It’s safe to say Erin Litteken — who lives just outside St. Louis in Troy, Illinois — was not an overnight literary success. She worked on her debut novel for a full decade — and would later tell St. Louis on the Air that she saw plenty of rejections before she finally found a home for it. But when The Memory Keeper of Kyiv finally found an appreciative publisher, the timing seemed almost like destiny.
After Russia invaded Ukraine, Litteken’s passion for digging into the Soviet Union’s brutal oppression and forced starvation of her grandparents’ generation felt newly relevant, even to Americans who generally can’t be bothered with international politics. Litteken has now scored more than 1,500 ratings on Goodreads (with an impressive 4.52 average) and another 1,000 on Amazon (notching a 4.6 rating). Best of all, the book is set to be translated into a dozen different languages, bringing Ukraine’s 1930s nightmare to readers around the world. It’s one of those overnight successes only made possible by a lifetime of research and 10 hard years of work. But hopefully not too hard; Litteken, unsurprisingly, is already at work on a sequel. —Sarah Fenske
This town is only as good as its people, so it seems fitting that we cheer them (or in some cases boo them) in our annual Best Of. Here we celebrate the folks who are working hard to make St. Louis or Missouri a little better, who are fighting for our rights, fighting for what’s right, or celebrating our city in their own way. But this section also lets you in on some secrets — the best places to do anything, whether that’s meeting a future partner, hiding from the world, or dumping someone. Where can you throw a kid’s birthday party, or for that matter your own, with minimal fuss? The people and places of this city are what make it St. Louis, and here’s the best of both.
There are undoubtedly scores of powerful people all around the St. Louis area who think that Mark Pedroli is a total pain in the ass. But the attorney, who got his JD from Washington University, is a pain in the ass for the people. Pedroli has helped families sue the region’s two biggest jails over inhumane conditions. He’s also battled for transparent government through the Sunshine and Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit that has fought against the erosion of Missouri’s open records and transparency laws. He sued Eric Greitens over the then-governor’s use of a texting app that automatically deleted his messages to staff. Earlier this year Pedroli won a six-figure settlement for a St. Louis County mother of four who suffers from stage 4 cancer. After getting arrested, the mom was lost in the county jail system for three weeks due to a paperwork error. “Now she can spend her remaining days with family, maybe buy her kids a house,” Pedroil tells the RFT. “That feels good. That’s what it’s all about.” —Ryan Krull
State Representative Chuck Basye (R-Rocheport) went viral this spring as the recipient of a blistering takedown from fellow Representative Ian Mackey (D-St. Louis County). The Missouri House was debating an amendment to an elections bill that would prevent transgender women from playing on all-female teams.
Mackey told Basye he was “afraid of people like you growing up. I grew up in Hickory County, Missouri. I grew up in a school district that would vote tomorrow to put this in place.” The impassioned speech went viral on TikTok and Twitter. Rather than take his tongue-lashing like a man, Basye tried to save face by releasing a statement calling Mackey a “loudmouth crybaby.” On Facebook he wrote, “Ian is a man I think, but I’ll need to check on a few pronouns before I can certify!”
When one Kansas City resident asked Basye about his homophobic language, the state rep doubled down. Basye phoned the resident and continued to spout asinine nonsense about transgender people. “I don’t get [transgender] people at all. Isn’t it great that they can live in America and do that kind of stuff? Where if they were in Iran or North Korea or Russia they’d be slaughtered.”
But we may have heard the last of Basye, who is stepping down due to term limits after eight years in the House. Even without term limits, the former air-traffic controller, who once introduced a bill to make it legal to turn left on a red light, would face an uphill battle in his district, which was redrawn to be more favorable to Democrats. All the better for Missouri, we say. —Rosalind Early
We didn't have a photo of Renaud, but here is an image of the paper he works for.
Josh Renaud has had a hell of a year. Governor Mike Parson falsely accused the St. Louis Post-Dispatch data journalist of “hacking” the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s website to access the Social Security numbers of educators. He hadn’t — the numbers were viewable in the HTML code of the website, something anyone could access. Renaud even informed officials of the vulnerability before publishing his exposé, and officials later determined Renaud did nothing wrong. The governor still has not apologized. Despite all that, Renaud has displayed extreme grace and composure, continuing to publish quality data representations of just how much rain the St. Louis area got in the historic flash floods earlier this year, the ages of area buildings and crime statistics. Plus, Renaud used his spotlight to highlight a greater issue: the government’s attack on freedom of the press. Renaud’s resilience is the stuff that journalists everywhere can take a page from. —Jenna Jones
VIA UNITED TALENT AGENCY
With her new show Welcome Home Nikki Glaser, the comedian has become a great St. Louis ambassador.
Comedian on the brink of major stardom leaves her glitzy life in Los Angeles for flyover country, hooks up with an ex and crashes in her parents’ suburban home for more than a year. It sounds like the setup for a terrible sitcom, one in which we learn the comedian is a slob (or a snob) and her hometown is a backwater. But that’s not how Welcome Home Nikki Glaser? plays — because this is a reality show, not a sitcom, and because the reality is that Nikki Glaser is hilarious and charming and not at all a slob (or a snob). Sure, her E! series jokes about the unlikely relocation, and the way you can’t go anywhere in this two-horse town without running into some guy you dated in high school. But overall, St. Louis looks as good as it’s looked in the national media in a long time. By showing that you can achieve show business success from an apartment in the Central West End that’s a hell of a lot bigger than anything you could afford in LA, the famously raunchy comedian sets an example that we can only hope other celebrities will follow. And if not, we’re counting on the pride of Kirkwood High filming many more shows here. FBoy Island: Lake of the Ozarks? We’d watch the hell out of that one. —Sarah Fenske
The Sunflower State shocked the nation by upholding a woman's right to choose.
Have you ever looked over at Kansas and thought, “Man, I wish I lived there?” Neither had we until August 2022, when people there voted overwhelmingly to protect their access to abortion. This is the home of the Westboro Baptist Church (those homophobic assholes that protest outside of funerals). This state is only slightly less Trump-crazy than us. So no one was thinking this would be an easy victory. But independents, who couldn’t vote on any candidates in the primary, showed up just to protect their right to abortion. People registered to vote and then went and voted just to protect their right to abortion. In Kansas! Can we click our heels three times and do the same in Missouri? —Rosalind Early
Benton Park the park sports a fountain, a lake, a bridge, a monument, tennis courts and a playground. For a city park, it’s all right. Benton Park the neighborhood, on the other hand, has it going on. The oft-overlooked sibling to Tower Grove South and Soulard, BP contains reasonably priced housing for purchase or rent, true walkability and the premier antique district (Cherokee Antique Row) in the metro area. Some of St. Louis’ favorite eateries — Peacemaker, Frazer’s, Gus’ Pretzels — can be found within its bounds, not to mention dueling coffee shops the Mud House and Shameless Grounds. Both the Lemp Mansion and the Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion are also in Benton Park. Houses are mostly beautiful St. Louis brick townhouses with intricate historic detailing akin to Lafayette Square’s painted ladies, but are a fraction of the cost thanks to the area’s less-than-bourgeoise history. —Jessica Rogen
Via Virginia Harold Courtesy Pulitzer Arts Foundation
We’ve been big fans of the Spring Church (620 North Spring Avenue) site for a long time, and we couldn’t be happier about its new life. Located in Grand Center, Spring Church was an old shell that sat unused for years. The 1950s-era church caught fire in 2001, which left just the stone walls standing. The fire even claimed the roof, so the church was open to the heavens, which made it really beautiful, gothic and moody. But after years of the space being left to crumble, the Pulitzer Arts Foundation stepped in and rehabbed it, and now Spring Church is St. Louis’ hottest new art site. It’s the best possible ending for what has always been a magical location, and a huge lesson in how preservation efforts can help St. Louis’ past and St. Louis’ future mingle beautifully. —Jaime Lees
Check out the Planetarium inside the Saint Louis Science Center when you want to get away from everyone.
The McDonnell Planetarium at the Saint Louis Science Center
Earth is a nightmare right now. With global political upheaval, climate change and a never-ending pandemic or two, it’s reasonable to want to skip off to another planet. But space travel is not where it needs to be and avoiding people is nearly impossible on this overpopulated rock, so the best way to escape is to send your mind to space. The McDonnell Planetarium at the Saint Louis Science Center (5050 Oakland Avenue, 314-289-4400) offers a glimpse into how beautiful life could be if you were 3.1222 billion light years away from Earth. Visitors are generally pretty well behaved during Planetarium shows, too. The room is dark and quiet, and if you keep your eyes to the skies you won’t even have to see that you’re actually surrounded on all sides by mouth-breathing earthlings. —Jaime Lees
A horse race at FanDuel Sportsbook and Horse Racing
If you want to be a little naughty in Illinois, but not super naughty in Sauget, hit up FanDuel Sportsbook and Horse Racing (9301 Collinsville Road, Collinsville; 618-345-4300) and bet on the ponies. Formerly Fairmount Park, FanDuel Sportsbook and Horse Racing still has all of the fun you remember from back in the day. You can get in as little or as much trouble as you’d like here. Sure, lots of big betting goes down, but you can get in on the action for just a couple of dollars. Lots of people who don’t understand stats choose their horse by name, but we like to choose the horse with the biggest behind. (More running power, right?) Place your bet, get some of those weirdly delicious stadium-style nachos and then sit back and rake in the money. Or, you know, lose a few bucks and have a good time. Whichever comes first. —Jaime Lees