th and State Line and fitted it with a trompo for pork al pastor. Right now, he’s mostly renting it out for events and private parties, but it may join the permanent fleet if demand stays high. I suspect it will: Taco Cacao may be the most consistent taco spot to open this year.
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BY ATOMIC PROVISIONS
EAT THIS NOW WORDS AND PHOTOS BY APRIL FLEMING
When James Beard award-winning chef Michael Smith announced a revamp of the menu at Extra Virgin after 13 years, he could have moved in any direction. A frequent traveler, Smith has featured ingredients and preparations from all over the world in his three restaurants throughout the years. In 2021 he could have given us just about anything. Yet, as is clear with his Italian restaurant next door and this makeover, Smith loves cooking with Mediterranean ingredients. (With this, we all win).
the Whole Cauliflower from Extra Virgin 1900 Main St, Kansas City, MO 64108
There are some really great new dishes on Smith’s menu. Sumac-roasted chicken thighs come heaped with roasted, slightly caramelized onions and fresh-made flatbread; za’atar-dusted calamari rests atop a smear of saffron aioli; and feta cheese is roasted with Egyptian dukkah and served with pickled red onions. One dish, though, has single handedly brought me back to Extra Virgin three times in three weeks since the menu switchover was made. It is the whole cauliflower. Yes, an entire uncut head of cauliflower. Here’s where that big brassica encounters magic: That big ol’ whole head of cauliflower is poached in turmeric water and then roasted in the wood oven before being slathered in a wildly flavorful house romesco, fresh tahini, handfuls of torn herbs, pickled mustard seed, and barberries (tart dried berries that are used frequently in Iranian cuisine). It’s maybe the most colorful dish I’ve encountered in a year, and it also manages to toe that rare line of being both savory and rich—as well as memorably bright and fresh. The roasted red pepper romesco is stick-to-your-ribs stuff, but that richness is balanced by some bright and creamy tahini, plus loads of fresh herbs and tangy berries. So while I have never in my life intended to go to a restaurant just to get a whole head of anything, I’m currently staring down the barrel of ordering the califlower for what will be my fourth time in a month. It’s feeling like a pretty good decision.
DRINK THIS NOW No matter where you live in the metro, you should make the effort to visit Jay Sanders’ Shawnee cocktail bar, Drastic Measures. Perhaps you’re thinking ‘But I live [anywhere else in the metro]. Why would I go to Shawnee?’ Maybe this is a fair the Mint question. (I’m kidding, Shawnee. I live in South KC, which, like Shawnee, is a Condition from place that you either live in and visit … or never do. And South KC does not Drastic Measures have a Drastic Measures, or a talent like Sanders.) 5817 Nieman Rd, Shawnee, KS Prior to writing this, I visited Drastic Measures during a major, unanticipated thunderstorm. Literal inches of rain poured down as lightning knocked 66203 out the power on the other side of the block. The most attention-grabbing thing of the moment, though, was a drink called the Mint Condition. And I’m not saying this to try to land a corny hook. It’s just that good. Sanders starts the drink with a subtly spicy vodka infused with New Mexico green chile. It’s all summer from there with the addition of a dill syrup, lemon juice, and a bold garnish of yellow pea sprouts that shoot out of the glass like a shock of forsythia—it even kind of looks like a table centerpiece is being delivered as the cocktail is being brought to your table. All this alone would probably be pretty good, but Sanders did us one better by adding a freshly made, local cucumber-mint CBD seltzer to top it all off. Mint Condition, get it? I don’t know if CBD does anything. I’ve consumed it somewhat regularly for a few years and could not tell you if it does anything at all. Maybe this drink will mellow you out a bit, but more than anything this is just a really refreshing, balanced cocktail that hits you with a ton of summer flavors. We’ve all heard of these ingredients being combined in the past, but I’ve never had one that I wanted to eat and swill at the same time, all while I ordered another. Shawnee’s looking kinda fine right now. thepitchkc.com | September 2021 | THE PITCH
ELEVATOR MUSIC THE POST-GENRE UPS AND DOWNS OF ELEVATOR DIVISION BY NICK SPACEK
The event that brought Kansas City’s post-rock, post-punk, indie group Elevator Division out of retirement in March of last year was a sad affair, according to the band’s singer-songwriter and lead guitarist, James Hoskins. “A close, long-time friend of ours, Kevin Eshelman—he built our first band website way back in the day had died unexpectedly,” says Hoskins. ”At his memorial service, a mutual friend of ours, Nathan Reusch, who runs The Record Machine label—I talked to him and he, just said, ‘Hey man, would you be open to possibly play a benefit show to help raise money for Kevin’s family?’ For me, it was an immediate, ‘Absolutely. Yes.’ And the other guys felt the same.” At first, it was just supposed to be the one-time benefit show. But as Elevator Division’s members started getting back together, playing songs, and just hanging out, Hoskins’ response was, ‘Oh, this feels pretty good.’ And then suddenly, we had tons of new song ideas.” It was a bright new beginning coming out of a dark place. Hanging out and enjoying music was a turnaround from where the band had been when Elevator Division played its farewell show in 2005, splitting up James Hoskins, his younger brother Samuel Hoskins, Chris Stewart, Jeremiah Gonzales, and Paul Buzan after seven years together and three excellent LPs including Imaginary Days, Movement, and Years. “For a number of years, the main thing I was trying to achieve was a career in music and making a living from it,” James Hoskins explains. “After a while, I realized I had a lot of my sense of identity wrapped up in it, almost feeling like, ‘If I can’t do this for my job, then I can’t do anything,’ which wasn’t true.” Several of the band members, who were all in their late teens or early 20s, put their undergrad and basic education on hold to try to make it in the Elevator Division, Stewart says. The band members agreed to give Elevator Division two years—they would pour everything they had into their music and see if they could make a living from it. If that didn’t work out, they’d all go their separate ways. Which is what happened.
THE PITCH | September 2021 | thepitchkc.com
PHOTO SAM BILLEN
“For us, it was all or nothing,” explains Stewart, who also sings and plays guitar, as well as handling keys. “We didn’t have a way to integrate what we were doing with music and with the band in any other way other than ‘We’re trying to make it, we’re trying to tour, we’re trying to release records and make this our living.’ We didn’t have a template for how to integrate it and have other things in our lives, like family and school.” The band struggled with handling interpersonal conflict regarding musical and artistic direction. “I think we also lost sight of what brought us joy about making music together,” Stewart laments. “We lost sight of the friendship and just the joy and beauty of making music for music’s sake.” That is no longer the case for the five members of Elevator Division these days. In late August, the band released their first new music in nearly 17 years, with the single “Words and Pictures,” and will premiere the second, “Torn Apart,” via The Pitch on September 17. Those two pieces are only the beginning of what the band’s crafted over the last year and a half. The new music came about rather quickly, according to Hoskins. “We had practiced a few times and then Sam, our drummer, had a song idea he sent us,” Hoskins explains. “We were all like, ‘This is amazing.’ We all immediately loved it and then that just started creating tons more inspiration. We ended up playing that song at the reunion show. We had a brand new song to play and to share that night and I think that kept the momentum going to write.” He adds: “When we were practicing and started getting together for the benefit show, it was saying, ‘Yes,’ to playing again for an unselfish reason,. But then, realizing
and experiencing just the joy and the comradery of hanging with these guys again— so much of our past friendship was [built] around the shared joy of making music and making art. Like, ‘Hey, this was the original reason we did this in the first place.’” Now, they can shed their baggage moving forward. “Frankly, I would get together and play music with these guys and record even if I knew no one would ever listen to it,” says Stewart. “Obviously, we’re musicians. We’re artists. We want to share what we create, but yeah—it’s truly just for the joy of friendship, sharing a passion together, and sharing the joy of making something together.” Scheduling band practices and recording around kids, family, and work means that the time together is a special thing for the band members. “It was such a strange mix of emotions and feelings at the benefit show for Kevin, because there was definitely a sadness and a grieving,” says Stewart. “Also, I felt immense gratitude and thankfulness just to be able to play again and to have as many people show up as did and support Kevin and his family and the bands that played that night.” Stewart says he feels immense gratitude and thankfulness every time he and his bandmates in Elevator Division get together and crank up the amps: “It’s a privilege and it makes my heart really thankful.” Hoskin agrees. “I think of it as a lot of friendship [exists]around some shared joy of something,” says Hoskins. “Some guys enjoy fly fishing or tailgating the Chiefs or whatever. I realized, ‘Wow, I have friends and the thing that we enjoy doing together is writing songs and recording them, and I’m so glad that I get to do that. That’s really special.’ It dawns on me on a regular basis how thankful I am for that.”
TORN APART Elevator Division’s single, “Torn Apart,” premieres at thepitchkc.com on Friday, September 17 Elevator Division with namelessnumberheadman recordBar Friday, October 1
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CELEBRATING ALVIN AILEY’S WHOLE BEING ON FILM NEW DOCUMENTARY EXPLORES THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF THE ICONIC CHOREOGRAPHER, WHO MADE A LASTING IMPACT ON KANSAS CITY BY ABBY OLCESE
The first time filmmaker Jamila Wignot saw Alvin Ailey’s choreography performed, she was in college. Her campus’ Black student group got tickets to see a performance of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Boston, and she had no idea what she was in for. “I had no expectations. I didn’t know anything about modern dance,” Wignot says. “I walked in a blank slate, and was completely captivated by what I saw on stage that night.” Wignot saw Ailey’s “Revelations,” a piece that incorporates spirituals, gospel music, blues, and modern dance into 30 minutes of pure, bodied expression of the Black experience. The performance made Wignot a life-long fan. “It gets at the essence of human emotional experiences, and seeing that in a multiracial dance group was very different for the time in the 1990s,” Wignot says. “There was not a great deal of access to Black art that was also extremely universal.” Wignot pays homage to Ailey in her new documentary of the same name, which held its local premiere in August in partnership with the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey. Ailey examines the life, art, and legacy of an icon who left a massive impact on the world of performance art, and a lasting footprint in Kansas City. In 1968, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s touring brought them to our town. Tyrone Aiken, artistic director of Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, says Ailey found inspiration in the city’s jazz roots. After making Kansas City the company’s official second home in 1984, the first piece he created was For Bird with Love, a celebration of KCK-born jazz great Charlie Parker. “Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey was established in 1984 so that the company would be able to celebrate not just American jazz and African-American art forms, but
THE PITCH | September 2021 | thepitchkc.com
modern dance,” Aiken says. “[The community] became a supporter by helping underwrite these ballets, providing an opportunity for the company to work through what they might look like when they made it to the stage.” The company’s rigorous national and international touring is a strong component of Ailey. In the film, Wignot notes that many of the company’s dancers, including the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s current dance corps, were inspired to join after seeing Ailey’s dancers on tour. “It was always part of Mr. Ailey’s vision that dance was not a high elite form, but something that should be accessible to everyone; not just to perform on the coast but to find small regional cities, and introduce audiences to other choreographers whose work he was performing,” Wignot says. “He was very 21st century in his views on equity and access. He’d come to Philly, DC, some far-out reaches of the country, and that exposure is so significant.” Aiken says that accessibility wasn’t just important in the sense of bringing art to the masses, but also in sharing an authentic expression of the Black experience to diverse audiences. “Mr. Ailey said he wanted to make a company for his relatives,” Aiken says. “When Mr. Ailey brought the company here with Ailey II, we would take them to Lansing Prison. That was a connection for people who don’t always get to see art. We would take them to hospitals and schools. It’s this idea of what it is to be American, and to be African-American, and bringing it to people so they understand the beauty and humanity of the African-American experience.” Aiken, a former student at the Ailey School in New York, says the film accurately reflects his memories of training under Ailey in the 1980s, as well as the choreographer’s
Above: Photos from the film. Ailey director Jamila Wignot first encountered Alvin Ailey’s choreography as a student at Wellesley College. ADAM KURNITZ
larger legacy. “The film did an incredible job of reflecting Mr. Ailey’s life and its impact on the world. There’s a real personal connection that people find with Mr. Ailey,” Aiken says. “At least for me, I saw him, as a student, as a bigger-than-life person in the sense that the school I was at was named for him, and this is an African-American company doing work that had in some sense been reserved for white bodies. Seeing someone reflect an African-American aesthetic and experience was really uplifting.” In addition to Ailey’s accessible, identity-forward artistry, Ailey examines its subject’s inner contradictions; particularly the fact that, as a gay black man beginning his career in midcentury America, Ailey was never able to fully live his own identity in public. Wignot notes that, though he was loved like a family member by his dancers, Ailey kept a
large part of himself closed off to others. “I was surprised by the degree of removal that he had from the collaborators around him,” Wignot said. “There was a great sense of him as a generous spirit, someone who was all-embracing. In stories where people were in Mr. Ailey’s gaze, they felt seen. It was an interesting feeling of him not being someone who really allowed that to be reciprocated.” Wignot gained insight into Ailey’s personal life through archival audio and interviews. “That was where we found the acknowledgment of his sexual awakening and struggles with mental health in his own words,” Wignot said. “The goal was not necessarily to bring in a great deal of analysis, but to experience it, to be with him on his own journey as
he was discovering the arts and experiencing the struggles he did.” Some of the personal struggles Wignot highlights in Ailey, echoed in an interview with choreographer and Ailey protégé Bill T.
Jones, is a sense of burnout that Wignot says connects to her own feelings as a creative and a Black woman. “It was a time when society was okay with the idea of there just being ‘the one guy,’ and he was the person who had to shoulder all this responsibility,” Wignot says. “We celebrate the idea of Black excellence, but the pressures around that are real and continue to be real. What you do in public is not just representative of you but of a whole race of people. That resonated with some of my own experiences. We’re having this moment of interrogating ideas of Black excellence, and that we’re allowed a space of self-care. We don’t have to be the superhuman figures that we feel we’re told to be.” That sense of balancing mental health and engaging with difficult truths in art is reflected in Wignot’s framing device, which follows the current-day Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater troupe in rehearsals for Lazarus—a dance created by choreographer Rennie Harris to celebrate the company’s 60th anniversary. True to Ailey’s vision, the piece reflects the Black experience in ways that are beautiful and sometimes unsettling, as in a sequence where dancers represent lynched bodies. “It demanded a real kind of emotional
engagement to be able to embody the darker aspects of history that the dance charts, and the resistance that’s in it, the catharsis at the end, the endurance that dance requires—because it gets at life,” Wignot says of Lazarus. She adds, “Dancers had to draw on their own life experiences that were extremely intense. Rennie and I, in a way, knew the work would have a kind of meta quality. There are universal themes that carry through of discovery, loneliness, isolation, and community.” Despite the sometimes painful subject matter, or perhaps because of it, Wignot says the modern-day rehearsal space was a safe place for dancers to work through their emotions, as it was when Ailey was alive. “That was one of the most beautiful experiences, walking into that rehearsal room and getting a sense of the process for Rennie Harris in the present day. The rehearsal room is sacred. Work gets done, that’s where you face your fears, and you can work to build something that is beautiful.” For Wignot, the most impactful aspect of Ailey’s life and his legacy in the modern iteration of the company he created, is the emphasis on identity and an individuals’ value: particularly in a cultural context where personal worth is frequently questioned.
“With Mr. Ailey, there’s a sense of recognizing that who he was and where he came from was valuable, mattered, and deserved to be staged here and abroad. ‘Can you stand in your own being and channel that through the work you present?’” Wignot says. “It’s a recurrent theme in his work and a lesson for me because it was something he was reminding himself of, as a black gay man where all of his identity isn’t celebrated together. He was reminding himself of his own worth and value.” Aiken says that rooted, confident sense of identity was important to him as a student at the Ailey school, and continues to be valuable now. “You find that you have a space where you belong. That for me is how I look to Mr. Ailey and what he’s created for the world. It was a space where being African-American—leading from that place and making room for everyone—became so important,” Aiken said. “Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was not about him. It was about American choreography, a repertory company, which means many voices, not just Blackness, but also the African-American experience for everyone. If you’re caucasian, Hispanic, whatever, there’s a place for you. That’s what makes his legacy so important.”
thepitchkc.com | September 2021 | THE PITCH
N CH S &50% TA OS OFF ALL WEEK LONG!
SEPTEMBER EVENTS FOR MORE EVENTS, VISIT THEPITCHKC.COM/CALENDAR. BY AUBRIE NORRIS
MORE RESTAURANTS TO BE ANNOUNCED!
SEPTEMBER 1-MARCH 2022
Testimony: African American Artists Collective, Nelson Atkins Museum of Art
SEPT. 1-JANUARY 2022
Auschwitz, Union Station Kansas City
SUNDAYS IN SEPTEMBER
Listen Now thepitchkc.com/podcasts
Lemonade Park Yoga, Lemonade Park Mary’s Fabulous Drag Brunch, Hamburger Mary’s KC
Summer Family Timber Challenge Fun Run, Zip KC Turn Down for Brunch, Parlor Gleason Magic Experience, Prairiefire, multiple dates Tick, Tick… Boom, Theatrical film release Tour de Bier KC, Berkley Riverfront
The Regional, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
Clay Walker, KC Live! Jungle Boogie with Stevie Cruz, The Ship
Halestorm, Azura Amphitheater First Weekend Festival, West Bottoms Vinyl Revival, The Social Club Event Space
Stay up to date on the most recent events with our online calendar. THE PITCH | September 2021 | thepitchkc.com
2021 Irish Fest, Crown Center Naka-Kon 2021, Overland Park Convention Center Are you a fan of all things anime? Now is your chance to meet your favorite voice actors, musicians, artists, and industry experts, as well as cosplay your favorite anime characters. The three-day annual convention will feature voice actress’s Christina Kelly and Morgan Berr and panels where fans can talk about all things Anime. On Sept. 4, cosplayers will have the chance to showcase their incredible talent in the Mainstage Cosplay Contest. That’s just one of the contests set to happen! The convention will be home to over 60 vendors and artists, anime showings, gaming rooms, and live performances from J-pop and J-rock bands. For more information or to purchase your tickets, visit Naka-kon.com. Hannah Berner, The Comedy Club of Kansas City
Uncorked, Union Station Kansas City Sevendust, Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland Big Muddy Brew ‘N Que, Levee Bar & Grill
Shuler King, Improv Comedy Theater & Restaurant Turn Down for BRUNCH, 1707 Locust St. Dagorhir Boffer LARP, Meadowmere Park
Korn & Staind, Azura Amphitheater Queer Movie Night, KCCI, every Monday Kansas City Temple Run, Kansas City Missouri Temple
On Your Feet!, Starlight Theatre The Prom, Starlight Theatre
NEEDTOBREATHE, Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland
Mary Huntoon: Artist and Art Therapist, The Kenneth Spencer Research Library, Lawrence, KS Eboni and the Ivories, The Folly Theater
Dancefestopia Music Festival, 7095 W 399th St., Lacygene, KS
KKFI Crossroads Music Fest, recordBar Jordy Searcy, The Riot Room
Amigo The Devil, recordBar Randy Bachman & Burton Cummings, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
Honky Tonk Tuesday: The Naughty Pine, The Ship Squeeze, Uptown Theater
The Lumineers, T-Mobile Center Bill Burr, Starlight Theatre KC
Social Summer Fest: The Outtakes, The Social Club Event Space Embrace Circus, Lemonade Park
Kansas City Underground Film Festival, Charlotte Street Foundation
Here Come the Mummies in concert.
TWIN SPIRE PHOTOGRAPHY
Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, The Black Box Theater, multiple dates KC Spirit and Paranormal Fair, Independence Masonic Lodge No. 76 A Cowtown Revival, The Folly Theater
SEPT. 11 & 16-19
Jesse James Festival, Jesse James Park, Kearney, MO
Anjelah Johnson, Improv Comedy Theater & Restaurant
Shake the Lake Country Music Festival, Longview Lake Swim Beach KC Taco Fest, Berkley Riverfront Park Stardust Symphony Ball, Kansas City Convention Center C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts Blue October, The Truman Eddie ifft, The Comedy Club of Kansas City Starry Night at Starlight, Starlight Theatre
Here Come the Mummies, Knuckleheads Saloon After delivering terrifying funk from beyond the grave since 2000 A.D., Here Come the Mummies is making its way to KC. Known for having completely anonymous band members, the band is sure to get you into the spooky spirit with songs like “King of the Underworld” and “Attack of the Wiener Man.” Their lyrics are known to leave little to the imagination and their show is sure to be one you won’t forget. Visit tickets.knuckleheadskc.com to get your tickets. thepitchkc.com | September 2021 | THE PITCH
The Get Up Kids, Lemonade Park Unleash the Archers, The Riot Room Kane Brown, T-Mobile Center The Problem Kid Tour, The Vinyl Underground at 7th Heaven Tin Foil Hat Comedy, The Comedy Club KC
as well as your favorite Jimmy Buffett classics like “Volcano” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” With Emmy Award winner Greg Garcia and Emmy Award Nominee Mike O’Malley in the show, you’re sure to feel those summer rays all over again and convince yourself to leave the beloved Margaritaville. The show starts at 8 p.m. at Starlight Theatre with gates opening at 7 p.m. To purchase tickets, visit kcstarlight. com.
The Wailers, Grinders KC
Shy Boys/ Liam Kazar/ Paris Williams, Lemonade Park
SEPT. 17- OCT. 31
Halloween Haunt, Worlds of Fun, select nights After 6:30 p.m., Worlds of Fun is transformed into a Hellscape full of fear for the annual Halloween Haunt. More than 400 zombies, vampires, and monsters that will make you have nightmares for weeks will be there, and you will have nowhere to hide. Along with the thrilling rides offered at the park, there will be activities like scare mazes, scare zones, and live (and dead) entertainment. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit worldsoffun.com/events/ haunt.
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Art in the Park, South Park, Lawrence, KS Randy Rainbow: The Pink Glasses Tour, Uptown Theater Library Lets Loose, Overland Park Relay for Rescue 2021, KC Live! Kansas City Water Lantern Festival, Frank A. Theis Park Fall Family Festival, 6917 Kensington Ave.
Alanis Morisette with Garbage and Cat Power, T-Mobile Center LP, The Truman
Avatar, The Truman Woodneath Writers, Mid-Continent Public Library
Shinedown, Azura Amphitheater If I Die First, The Rino Dinosaur Jr, The Truman
Escape to Margaritaville, Starlight Theatre KC With the leaves beginning to change, it’s time to take a step into Margaritaville and forget about the impending cold months to come. The musical comedy Escape to Margaritaville features original songs
Free Smores, KC Wine Co. Venom: Let There Be Carnage, theatrical film release
2021 Plaza Art Fair, Country Club Plaza
Overland Park Fall Festival, Overland Park’s Farmers Market Tacos and Tequila Festival, Legends Field KC Blues Society 40th Anniversary, B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ Little Big Town, Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland Oktoberfest, BeerSauce Shop Kansas City
Latino Arts Festival, Arrowhead Festival Brew to Brew Relay, Hy-Vee Arena
Yung Bleu,The Truman Ginworld Symposium & Blind Tasting Masters Session, Lifted Spirits Distillery
Cleopatrick, recordBar Ryan Manuel, Headlights Bar & Grill Trivia Tuesday with Geeks Who Drink, Bar K Ohmme & Deeper, The Bottleneck, Lawrence, KS
Kevin Gates, Uptown Theater
Madeleine Peyroux and Paula Cole, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts Emily Dix Duo, Chaz on the Plaza 311, Grinders KC
thepitchkc.com | September 2021 | THE PITCH
SEX & LOVE
KEEP THEM COMING POLYAMORY IN THE PANDEMIC BY KRISTEN THOMAS
Chances are, if you’re a loyal Pitch reader, you’ve heard of polyamory—and if not that’s okay, too. While there’s increasing awareness around polyamory because of pop culture, it’s not often monogamous folks have exposure to couples in the lifestyle. 6.5% of people report knowing someone (Moors, Gesselman, and Garcia March 2021) who was or is practicing some form of consensual non-monogamy. That makes sense, because about 4-5% of our population is currently in a CNM, or consensual nonmanogamous, relationship (Rubin et al, 2014). Polyamory is often differentiated from open or swinging relationships in that the former involves emotional connections while the open dating/swinging is primarily about sexual connections. All three fall under the umbrella of consensual non-monogamy. The study published in March 2021 by Moors et al found 17% of single Americans want or are interested in a polyamorous relationship. As a Certified Sex Coach and Clinical Sexologist, I know that there’s a growing curiosity about polyamory. This may be especially true for people who lie in the middle of the Kinsey Scale, a chart which measures your sexual orientation and its changes over time. I was curious how COVID-19 has affected polyamorous people’s choices, lifestyles, and options beyond what I see in the office. Were polycules—that is, a group of people connected through a consensually non-monogamous relationship—stable or fragile because of all the time together during quarantine? Had they adjusted and found their footing? Are they dating safely or causing the virus to spread? I had conversations with some poly individuals to find answers. Turns out, the pandemic has given many folks a chance to explore poly relationships while being surprisingly safe. Sara “Miss Conception” Glass is an activist and artist originally from Kansas City who has lived in a nudist colony for over a year now. She had experience with a few poly relationships in the past, and at the beginning of 2020, she decided she was ready to dive in and see if she and her guy could make it work for them. It was primarily her task to find suitable partners, and her location easily lent to meeting like-minded potential partners. Glass says she, her primary partner, and the other partners involved had open discussions about who they’d been around to protect everyone’s safety. There was very open communication about testing for STIs and COVID before interacting with new partners during quarantine and since. While that relationship didn’t work out and she’s currently single, she feels her ex-
THE PITCH | September 2021 | thepitchkc.com
periences have provided important lessons about transparent conversations, beyond diseases and safety. She’s skipping the apps for now—“Bumble has been a miss,” says Glass—and she’s still only focused on seeing who she meets in person. I mean, she does live in a nudist colony! [Editorial Note: Names in some of the following sections are replaced with letters to protect individuals’ identities.] J and his wife E had been dating another couple, C and L, for a year when lockdown started. They have kids, and had already been gradually explaining polyamory to them long before March 2020. With J and E’s kids, the two couples had family dinners and mini vacations. C and L even purchased a house closer to J and E pre-pandemic. “[The kids] knew something was going on,” J says. “‘One said, ‘Dad’s taking a nap with C! What’s going on?’” After J explained to the kids that “you can love more than one person at a time and it doesn’t diminish your love for someone else,” they were all on board. They made the decision to move into one house, keeping the other as a sanctuary for date nights. This type of polyamorous relationship is called a “kitchen table structure,” meaning they operate as one big family with all adults taking on parenting and household duties. For long-term polycules, the pandemic certainly has had ramifications. Ray Margo is a long term practitioner of polyamory and owner of SinsualSteel, a business that makes quality and affordable BDSM implements. He lives in Kansas City with his two nesting partners—meaning partners he shares a home with—while maintaining a long distance relationship, as well. The pandemic has been particularly hard on Margo and his long distance girlfriend of ten years. She lives in Iowa and they usually saw each other on the road at conventions like Kinky College, or places he was selling SinsualSteel products. She’s now taking time to come stay with Margo and his two nesting partners on weekends, instead. At the same time, this time hasn’t been easy for those in Margo’s household, either. One of his nesting partners and Margo himself have struggled with the lack of access to communities they had traditionally relied on for support and socialization. “We’re fairly social people,” Margo says about his and his nesting partner’s relationship. “There was no dungeon to go to, no meetups. Being locked in and everything, it can be really stressful.” One friend of mine, B, describes her marriage as “monogamish.” Her long-term partner was a good match in ways, but after
WERE POLYCULES STABLE OR FRAGILE BECAUSE OF ALL THE TIME TOGETHER DURING QUARANTINE? HAD THEY ADJUSTED AND FOUND THEIR FOOTING? ARE THEY DATING SAFELY OR CAUSING THE VIRUS TO SPREAD?
last spring, the intensity of being at home made her think deeply about her relationships and what she wanted for a marriage in the long run. “It made it hard to spend time with Side Guy,” says B. “The kids were home, I couldn’t leave. There was no stopping by after a work meeting.” After reflecting on what didn’t feel right about her secondary relationship, B ended it with her boyfriend and her primary relationship is currently thriving. “When I had the spaciousness of the pandemic and lots of time to think and reflect, I realized I was trying to find something somewhere else that I wasn’t creating at home,” B says. “I could be giving my energy to my partner.” Mark Athens is a local kink educator from the leather community who teaches fire play and is part of a polycule. Pre-pandemic, they played regularly with other partners. When quarantine began, they closed their polycule and have kept it that way since. Everyone in Athens’ polycule, including his partner Puppy and athens’ owned—a term which denotes a 24/7 Master/slave relationship—are all essential workers. They said that if ever there was a time to truly gauge if polyamory was right for them, it’s now. The pandemic has made them realize they have to operate as a team to keep the household going. Planning every detail out,
even which person would snag a pack of toilet paper after work, became crucial. “Poly culture has this rep as being hookups, but people don’t see the teamwork,” Athens points out. Puppy agrees, sharing that, “The pandemic showed us that there is nothing we can’t do together.” I like to think about life in terms of continuums and spectrums. Most things aren’t binary or all-or-nothing. What I heard from people across the relationship style spectrum is that the last year and half has given them gifts in unexpected ways. Priorities rose to the surface no matter what their relationship structure was. Polyamory, like any style of dating, works for some and doesn’t for others—it’s a strong and healthy model for raising kids, running a family, and exploring your preferences. And for those looking to expand their love lives with polyamory in this second wave of the pandemic, take it from these folks: You can hold so much love in your heart and spread it around without causing the spread of COVID. Don’t forget to exercise, meditate, and masturbate! —XOXO Kristen You can find Kristen @OpenTheDoorsKC on Twitter or openthedoorscoaching.com. Check out her podcast, Keep Them Coming on The Pitch’s podcast network!
IV Hydration therapy for:
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SEX & LOVE
THE DADDY DAYS ARE OVER BY DAN SAVAGE
Dear Dan: Is it ever ok to stop being GGG? I’ve been with my husband for 26 years. Shortly after we got together, my husband disclosed a major kink: MFM [male-female-male] threesomes. I was young and a virgin and up for anything then, but we didn’t start hooking up with other men until around year six of our relationship. Over the last 20 years we’ve been on and off with this. We had children, we took a break, and we found the time to go wild now and then. My husband’s interests expanded into dominance play—owning me and sharing me—but I’m in my late 40s now and my husband is in his 50s. I’m approaching menopause and my sex drive has decreased. There were also instances where I was basically sexually assaulted—or at the very least, my boundaries were not respected on more than one occasion. Long story short, I want to be done being kinky. I want my body to be mine. My husband and I have been having other marital problems, and he thinks my rejection of his kinkiness is a rejection of him. I’ve told him I’m still interested in sex, I’m just tired of being GGG. He says he isn’t interested in vanilla sex with me because he is “disappointed.” When I told him to outsource his kink, he said, “Good luck finding that as a married man.” Am I ever allowed to retire from his kink? —My Years Being Obedient Done Dear MYBOD: First and most importantly, if your husband stood by and did nothing while your boundaries were violated in front of him—or if he violated your boundaries himself—then there’s an asshole in this marriage, MYBOD, and it ain’t you. But seeing as you’re still with your husband and still interested in having vanilla sex with him, I’m gonna assume your husband recognized how he failed you on those occasions when you were violated and that he’s shown remorse, apologized specifically and profusely, and made whatever changes he needed to make for you to feel safe with him. If he’s done none of those things—if he hasn’t done all of those things—you should leave him. Zooming out for new readers: GGG stands for “good, giving, game.” As in, “good in bed, giving of pleasure, and game for any-
THE PITCH | September 2021 | thepitchkc.com
thing—within reason.” I believe we should be GGG for our partners and that our partners should be GGG for us. Being GGG, however, does not mean doing whatever your partner wants. That’s why the final G has always come with that italicized-for-emphasis qualifier: “game for anything—within reason.” Being game means recognizing your partner will have sexual interests that you don’t share and being up for giving those things a try—so long as they’re reasonable. “Reasonable” is a subjective standard, of course, and we all get to decide for ourselves what may or may not be reasonable. Back to you, MYBOD. A kink for MMF threesomes is not a thing for feet or light spanking. It’s a big ask. And if your husband knew he needed MMF threesomes to feel sexually fulfilled, sharing that when he did—early in the relationship—was the right thing for him to do. He laid his kink cards on the table before you got married, before you had kids, and when you could easily walk away. You didn’t walk away. You told him you were open to the idea—you told him you were one of those rare “up for anything” virgins—and he didn’t rush you into anything. Six years went by before you had your first threesome. And while MMF threesomes probably aren’t something you would’ve sought out on your own, MYBOD, I’m hoping you enjoyed some of them. You know, the ones that didn’t involve boundary violations so egregious that you experienced them not as sexual adventures you were having with your husband, but as sexual assaults your husband participated in and Jesus Fucking Christ on the Cross. In all honesty, MYBOD, I’m having a hard time getting past those boundary violations. But seeing as you got past them— seeing as you’re still interested in being with your husband—I’m going to continue to assume he somehow made things right and advise you accordingly. If he didn’t make things right, disregard my advice and divorce the motherfucker already. Alright, you asked me if you can stop being GGG, MYBOD, and my answer is no. I think you should continue being GGG. That doesn’t mean you have to continue having MMF threesomes with your husband. You can decide you’re done with that. You can take them from the menu permanently while still being GGG in other ways. You’re also allowed to be done with Dom/ sub play. (Your husband never owned you and your body was never his to share. That was naughty dirty talk you indulged in, not a deed of sale you have to honor.) And doing what you’re doing—giving your partner permission to get a specific sexual need met elsewhere—is one way a person can be GGG. There’s this need, this kink of his that’s important to him—so important he brought it up early on—and you met that need for a long time but can’t meet it anymore. But you’re good enough, giving enough, and game enough to give him your blessing to get his kink on with other people. So you ha-
ven’t stopped being GGG. You’re being GGG in a different way now. And just as you’re not obligated to have kinky sex with your husband, MYBOD, your husband is not obligated to have vanilla sex with you. If you think he’s withholding sex right now because he’d disappointed, well, maybe you can see how it might be disappointing and give him a little time to get over it. But if, on the other hand, you think
fucking sulking and start fucking looking, the sooner you’ll find couples seeking male thirds. And you know those couples are out there because you and your wife used to be one of those couples. And far from being a stumbling block, the fact that you’re married is a selling point for many couples seeking thirds. (A married or partnered man is seen as less threatening for obvious reasons.) And I don’t know if you’ve been online recently,
“YOUR WIFE ISN’T TAKING YOUR KINK FROM YOU. SHE’S TELLING YOU TO GET THIS NEED MET ELSEWHERE. YOU ARE NOT BEING WRONGED. STOP BEING A BABY AND AN INGRATE. JESUS!” he’s withholding sex to manipulate you into having threesomes again, MYBOD, that’s a deeply shitty thing to do and you should leave him. P.S. Please show this to your husband, MYBOD: Dude. GET OVER YOUR DISAPPOINTMENT ALREADY. You had a good run. I hope you’re grateful and I hope your found some way to make up for boundary violations. Assuming you did: The sooner you stop
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but hot daddies are very much in demand these days, and dominant daddies get a lot of play. Your wife isn’t taking your kink from you. She’s telling you to get this need met elsewhere. You are not being wronged. Stop being a baby and an ingrate. Jesus! Question for Dan? Email him at mail@ savagelove.net. On Twitter at @fakedansavage.
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