Former Washburn professor receives book award

Ryan ThompsonLisa Herdman

Amy Fleury, a writer from Nemaha County, received the Hefner Heitz Kansas Book Award at 4 p.m. on March 28 at the Mabee Library on the Washburn University campus.

Twenty-five poetry books were nominated for this year’s award. The award rotates from books of poetry, to fiction, to nonfiction each year and each award covers the past three years of published work in its genre.

Tom Averill, English professor at Washburn University, created the award. The award is available to all Kansans by birth, residence, education, by nature of influence, or some other connection to the Sunflower State. However, the piece has to be published in the last three years and at least 60 pages long.

“I thought it would be nice to have a book award that honors Kansas literature,” Averill said. “It showcases the amazing talent that’s around in Kansas right now. It shows what Kansas is up to.”

The award is also a way to grow the Thomas Fox Averill Kansas Studies Collection in Mabee library. Averill estimates that the collection he donated contains approximately 3,000 books. Any book nominated for the Hefner Heitz Kansas Book Award will be added to the collection.

This year’s winner is “Sympathetic Magic” by Amy Fleury, a Kansas born teacher and poet. “Sympathetic Magic” is Fleury’s third book and explores the interconnectedness of people places and things.

Amy Fleury taught introduction to creative writing, advanced poetry and publishing lab classes at Washburn University for ten years from 1998 to 2008. She currently teaches graduate students at McNeese State University at Lake Charles, Louisiana. She was enthusiastic to be back in Topeka.

“I think Washburn is a magical place,” said Fleury. “I think the students are exceptional. I hope people recognize that and appreciate it while they are in the midst of it.”

Eric McHenry, associate professor of English at Washburn, judged the nominees and presented the award to Fleury.

“We hoped for the first year we would get a really legitimate judge and a really legitimate winner, so people would see this is a prestigious award,” said Averill. “It’s not just something cooked up for little old Kansas.”

Fleury advises aspiring writers to enjoy the writing process and to keep working. She also stresses the importance of awareness.

“Read as much as you can,” said Fleury. “Be open to all the influences that are around us. Be a good attender. Attend to the world around you.”

From this, writers derive experiences and observations that can be translated into language.

Amy Fleury’s book of poetry is available at Mabee Library on Washburn’s campus and at other online sources.

“In Kansas, you cannot predict the weather, you cannot predict the crazy politics, but you can predict that we got rock solid literature and good people writing it,” said Averill.