TOPEKA, Kan. — Even without her pole-vaulting pole, Maggie Steele soared to amazing new heights at the Kansas Book Festival.
“It was an unforgettable, amazing experience,” Overstake said. “The people I got to meet, I can’t believe it. I’m still pinching myself.”
Designed to “celebrate the best of Kansas literature, arts and history,” the festival promotes literacy and encourages a life-long love of reading by bringing authors, publishers and illustrators together with the book-loving people of Kansas.
Overstake, of Wichita, shared a booth with historian, writer and illustrator, Linda S. Johnston. A resident of Virginia, Johnston’s book, Hope Amid Hardship: Pioneer Voices from Kansas Territory, is a beautiful and illuminating collection of journals and writings from everyday people in Kansas history dating back to the 1850s.
“I predict that next year when it becomes eligible, Linda’s book will win a Kansas Notable Book Award,” Overstake said. “It’s a real gem.”
A highlight of the day was spending time chatting under the capitol rotunda with fellow Wichita author Clare Vanderpool. Her first book, Moon Over Manifest, won the 2011 Newbery Medal, becoming the first debut author to achieve the feat in thirty years. Her second book, Navigating Early, is now on sale. “She is such a big supporter of local authors,” Overstake said. “She came to Maggie’s book signing at Watermark Books in April.”
The author spent time with Claire M. Caterer, of Overland Park, author of the middle-grade fantasy adventure, The Key & The Flame; and Tracy Million Simmons, of Emporia, author of the youth novel, Tiger Hunting.
Another highlight was reconnecting with former Wichita Heights High School classmate, Doug Hitt. He, along with fellow author Jake Vail and illustrator Lisa Grossman, received a Kansas Notable Book Award for A Kansas Bestiary, a charming book presenting portraits of animals native to Kansas. Each entry, accompanied by exquisite watercolor illustrations, is equally informative and amusing.
Several people came to Maggie’s booth to introduce themselves. Among them were Jon and Janet Summers, of Sabetha, who picked up a few more copies to be signed as gifts, and for their local library.
“After corresponding with them via email about the article they helped get published in their hometown newspaper, it was great to meet them in person,” Overstake said. “We talked and talked about the story, including some of the scenes and characters they really liked. I wish we could have spent more time together.”
Another couple walked past. “Look!” the woman said to her husband, “A book about pole-vaulting!” It was Arlyn and Delane Brunken of Topeka. Delane is a retired track coach who specialized in coaching the event at Smith Center, Mission Valley, and Washburn Rural high schools, and at Emporia State University. “I had a state champion and three runner-up state champions in the pole-vault,” he said. Needless to say, they went home happy with a copy of Maggie.
“The whole day was like that,” Overstake added. “There were a lot of families with girls aged fourth grade through middle school, which is the perfect age to really enjoy the story. Two sisters were still wearing their soccer uniforms from matches they’d played earlier in the day. I was happy that their parents bought them a copy.”
A tall and elegant woman wearing a bright turquoise stole flowed past the booth. She recognized Maggie’s cover on display and smiled. “There are some big ideas in this book,” she said.
She introduced herself as Wyatt Townley, Poet Laureate of Kansas.
“It was one of those electrifying moments,” Overstake said. “I don’t remember everything she said because I was kind of stunned, to be honest. She’d read Maggie as one of the judges for the Kansas Better Book Awards, and liked it very much. She said some other things to let me know that she’d connected with the book’s higher purpose.”
Townley is a widely published, nationally known poet. Her work has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize, read by Garrison Keillor on NPR, featured by Ted Kooser in his American Life in Poetry column, and appeared in hundreds of venues ranging from The Paris Review to Newsweek. Among her books of poems: The Breathing Field (Little, Brown), Perfectly Normal (The Smith), and her new collection, The Afterlives of Trees (Woodley Press), a Kansas Notable Book and winner of the Nelson Poetry Book Award.
Townley’s husband, Roderick, is the author of juvenile, young adult, and adult books, including books of poetry, nonfiction, and literary criticism. The Sylvie Cycle, his trilogy of middle grade novels, has been widely praised. Most recent book is The Door in the Forest.
As Poet Laureate of Kansas, Wyatt Townley, a fourth-generation Kansan, promotes the arts through public readings, presentations, and discussions across the Sunflower State. She is an inspirational presence to artists, authors and poets.
“The last thing she said to me was, ‘Keep writing,’ and I told her that I would, of course,” Overstake added.
Maggie Vaults Over the Moon is available in paperback or eBook and can be purchased through Amazon.com in the United States, Canada, China, Japan, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, France, and Italy. Maggie also is available at Australia’s premier online bookseller, Angus & Robertson, and at hundreds of local independent US booksellers near you.