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Poetry reading celebrates Kansas Sesquicentennial

December 07, 2011 12:00AM

As part of the celebration of Kansas’ 150th year of statehood, the Distinguished Visiting Writer Series at Pittsburg State University will host a reading featuring the work of 12 Kansas poets. The reading, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 8, in the Governor’s Room of the Overman Student Center, is free and open to the public. It is part of a 20-city reading tour to commemorate the publication of “Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems.” 

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, poet laureate of Kansas, organized the book publication and the reading tour. The project, which celebrates the Kansas Sesquicentennial, began in April with poets submitting work that related to Kansas. Mirriam-Goldberg said the collection represents a diverse group of poets and perspectives.

“This book is a wonderful compilation of poetry across Kansas, bringing together over 90 poets from all over and beyond the state to share the beauty, mystery, surprises, quirks and stories of Kansas,” Mirriam-Goldberg said.

Organizers said the reading is a reminder Kansas’ rich history of regional writing that includes such notable poets as James Tate, a Pulitzer-Prize winning poet and PSU alumnus; William Stafford, Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks.

Laura Lee Washburn, director of creative writing at PSU, said an unusual number of poets have connections to Pittsburg. Of the 93 poets included in “Begin Again,” 12 have connections to Pittsburg and PSU. 

“The literary prowess of this region may be one of its best-kept secrets,” Washburn said. “Pittsburg has a lot to be proud of in this anthology.”

Reading on Dec. 8 are Washburn, Iris Wilkinson, Lorraine Achey, Roland Sodowsky, Stephen Meats, Daniele Cunningham, Olive L. Sullivan, Rick Nichols, Al Ortolani, Max Yoho, Melissa Fite, Allison Berry, and Ronda Miller. Poets who are included in the anthology but who will not be at the reading are Eric Dutton who was born in Pittsburg and received his master’s from PSU, and Pamela Yenser who also received her master’s at PSU. 

About the poets:

Laura Lee Washburn is the author of “This Good Warm Place” and “Watching the Contortionists.” Her poetry has appeared in Prime Number, Cavalier Literary Couture, Valparaiso Review, The Sun, The Journal, and elsewhere. Washburn has lived in Pittsburg since 1997.

Iris Wilkinson lives in Lawrence and is a professor at Washburn University.

Lorraine Achey has lived in Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas all her life. She’s written a poetry collection called “Diner on Dark’s Last Corner,” which is waiting for a publisher.

Roland Sodowsky worked in the wheat fields of Kansas as a teenager.  His books include “The Things We Lose,” an AWP award winner for short fiction; “Interim in the Desert,” and “Un-Due West.” He received a National Endowment for the Arts Award in 1989 and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame Award for Short Fiction in 1991. His poetry and fiction have appeared in Atlantic Monthly, American Literary Review, Glimmer Train, and Midwest Quarterly, and is a 2009 Kansas Voices award winner. Sodowsky lives in Pittsburg.

Stephen Meats has taught literature and creative writing at PSU since 1979. He has published poems and short stories in various journals, and a book of poems, “Looking For the Pale Eagle” (1993). He has been poetry editor at The Midwest Quarterly since 1985.

Daniele Cunningham has been published in The Cow Creek Review and The SEK Celebration Program.

Olive L. Sullivan, an award-winning writer, grew up in Pittsburg.

Rick Nichols lives in Leavenworth. His book is “50 Sermons, 50 States: Presentations From the Pulpit for the People of America.”

Al Ortolani has taught in Kansas for 37 years. His poetry has appeared in The Midwest Quarterly, The English Journal, The Laurel Review, The New York Quarterly, and others. His second book of poetry, “Finding the Edge,” was published in 2011. He is currently co-editor of The Little Balkans Review.

Max Yoho, a Topekan and native Kansan, is a retired machinist and award-winning author. His novels, several of which are set in Kansas, include “The Revival,” “The Moon Butter Route,” “With the Wisdom of Owls,” and “Me and Aunt Izzy: Doing Time at the Jesse James Hideout and Coal Mining Company.” His awards include the J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award and the Distinguished Literary Artist award. Yoho has two books on the Favorite Kansas Books List.

Melissa Fite teaches English at Pittsburg High School. She also lives in Pittsburg.

Allison Berry was born and raised in Pittsburg. She teaches English and Women’s Studies at PSU.

Ronda Miller lives in Lawrence. She is the author of “The 150th Pony Express Re-Ride.” She writes for The Examiner. Miller has been published in Tallgrass Voices, Blue Island Review, The Smithsonian Institute of Art, and more.

This will be the fourth event in the 2011-2012 Distinguished Visiting Writer Series, which brings nationally acclaimed authors, poets and writers to PSU. The series is sponsored by the English Department and the Student Fee Council. For information about the Distinguished Writers Series, contact Lori Martin in the PSU English Department at 620-235-7588,

Information about the Kansas 150 tour is available at the Poet Laureate’s website

©2011 Pittsburg State University