The following is about the book “What the Hell is St. Louis Thinking,” compiled by local artist/poet Henry Goldkamp. To read the full book for free, click on the following link for a PDF download. WTHSTL E-book. For a Curator video and article detailing Goldkamp’s process and the initial stages of the book, click here.
By now you might know about local artist and poet Henry Goldkamp’s project: he installed typewriters all over the city in various neighborhoods, sitting atop large wooden submission boxes which he would empty and read. Oftentimes, he’d have 40 or more typewriters set up at a time. Residents, tourists, or passersby were instructed to type anything they wanted and submit it through a small slot in the wooden box. Goldkamp starting receiving a wide range of notes:
His idea was to then compile the submissions into a book, written entirely by people in the city itself. “It’s never been done before. I Googled it,” said Goldkamp. “Finally, I Googled an idea that hadn’t been done. I was ecstatic.” Some people wrote a smorgasbord of letters, like “‘asdfkifj,” and turned it in. “I’d see personal notes … mainly like, ‘Hey Henry– suck my balls,’” Goldkamp recalls. One said: “I think that all these typewriters are located in areas with the same or similar demographics and don’t really represent the community, as they will only get thoughts from white hipsters or tourists.” He also received the following handwritten note:
He then vowed not to take away the typewriters until usable entries from each of the 70 neighborhoods in St. Louis City were represented, and worked with a typewriter expert he found on Craigslist to ensure their upkeep.
Many typewriters, submissions, and a Kickstarter campaign later, the book is finally here. “I’d read a child’s thoughts about what he’d like to be when he grows up, then consider my days of youthful wonder,” he writes in the introduction to the book. “I’d read a young girl’s laments over a ruined relationship, then reflect upon my own heartbreaks. I’d read an old man’s fear of his age and inevitable death, then remember the nights that those wretched questions kept me, too, from sleeping.”
Split into three parts and 213 pages, it represents a range of humanity. The entries are a hilarious, heartfelt, human collection of unmasked vulnerabilities.
The work is a tremendous must-read for St. Louisans. If you want to see an unfiltered view of what goes on in people’s heads in and around the city, read the free, full-length PDF version of the book here: WTHSTL E-book. You can also buy a hard copy version of the book (a great Christmas present!) for $20 here.