The Last Children of Mill Creek

In the late 1950s, a beloved black community was met with bulldozers. Thousands of homes in the region of the city stretching from downtown to midtown were turned to dust and the physical dwellings of Mill Creek Valley were reduced to a memory.

But through first time author Vivian Gibson, the memories and endearment for the neighborhood and the generations with a shared history of the community that lived there are shared with crisp detail. Her debut book “Last Children of Mill Creek,” was released in April is a both a memoir and heartfelt tribute to the neighborhood that his been forgotten by so many. 

Last month she discussed her book and how she came to write it during a Facebook Live Conversation with St. Louis native and journalist Ryan Schuessler – who Gibson requested because of his role in what led to her having her first book published. The chat was presented by Left Bank Books.

Seeking to busy herself after retirement, Gibson found an ad for a writer’s workshop led by St. Louis Oasis, a group for seniors. 

She had been cleaning out a desk and found a lot of writings that she had done over the years but had not compiled any of it.

“I thought, maybe I will take this workshop so I can compile these things for my children – and my grandchildren that I might have one day.” Gibson said. “I really did enjoy the writing workshop because you get feedback. It’s a frightening experience to write something, read it and to have it critiqued. And in this one, you couldn’t speak – you couldn’t defend what you wrote. It turned out to be a wonderful experience and I really did improve my writing.” 

The woman facilitating the workshop kept telling Gibson that her writing was good. 

“I kept saying, ‘thank you,’” Gibson said. 

The woman assured her she wasn’t saying so just to be polite by encouraging her to submit her work for literary magazines and anthologies. 

At first, she was reluctant, because that wasn’t the intention of her participating in the workshop. 

“I was there to write a book,” Gibson said.

She ultimately relented after positive feedback. Gibson received an email suggesting that she submit her work to an anthology about life in St. Louis. 

“I had workshopped a piece, and at 11:30 at night I pressed send – and probably around 8 o’clock the next morning, you e-mailed me back,” Gibson said to Schuessler. 

His response was “I love it, do you have more?”

Gibson turned the tables on her interviewer as she traced the origins of her debut book.

“My question to you is, what did you see in that initial piece?” Gibson asked Schuessler. 

Hers was one of the first submissions for Belt Publishing’s “St. Louis Anthology.” 

“I was reading it as I was having my breakfast before work and it quite literally made my jaw drop a little bit,” he said. “The warmth of your writing, the vividness of the prose was so captivating and felt so organic. I think that initial piece was a great omen of what was going to come with that project.”

He sent the piece to the Anne Trubek, editor of Belt Publishing and said, “you have to read this.” 

A year and a half later Gibson and Schuessler were together – virtually, at least – talking about Gibson’s memoir, which was also published by Belt. 

“It’s been kind of a whirlwind of events around getting this book written,” Gibson said.

Response to the book, both from the St, Louis community and the literary community has been overwhelmingly positive – and rightfully so.

Her use of the language to describe an African American neighborhood that was considered a slum, speaks to the treasure Mill Creek Valley actually was – and gems that it produced.

Rich and vivid, her words give texture and to the experiences to the point where the reader feels transported to her days. 

She admits that the success of the book was one of the biggest surprises of the process.

“I still can’t quite wrap my had around people’s description of the writing and how they relate to it,” Gibson said. “And how it makes them feel.” 

“Last Children Of Mill Creek” is available for purchase online and anywhere books are sold, including Left Bank Books, to purchase the book from Left Bank Books, visit www.left-bank.com

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