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I am here to confess, writing about a great writer ain’t easy.  I have typed, deleted, and started over several times after interviewing Kay West this afternoon.  Since beginning this blog, I have been telling Liza, “Kay West would be a great interview for StyleBlueprint.”  If you are new to Nashville you may not know her name, but trust me, she is worth getting to know.

Kay is that obnoxious person who always wins in Balderdash because she has done SO many unusual things in her life; it can get intimidating and even downright depressing.  Therein lies the reason I adore Kay West.  With all her star power, good looks and contacts with the rich and famous, she is down to earth, charming and REALLY FUNNY.  I hope all of you have as much fun reading this interview as I had doing it.

Kay West

Tell me what you are doing now, I have heard you are working for People Magazine?

That’s right.  I have been a correspondent for People Magazine for three years which includes People Weekly, People Country (published six times a year) and People Magazine has a presence in Nashville due to the popularity of country music and the large number of country music stars who attract a younger and more mainstream audience.  I recently had a cover story on Brad Paisley on both People Weekly and People Country.

I am also working on a book about a feral child named Dani who was adopted by a couple from Lebanon TN.  The book is based on an article from the St. Petersburg Times , “Girl in the Window”  which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009.

(Kay’s other books include: How to Raise a Gentleman, How to Raise a Lady and Around the Opry Table:  Recipes and Stories from the Grand Ole Opry.

Describe your background and how it relates to your current career?

I decided to move to New York instead of going to college at nineteen.  My first job, believe it or not, was a receptionist at Penthouse Magazine. Back then, both Penthouse and Playboy were respected in the industry and competed head-to head for interviews.  Penthouse was the first to publish author John Irving – a real coup for us.  I would categorize Playboy as more sophisticated and Penthouse was slightly more blue-collar. I rose to associate editor, in conjunction with freelancing for SoHo Weekly, an alternative to the alternative newspaper in town.

Penthouse‘s interest in country music is what brought me to Nashville in the early 80’s.  When I left the magazine, I worked for Joe Galante at RCA and later MCA.  I really didn’t like being a publicist.

But weren’t you George Strait’s publicist for a number of years?

Yeah, but George hated publicity so we were a good fit.

Name an early mentor.

Cynthia Heimel, a well-known television writer and book author.  She was an editor at SoHo Weekly and wrote for Penthouse. Working with a brilliant and funny woman when I was 20 gave me a great insight into the world.   She gave me my first assignment- to write about a bakery in SoHo owned by two moms called “In the Night Kitchen,” named after the famous book by Maurice Sendak.   They were masters of multi-tasking and literally baked all night long.

Note:  Cynthia may be featured in a future blog post; her books include Advanced Sex Tips for Girls;Get Your Tongue out of my Mouth, I’m Kissing You Goodbye, and- not to missed- If You Can’t Live Without Me, Why Aren’t You Dead Yet?

So, what has been the biggest story of the season that you’ve covered for People?

The birth of Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman’s baby was HUGE.  People Magazine wanted to be the first publication to announce the birth.  There were about six writers covering the story nationally, so to break the story first, we needed to know their every movement.  Learning to be a discrete stalker can have its challenges.  We operated like private eyes while still maintaining respect for the stars’ privacy and need for space.

The break-up of Lee Ann Rimes’ marriage was a big story also.  It started as an unconfirmed rumor-then confirmed. My job was to interview friends and family members to understand both sides of the break-up.

When I first came to town, you were  “Betty Banner” and then food critic for the Nashville Scene.  Any funny stories?

Nashville seemed to love Betty Banner, she wasn’t mean, but a bit sassy and fun-loving.  I had an older woman say to me once that she missed Betty.  Probably the funniest stories were from my food critic days.  Once after stopping by a restaurant several times called Antonio’s, (located in Green Hills) I finally found it open.  As I walked through the door, I heard someone in the kitchen yell, “What I am supposed to do with this big ass ham?”  I ran that as the headline, much to the owner’s chagrin.   The restaurant was owned by the Formosa family so every time I saw one of their trucks, I ducked.

What was the hardest part of being a high profile restaurant reviewer?

Giving a bad review to a restaurant was tough.  I would go back several times to be sure what I was writing was correct.  It’s not like in a big city when you give a bad review you never hear or see them again.  In Nashville, the owner is likely to have a kid on your kids’ soccer team.  That is a true story by the way.

You were at the Scene for 15 years. Was that a good experience?

Incredible!  John Bridges, Susan Quick, and I were the first writers for the Scene, endearingly called the perma-lancers, as opposed to freelancers.  We were offered $25 to write an article  and gladly accepted the cash   The Scene was widely read by the Nashville community and was edgy.  The Scene management – Bruce Dobie and Albie DelFavero – always stood behind my reviews, even when it was a tough call.  I took over the Food beat in 1992, and did it through the end of 2006, 15 years. I figured out that was about 1,000 meals professionally consumed, and 1.5 million words written for that column alone!

I know you write a food column now for Nashville Lifestyles. What restaurant are you excited about right now?

The Park Cafe in Sylvan Park  has an imaginative and creative young chef.  The interiors are being re-designed by Cathy Anderson.   They should do quite well.

What is your favorite personal extravagance?

Time alone.  Every year I go to the beach for 3-4 days and engage people sparingly.

Name 3 things you can not live without (excluding family and friends)

  • The color black
  • Salad – I eat one about twice a day
  • Books

So, what are you reading right now?

The 10 year Nap by  Meg Wolitzer.  I just finished Blame by Michelle Huneven

You are chairing the Magdalene House event called Face of Love. Can you tell me why I should go?

The Magdalene House is one of my favorite charities in Nashville.  Its mission is to help women who have survived lives of violence, prostitution and addiction.  By hand, the women create natural bath and body products under the label of Thistle Farms.

Face of Love is an evening of art, music, and reflection and an opportunity to experience the Face of Love through the eyes of more than 75 artists, community  leaders and the women of Magdalene House.

Face of Love
November 4, 2009
Commodore Ballroom
Vanderbilt Student Life Center
Chairs:  Kay West, Dorenda Carter, Charles Strobel

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