Sunday, October 11, 2009

Scenes From the 2009 Sunflower State Book Festival

Back in 2006 a number of Kansas state agencies led by the Kansas Center for the book staged the first ever Kansas Book Festival in Wichita.  The event drew thousands to meet and greet authors, publishers, illustrators, and others on the Kansas literary scene.  It was a celebration of the rich legacy of the Sunflower State in word.

The first Kansas Book Festival was held in Wichita, Kansas, in 2006 and brought together authors, small publishers, illustrators, and the public to both celebrate the rich literary legacy of Kansas and to encourage new writers to enter the field and write about the Sunflower State. The event was held again in Wichita in 2007 but not renewed in 2008.

In early 2009 a few Kansas authors called for the Festival to be restarted, and in May Osborne in the Solomon Valley of north-central Kansas was the city asked to do so, thanks to recent work by area volunteers in promoting the books "Sod & Stubble" and "Sod-House Days," two nationally-recognized classic Kansas stories  published in the 1930s and set in Osborne County. Osborne County is also the self-proclaimed "Homestead Literature Capital of Kansas," a designation that factored greatly in the request.

A Festival Committee was quickly formed and by July firm plans were in place and being set in motion.  The Committee consisted of Karen Wallace, librarian of the Osborne KS Public Library, and Sherry Knouf of the Downs KS Carnegie Library; Carolyn Wiliams, Alton KS; Betty Pruter, Natoma, KS; Laura McClure, Osborne KS; and Von Rothenberger, Osborne, KS.   The Committee worked to bring the Festival together under the umbrella of the non-profit Northern Kansas Association of Osborne, with the date of Saturday, October 10th decided upon for the event.

The reborn and renamed Sunflower State Book Festival continued the concept of celebrating the rich literary legacy of Kansas.  Therefore only Kansas authors or books about Kansas were allowed to be part of the Festival.   Authors across the state were contacted and invited to take part.  The Festival would be held in the "New Gym," as it was locally known, at Osborne High School.  Advertising was then put into motion across all of Kansas and through southern Nebraska for this unique event, and sponsors were lined up both statewide and local.  In the end the major sponsors of the event were the Kansas Humanities Council, the Kansas Center of the Book, the Central Kansas Library System, the Osborne Public Library, the Downs Carnegie Library, the State Bank of Downs, Farmers Bank of Osborne, the Dane G. Hansen Foundation, the Sarver Charitable Trust, and the McFadden Charitable Trust. 

For all the work done in preparation of the event, some major last-minute obstacles threatened to dreail the entire Festival.  Some anticipated funding in the form of grants finally appeared only scant days before the event.  Then, on the Tuesday before, tragedy struck the Osborne community when Mark and Deb Morrison, a popular local couple, lost their lives in a traffic accident in Oklahoma.  The only building large enough in the city to hold their funeral was the New Gym, and that meant moving the entire Festival to a new location and inform both the coming authors and the public in general of this in only four days. 

The immediate problem was solved when the school district offered to let the Festival be moved into the "Old Gym," located across the street inside of Osborne High School.  Both the Kansas Center for the Book and the Central Kansas Lybrary System in Great Bend helped spread the word across the state of the new location.

A last obstacle arrived that Saturday morning in the form of freezing rain and even a chance of snow.  This threat kept away any anticipated crowd.

But in spite of it all the Festival went on as scheduled and the doors were opened at 9:00AM, with nearly thirty authors and other organizations in attendance.  The diverse genres of books available to the general public included childrens, poetry, action/adventure, genealogy, Kansas & Western history, and several more.

Admission to the Festival was free, and the concession stand was operated out of the school's Home Economics kitchen by the local DaddyO's Diner of Osborne.

Two views of the Festival from the balcony of the 1929-era "Old Gym" of Osborne High School.   The "New Gym," located across the street to the south, was contructed in 1960.  To date the argument still rages over what to officially call it.

The authors all had a great time mingling and talking with each other, and buying each other's books as well!  Organizations such as the Kansas Center for the Book and the Central Kansas Library System of Great Bend, KS featured displays and even a free book table. 

A number of volunteers from all over the area came to help with the Festival.  Both Ida Terry of Paradise, KS (25 miles away) and Betty Pruter of Natoma, KS (33 miles away) braved the bad weather to man the Sign-In Table.  Those who did attend the Festival each received a souvenir brochure, bookmark, and postcard.

In addition to a small fee for table space at the Festival, each auther was asked to donate a signed copy of their book to be given away as door prizes at the top of each hour.  Here Von Rothenberger and Kathy Bristol are shown choosing books for Laura McClure, foreground, to announce who the lucky winners are.

And the winner of one of the signed books was Eileen Wilson of Osborne. 

Merlyn Brown of Merlyn Entertainment of Osborne  was busy throughout the day taking still photos of each author.

These photos would be made available to the authors for publicity purposes as well as being placed later on the Festival's website of  Here Chris Rippel of the Central Kansas Library System gets his portrait taken.

Merlyn also interviewed each author and allowed them to plug their book and other activities.  These interviews will also be made available both on the Festival website and on YouTube and other Internet locations.

What follows are some of the still portraits taken by Merlyn Entertainment at the Festival.  Seen here is Jim Gray of Ellsworth, KS, who has a book entitled Desperate Seed, concerning the early history of Ellsworth. 

Jerry Engler of Marion, KS has no less than three successful books to his credit.

Mona Kennedy of Luray, KS earlier in 2009 wrote an autobiography of her early life on the family farm.

Current student math teacher Kelli LaRosh of rural Bloomington, KS spent part of her senior year at Sterling College and a military tour of Iraq to write and illustrate her childrens book What's Math Got to Do with Farming

Denver attorney Steven Wood, a graduate of the University of Kansas, is receiving rave reviews nationally for his new book Survival of Rural America:  Small Victories and Bitter Harvests

Construction worker-turned author Richard Luallin of Lincoln, KS had a great time at his first ever event of this kind, touting his very first book, Maroons: A Human Epic.

Jean McKay of Zenda, KS wrote the true story Chronicles of the Farm Woman, the Story of Mary Frances McKinney.  Unfortunately she could not attend the Festival, and so Kathleen Whitmer of Zenda, the daughter of Mary Frances McKinney, agreed to appear in her stead. 

At 11AM the ceremony for the presentation of the inaugural Don Coldsmith Award for Lifetime Literary Achievement began.  Roy Bird of the Kansas Center for the Book in Topeka, KS gave a ten-minute overview of the literary accomplishments of the recipient, professor Dr. James F. Hoy of Emporia State University in Emporia, KS.

Jim Hoy, left, voices his appreciation of receiving the Coldsmith Award, named after the famous Kansas author and a close friend of Dr. Hoy.  Seen at right is Von Rothenberger, co-owner of Ad Astra Publishing of Osborne, sponsors of the annual Coldsmith Award. 

The formal photo, with Von Rothenberger, Jim Hoy, and Roy Bird. 

At about 2:30PM word reached the Festival that the weather was turning worse in other parts of Kansas, and so several authors began to leave in order to beat the weather back to their various homes across the state.  But before they left, all expressed their belief that the Festival was in spite of everything a success and asked to be included in the next year's event as well.  As the Festival closed at 4:00PM all involved agreed that several lessons were learned and that the 2010 Festival will be even bigger and better. 

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