Critical Mass

Remembering John Mark Eberhart

By Steve Paul

John Mark Eberhart, who presided over books coverage at The Kansas City Star for nine years, died of cancer on March 19. He was 52.

A poet, musician and all-around good fellow, John Mark left a lot of friends in the local literary world. As books editor, he encouraged young writers, gave space to poets and championed good writing wherever he found it.

Born in St. Joseph, Mo., he landed on the journalism track in the 1980s and, after working in Baton Rouge, La., he joined The Star’s staff in 1987. His stint as book review editor ran from 2000 to early 2009. Later that year, he was diagnosed with cancer, about a year after his wife, Sherri, had died after a long bout with breast cancer.

In one of his last pieces for The Star, John Mark reflected on the death of John Updike, who’d been a longtime passion:

John Updike’s death Tuesday ended a half-century writing career that was marked by frequent brilliance,  steadfast craftsmanship and only occasional failure.

I had been reading him for almost 30 of those years, and rare was the time when he truly disappointed me. In this critic’s opinion, no other American author born in the 20th century achieved so much in so many forms of writing.

Updike was a novelist,  short-story writer,  poet,  critic,  children’s book author,  memoirist,  essayist and playwright. I just can’t imagine he ever faced a single morning thinking, “What to do today?” He had plenty to do and did it well.

John Mark published a couple volumes of poetry, “Night Watch” (2005) and “Broken Time” (2008). His poems appeared in journals around the region.

I saw him for the last time while he was in hospice, and treasured the moment. His father was there and talked about the family’s long history of cancer. I had arrived at the same time as a music therapist, who set out to sing gospel tunes for John Mark. “Beautiful,” he said after each one.

One of his poems has made the Internet rounds. It’s a journey through a Kansas landscape, and begins like this:

This is the time.
The wind in this wheat
will never be the wind again.


Steve Paul was book review editor of The Kansas City Star in the 1980s and ‘90s, an NBCC board member, and currently, as senior writer and arts editor, supervises the newspaper’s Books pages.