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For specific kinds of Kansas literature, see:
Children and Young Adult

Crime and Outlaw


Farm Novels

Literary Magazines

Mystery and Detective



Race and Immigrant

Small Town Novels

Selected Works


       Kansans have been compelled to tell their stories, in some aspect or another, in a rich list of autobiographies, memoirs and other personal histories.

      Harry Kemp (1883-1960) made his mark as an American tramp, but part of his tramping found him at the University of Kansas, where he became involved with poets and poetry in the state.  Tramping on Life: An Autobiographical Narrative (1922) gives an overview of his life.

      Howard Ruede (1855-1925) came to Osborne County and wrote letters home to Pennsylvania for a year.  These were collected by John Ise in Sod House Days, Letters from a Kansas Homesteader, 1877-78 (1937), and give a detailed account of daily life for an early pioneer of Central Kansas

      Arthur Hertzler (1870-1946) describes the trials and advances of medicine in the early 20th century in his The Horse and Buggy Doctor (1938), a readable, fascinating account (he once operated on himself to learn about cutting through stomach muscles) of the doctor who later founded an important clinic in Halstead and taught at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

      Osa Johnson (1894-1953) married Martin Johnson, ten years her senior, when she was just sixteen.  She proved to be his match, learning to fly a plane, traveling as an equal partner all over the world, filming people in the South Sea Islands, Borneo and Africa.  Explorers, lecturers, photographers, film makers and writers, the two were famous all across the nation.  Three years after Martin’s death she wrote I Married Adventure, (1940).

      Ralph Moody (1898-1982), in Horse of a Different Color (1968), chronicled the ranching industry, but also wrote children’s books in his Little Britches (1950) series.

      Lawrence Svobida (1908-1984) wrote Farming the Dust Bowl (1986) about his experiences in Southern Kansas during those years of drought.  He quit farming in 1939, just before the rains returned, and wheat began to grow again.

      In Garden City: Dreams in a Kansas Town (1988), Holly Hope (b. 1956) writes partly a coming-of-age and partly a social history of her town.  She is the granddaughter of Clifford S. Hope, long-time U.S. Representative from Southwestern Kansas.

      After years of research, William Least Heat-Moon (b. 1940) created a “deep map” of Chase County, in the heart of the Flint Hills, in his PrairyErth (1991).

      No memory of the state would be complete without a chronicle of the “hippie” movement, which was very strong at the University of Kansas and in Douglas County.  Roger Martin (b. 1946), David Ohle (b. 1941) and Susan Brosseau (b. 1946) have edited a volume to pique and satisfy curiosity about that era in Cows Are Freaky When They Look at You:  An Oral History of the Kaw Valley Hemp Pickers (1991).

      Keith Waldrop (b. 1932) grew up in Emporia and wrote a moving and poignant memoir about his development as an artist and human being in Light While There is Light (1993).  He teaches at Brown University.

      Carol Brunner Rutledge (1938-2004) found herself traveling regularly from her home in Topeka to her childhood home in Hope, to visit her dying mother.  The journey resulted in Dying and Living on the Kansas Prairie (1994), a meditation on hope, the human spirit and the deep understanding of place.

      James Dickenson (b. 1931) recalls his growing up in McDonald (pop. 200) and expands even more on the history and culture of the Great Plains in his Home on the Range: A Century on the High Plains (1995).

      Bruce Bair (b. 1944) uses an ironic title in good land: My Life as a Farm Boy (1997).  Journalist Bair grew up on a western Kansas wheat farm near Goodland and writes a chip-on-the-shoulder account of life with a difficult father in a difficult landscape during a time of transition to bigger and bigger farms.

      Julene Bair (b. 1949) is Bruce Bair’s sister, and her One Degree West (2000) meditates on the challenges of family dynamics, farming in western Kansas, and the complexity of gender roles that enter into both. This book provides a female perspective of the family story recounted in her brother’s good land.