Building a Writing Marathon StoryMap for Saint Joseph, MO

Prairie Lands Writing Project Summer Institute Scholars and graduate students on a writing marathon read-around at Mokaska Coffee

In the Fall of 2019, I was fortunate enough to teach another graduate course on writing marathons. This time we set out to use some of our marathoning to help compose a StoryMap for Saint Joseph, Mo– one that we could use with future Prairie Lands Writing Project Summer Institute scholars.

Writers at the Albrecht Kemper Museum of Art in Saint Joseph, MO

The StoryMap itself is still a work and progress at the time of this posting, but we had great fun roaming around this fascinating town.

The groups I was in wrote at Mokaska Coffee Company, Longboards Wraps and Bowls, the Patee House Museum, Sakura Sushi and Hibachi, the downtown branch of St. Joseph Public Libraries, the Albrecht Kemper Art Museum, and Pappy’s Grill and Pub, among a few other places.

I am grateful to all of the graduate students who were in my marathon groups and for their engaged explorations (and celebrations) of writing marathons alongside me. Here are a few selections of writing from those stops, with photos of writers and our PLWP mascot, Piper the Prairie Dog.

11: 15 am, Mokaska Coffee

Writing in Mokaska Coffee’s courtyard

This artisan coffee roasting company also has a cute coffee shop where you can get specialty coffees, beer, and other drinks.  Lots of good, comfy seating and tables for writing.  Great people watching and views of downtown St. Joseph street life. “So they have beer here now?  And cold brew on nitro?  Mango kombucha?  See, now, here again I have to say Saint Joseph has got is going on.  Seriously, now, this is all you need in a coffee shop. You who run off to KC and to Lawrence– I feel you.  I do.  These are way cool places, with lots of amazing food and art and sushi and cocktails.  But we need to start supporting our own Saint Joseph places, too, or they won’t stay.  And this place is just dang adorable. Just some of the cool features I am loving today: handmade syrups like blueberry-cardamom; expansive seating options in the main bar, couch area, and patio; coffee options that include cold brew, nitro, and pour-over; milk options that include cow, soy, almond, and coconut; a special “Rescue Roast” with proceeds supporting the local animal shelter; the option to have beer, wine, or a cocktail instead of coffee. What a place!

Patee House Museum, 1:45 pm

Wild Things Carousel at Patee House Museum

The Wild Things Carousel is a local treasure. Built in 1941 by world-famous carousel carver Bruce White, it features not just horses but also a wolf, dog, hummingbird, eagle, fish, shark, a Pegasus, and several other animals. Earlier, I watched a family ride it. The dad had to climb on at the last minute to calm an anxious kiddo– a little girl who clung tight to the Pegagus, her eyes as big as her pacifier.

Her older brother looked lanky astride the dinosaur beside her. Next, a group of five grey-haired older folks make their way around. I can tell that they want to ride, and for a moment I think they will, but then they head out through the side door toward the Jesse James home.

Downtown Branch, St. Joseph Public Library, 3:10 pm

Writing with Piper, the PLWP mascot, under the glass at the Downtown Branch of the St. Joseph Public Libraries

I adore this spot under the glass floor of the second level.  It is a book cave, dark and protected, with enough art deco flourish to the wooden shelves to make it feel even older than it is.  The light is dim here, but it is enough for writing.  The deep hum of the HVAC vibrates my table just a bit, just enough.  It is the “Om” of bibliophiles, the hymn of the sacred reading space.

As I write,  the glass above me is creaking and crackling.  I’m intrigued rather than disturbed, though. I trust the engineering of the early 1900s. The six inch wide steel beams and three inch bolts holding the glass squares in place reassure me. But the footsteps themselves–hazy dark shapes coming and going– unsettle something in lizard brain.

Through the grey-green of the  thick glass, these foot-shapes appear and disappear as apparitions. A procession of small ghosts, a shadowy phalanx marching one way, then another. I feel myself hunker down a bit, safe in my writer’s nook.  I am a scribbling creature of the lower realms, keeping watch on the weird heavens. The globular masses shuffle and shift.  They gather into a menacing huddle, and the creaking grows stronger.  There is, a heavy pause. Then, the dark shapes are on the move again, making their way across the firmament. 

A moment later, the spirit footsteps become manifest as human feet, descending the narrow spiral staircase. The feet grow into fully formed humans, all in a line. Another writing marathon group! I smile as they move past my book cave and back out into the main lobby without seeing me.

Piper the Prairie Lands Writing Project Prairie Dog on the writing marathon with MWSU graduate students



  1. I loved reading about your marathon, especially since I was in one of the other groups. The Writing Marathon class was so much fun, and I wish we could gather again. I am so thankful for my WM experiences!

  2. I thought I had replied to this the other day when it was posted. I guess I didn’t.

    What stands out most to me about all of your posts about writing marathons is the camaraderie that clearly exists between the participants. That is something I look forward to when I get to have this experience. As with most things about sharing my writing, it gives me a bit of anxiety. But that is probably a good thing to get over.

  3. I recognize a face on this writing marathon! We were in the summer institute (a few years ago). This is what I love the most about the marathons and PLWP! Meeting new people while reconnecting with some familiar folks at the same time. St Joseph really is a quaint city with quirky places to discover. All the better for discussion and writing.

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