Welcome

Welcome to the Map of Kansas Literature, a compendium of writers associated with the state.  Although incomplete, the map highlights the writing that has shaped, and continues to shape, the image of Kansas.  A mix of the historical and contemporary, the map seeks to cover the widest possible range of writing—literary, historical, political, cultural, scientific, and environmental.  The writing comes from the widest variety of sources, everything from pamphlets and monographs, to large publishing houses, to self-published work of merit.  The map attempts to show the range and variety of Kansas writing, revealing how words have both responded to and shaped the history, identity, image, and reputation of Kansas.  

In 1922, William Allen White, editor of the Emporia Gazette, wrote, “Kansas is the Mother Shipton, the Madame Thebes, the Witch of Endor, and the low barometer of the nation. When anything is going to happen in this country, it happens first in Kansas.  Abolition, Prohibition, Populism, the Bull Moose, the exit of the roller towel … these things come popping out of Kansas like bats out of hell.”[1]  Kansas holds a particular place in the mythology of the United States, conjured in history for its radicalism (Bleeding Kansas and the Populist Movement) and in popular culture for its familiarity (“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”).  Kansas is often referenced yet little known, and its use as a symbol often precludes an understanding of its rich and diverse literary tradition. 

Kansas writers and literary works about Kansas have had an important impact on American and world literature.  In addition to authors such as Gordon Parks and Kevin Young, who lived in Kansas during their youths, and authors such as L. Frank Baum and Truman Capote, who wrote influential books set in Kansas, the state has also housed important publishing ventures, such as the socialist press associated with Appeal to Reason.  

Kansas has long been a “conjure” state, one of those in the nation that has a definite image.  Massachusetts has it for being liberal, California for being quirky, Texas for being larger than life.  Kansas has it for home (“There is no place like home,” from the Wizard of Oz, and “Home on the Range,” an intensely popular song during the FDR era).  Kansas also has it for the Midwest dichotomy of Heartland/Hinterland, so articulately outlined by historian Robert Smith Bader in his Hayseeds, Moralizers, and Methodists: The Twentieth Century Image of Kansas.  These kinds of texts shape both self-image and the image created by the centers of image making—Hollywood and New York City.  We may think we’re not in Kansas anymore, but somehow we always are.  

 


[1] William Allen White, Emporia Gazette, April 25, 1922.

 

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