Tune in to 89.1 FM on June 25 at 7 p.m. CST for KUAR’s radio program Arts & Letters, featuring poet Lea Graham who grew up in Fayetteville and now lives part-time in Central Arkansas.
After earning her doctorate in creative writing/literature from the University of Illinois-Chicago, Graham went on to publish extensively and is now a professor at Marist College in New York State. Her second book of poetry, “From the Hotel Vernon,” is now the subject of a forthcoming radio broadcast about gritty, lost personalities surviving in a once elegant hotel that is now in decline.
The 54-minute episode “From the Hotel Vernon,” produced by J. Bradley Minnick and Mary Ellen Kubit for NPR-member station KUAR, highlights Graham’s experience working at the historic Hotel Vernon in Worcester, Massachusetts. This is where she learned about the turn-of-the-century hotel and saw old murals of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” one of which was painted by the cartoonist Al Capp of Li’l Abner fame. Realizing that her home state “was everywhere,” From the Vernon Hotel came out of that experience and was published by Salmon Poetry in Ireland in 2019. This poetry collection recounts the stories, experiences and histories of the hotel, its inhabitants, and the surrounding neighborhood.
This newly produced radio show will take listeners on an action-packed journey through ship-themed rooms where lonely dreamers rub elbows with “artists, newspapermen and neighbors,” where “humor and abject poverty” paint a portrait of the American spirit striving to survive. As noted in a recent book review in the Woodstock Times, “One could spend hours wandering through [this book] ... inhaling the stale dollar drafts, roasted peanuts, and distilled decades of sweat ... in a human cocktail of sorrow, bedbugs and all.” Meanwhile, the ghosts of patron Babe Ruth hangs in the air with the voices of Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison.
Original music and soundscapes by Adam Simon and Donavan Suitt are included in the episode. The show will be rebroadcast on June 27 at 9 p.m. The show will then be archived as an Arts & Letters podcast, which can be accessed online at artsandlettersradio.org, iTunes, and the NPR Podcast page.
Arts & Letters is an educational radio show that endeavors to enlighten its audience and is dedicated to showcasing aspects of the humanities and literary arts in Arkansas and beyond. This program was made possible through a grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.