State Library of Kansas announces 2023 Notable Books

Books featured in past Kansas Notable Book lists are displayed in the State Library of Kansas at the Statehouse in Topeka.

Editor’s Note: All of these Kansas Notable Books are, or will soon be, available to borrow from Newton Public Library! Go to the online catalog to check availability, or contact us.

By Sam Bailey, Kansas Reflector

A serial killing family, a child trying to survive WWII-era Ukraine, the 50-year history of an acoustic music festival, a plot to save a family farm: These topics are among those featured in the 2023 Kansas Notable Books list, announced Tuesday by the State Library of Kansas.

The list features 15 books published in 2022 that are either written by Kansas authors or feature a topic related to Kansas, said Cindy Roupe, Notable Book Committee coordinator. Roupe said the final list was selected by a committee of about 10 authors, academics, librarians and other literary professionals who read about 40 books each in order to decide which ones were most notable from the past year.

Roupe described “notable” as any well-written book that people will read and walk away with new knowledge, whether that’s of a new author, topic or simply a new book they may not have read otherwise. 

“It’s an award that we hope promotes literary heritage and cultural awareness of the literary landscape of Kansas,” Roupe said.

The annual list began in 2006.

Winfield’s Walnut Valley Festival, by Seth Bate, is one of the books featured on this year’s list. The book tells the 50-year history of the acoustic music festival held each year in Winfield, Kansas, through Bate’s research as well as “reflections” from people involved in this festival over its history, Bate said.

“I’m a Kansas historian and also a leadership practitioner and teacher who cares about Kansas,” Bate said. “And so Kansas is my favorite subject. I find Kansas fascinating every day, and so to be part of something that features Kansas as a topic, but also writers for Kansas, means a lot.”

Bate said he values different points of view in both his writing and reading.

“When we consider Kansas and the history of Kansas, reading is a way to inhabit lots of different points of view about our state,” Bate said. “And to do so in a way that isn’t hampered by the restrictions of a sound bite, so I hope that my book is a small example of that. And I think it’s incredibly important for people to keep reading, not just books, but keep reading written reflections of who we are.”

Bate and the other authors featured on the Kansas Notable Books list will be honored Sept. 16 at the Kansas Book Festival held at Washburn University. The event is free and open to the public, according to a State of Kansas news release.

As well as being awarded a medal, seven of the honored authors will give a presentation at the festival, including Kate Benz, Kathleen Wilford, Dennis Etzel Jr. and Jericho Hockett.

Roupe encouraged people to go to the festival and hear from the presenting authors about their writing and research process — and buy some books.

2023 Kansas Notable Books:

  • Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt by Kathleen Wilford, Blue Bronco Books
  • Easy Beauty: A Memoir by Chloe Cooper Jones, Simon & Schuster
  • Hell’s Half-Acre: The Untold Story of the Benders by Susan Jonusas, Viking
  • Justa’s Escape: A Journey from WWII Ukraine by Justina Neufeld with Russell Binkley, Wipf and Stock
  • Kansas Speaks Out: Poems in the Age of Me, Too edited by Dennis Etzel, Jr and Jericho Hockett, An Actual Kansas Press
  • Letters to Martin: Meditations on Democracy by Randal Maurice Jelks, Lawrence Hill Books
  • The Monster’s Bones: The Discovery of T. Rex and How It Shook Our World by David K. Randall, W. W. Norton & Company
  • Native American Stories for Kids: 12 Traditional Stories from Indigenous Tribes Across North America by Tom Pecore Weso, Rockridge Press
  • A New Guide to Kansas Mushrooms by Sherry Kay, Benjamin Sikes, and Caleb Morse, University Press of Kansas
  • Nothing but the Dirt: Stories from an American Farm Town by Kate Benz, University Press of Kansas
  • One Boy Watching by Grant Snider, Chronicle Books
  • River of the Gods: Genius, Courage, and Betrayal in the Search for the Source of the Nile by Candice Millard, Doubleday
  • The Undead Truth of Us by Britney S. Lewis, Hyperion
  • The Vagabond’s Way: 366 Meditations on Wanderlust, Discovery, and the Art of Travel by Rolf Potts, Random House
  • Winfield’s Walnut Valley Festival by Seth Bate, The History Press