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Provoking Ongoing Thought & Conversation

West End Word columnist MK Stallings gets the discussion going online at www.westendword.com

MK Stallings surrounded by hundreds of albums at one of his favorite places, Record Exchange on Hampton Avenue. photo by Max Bouvatte (click for larger version)
November 07, 2012
MK Stallings has something to say. Fortunately for him, he has a lot of ways to say it.

"I see myself as someone with the need to communicate, clarify or even advocate for something," he said. "Whatever platforms might be available, then I'll want to take full advantage of those opportunities to express what I think should be expressed."

Stallings will get that chance as the newest online columnist for the West End Word (www.westendword.com), but it's hardly his first attempt to provoke thought and conversation. As a writer, poet, teacher and radio personality with roots in the local arts community, Stallings likes to communicate through multiple formats.

He co-hosts "Literature for the Halibut," a program on KDHX, and participates in poetry readings in various locations around town. He's also an assistant director of community education and events and the Missouri History Museum, founder of the Urban Artist Alliance for Child Development and has led sociology classes as an instructor at several area institutions of higher learning including St. Louis University, St. Louis Community College, Columbia College and his alma mater, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where he earned a masters in the subject.

"I love writing and whatever comes out of writing," he said. "Sometimes, it's teaching, sometimes it's me performing a poem, sometimes it's creating a program that might be useful in some way. I try to write as much as possible."

MK, incidentally, stands for Martin-Keith, but he said he's been known by the initials since the late 1990s when he started doing poetry around town.

"I've just kind of carried it everywhere since then," said the native St. Louisan who has lived in the West End since 2006.

Stallings said that some of his poetry focuses on race.

"I see myself as connected to the black arts movement so my poems are much more social poetry," he said. "It has hints of abstract concepts throughout the pieces but I try to ground them in realities that I think my audience would be able to relate to and would resonate with them."

Stallings also talks easily about the things that have resonated with him.

"I grew up in the hip hop era. I grew up in a time when hip hop was becoming mainstream to some degree," he said. "A lot of the issues that hip hop artists touched on at the time were very much mainstream issues, such as race and sexual and gender identity, as well as place, the geography that the rapper or artist represents. From a very young age, I was very much interested in place, race and gender."

However, he said his column topics would be much broader in scope.

"People are much more than their races or their ethnicities," he said. "People are complicated. I'm interested in the intersections of who people are."

Those intersections can present a lot of possibilities. Stallings said that growing up in the area has allowed him to observe life from many perspectives.

"I could be seeing the same thing as somebody else but the way that we interpret the thing that we see can be very different," he said. "To be able to understand that that person might see it from a different viewpoint but being able to discuss what is factual, as well as to explore interpretations is what I think the mash up of being from St. Louis and studying sociology has enabled me to do."

Stallings said that issues of class and social position could be complicated ones, but that's a good reason to talk about them. That's why he enjoys teaching and speaking out.

"Part of the idea behind this is that some people are voiceless in society," he said. "Some people could use some clarification on certain murky topics. In those areas where I'm well-suited to speak for the voiceless or to clarify, I try to make myself available."

In the end, it's just another way to communicate and that's something Stallings loves to do.

"I'm just glad to have the opportunity to share my experiences with the neighborhood and my point of view," he said.

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