by Michael R. Allen
This past Sunday, people flocked to the St. Stanislaus Kostka Church complex on North 20th Street for their annual Summer Picnic. Many of these people were there to purchase the new book Unyielding Spirit: The History of the Polish People in St. Louis and meet its author, historian NiNi Harris. NiNi’s book signing line was steady throughout the day.
Unyielding Spirit was definitely the main attraction, but NiNi is worth a lot of attention. Over the last thirty years, NiNi has gained a vast knowledge of the people and places of this city, especially her native south St. Louis. Her recall is quick, and her details usually precisely remembered. She likes to tell good stories, too — the hallmark of a great historian. NiNi seems possessed by a desire to see that the people and places of this city live forever.
NiNi shares both knowledge and passion through frequent walking tours, lectures, seven books, over 600 articles and what must be millions of conversations. The remarkable thing is that she is self-employed, having never sought the safety and salary of nonprofits, government or the other places historians’ circumstances usually lead them.
Above all, NiNi remains approachable and joyful about her work — and modest. She actually called me on Monday to thank me for stopping by her book signing. (Unyielding Spirit is available for sale through St. Stanislaus Kostka and at the Chatillon-DeMenil House shop.)