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2011 Book Award Reviews:

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Kansas, Freedom Frontier for 150 Years, 2011 Convention, Coffeyville, KS


J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award
Nelson Poetry Book Award
History Book Award

Wm. J. Karnowski, KAC State Vice President 2011 reports:
The KAC State Book awards (J. Donald Coffin Memorial
Book Award and the Nelson Poetry Book Award) have been
judged and selected:

2011 J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award:
B.D. Tharp, District 5, Wichita, for her book titled:
Feisty Family Values
Feisty Family Values, by B.D. Tharp
There were 16 qualified entries. This years judge was Jenny Stewart.

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2011 Nelson Poetry Book Award:
Nedra Rogers, District 2, Lawrence.
Soul's Night Out
Soul's Night Out, by Nedra Rogers
There were 5 qualified entries. This years judge was Marti Mihalyi.

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2011 Ferguson History Book Award:
Donald J. Blakeslee
Holy Ground, Healing Water: Cultural Landscapes at Waconda Lake, Kansas

Holy Ground, by Donald J. Blakeslee The book is Holy Ground, Healing Water: Cultural Landscapes at Waconda Lake, Kansas (Environmental History Series). Blakeslee is a Professor of Anthropology at Wichita State University.

In this engaging narrative, Blakeslee, who has written extensively on Kansas ecology, focuses on the multiple uses of the area around present-day Waconda Lake in the north-central portion of the state.  By examining the power of place, changes in the land, and multiple (and sometimes quite misunderstood) uses of one region by a variety of peoples over time, the author presents a multi-faceted study in the tradition of such scholars as William Cronon, Rhys Isaac, Lee Irwin, and Calvin Martin, making for heady company.  His findings are similar revealing, as he traverses the transition from native homelands to newcomer hegemony, stitching seamlessly together the socio-economic patterns exhibited in relation-ship to this environment stretching back several thousand years to the period of living memory.  In doing so, Blakeslee offers thoughtful contributions from the perspective of both scientific fields (especially anthropology, archaeology, geography, and geography) and those of the humanities (particularly environmental, social, and ethno-history), such syntheses being no mean feat.  Furthermore, he has produced a volume which is appealing and approachable to both an academic and general audience; those intrigued by American Indians, the “sod and stubble” days of homesteaders, utopian movements in Kansas, and broad patterns of economic, cultural, and ethnographic tumult will find much to like here.

“The animal that the Pawnees called Kicawi:caku and that we call Waconda Spring now lies under the waters of Waconda Lake.  Before it was drowned by the lake, it was an impressive place” (99), imbued with spiritual meaning and purpose for a variety of Native American groups.  With the increasing presence of (primarily) Euro-Americans in the nineteenth century, and the attendant dispossession of Indians from their lands, “the first settlers in the region, those who had been exposed to raids by the Cheyennes, Arapahos, and Sioux, tended to be repulsed by all things native and viewed native religions as mere superstition” (158).  As new social dynamics supplanted older ones, the land itself became modified and reflected the values of those who were now dominant.  Blakeslee offers a careful estimation of the land’s meaning throughout these shifts in population and priorities, and astutely paints for us the details of native cultural complexity that preceded (and also ran contemporaneously with) the arrival of new settlements established by outsiders, as well as fundamental concepts of subduing nature for the sake of utility and market principles these re-settlers often brought with them.  By this method, readers are challenged to see each phase of occupation on its own terms and also view the larger connections of the human imprint left behind.  Whether investigating the indigenous intaglio at the Sage site of Waconda, the purposes, reach, and influence of the Pawnee Trail on succeeding waves of travelers, or the restorative resort conditions promised by promoters of the Waconda Spring Sanitarium, Blakeslee underscores the special relationship of people to their environment within the larger respective cultural milieu at work (notably, he also speaks to the mythos attached to each of these in his survey of the several groups who have inhabited, or at least visited, the area over time).  While scholars have long recognized Kansas as a crossroads, a meeting ground of diverse peoples dating back millennia, this is a fresh, inclusive, and welcomed look at the area told with uncommon verve, laudable wit, and intelligent insight.   

Given these accolades, it is a great honor to recommend this work as the winner of the Ferguson Kansas History Book Award for 2011.  May this bode well for future submissions!

—Eric Anderson, Ph.D., Professor of American Indian Studies, Haskell Indian Nations University, Lawrence, Kansas

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