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Book Review

Kansas Stories, Universal Themes


Andrew Malan Milward, a Lawrence, Kan. native, received accolades from Stewart O’Nan and Lauren Groff for his Kansas stories, The Agriculture Hall of Fame. His latest collection, I Was a Revolutionary, expands Milward’s examination of his home state through the art of fiction.

The opening story is "The Burning of Lawrence." Quantrill’s Raid in 1863 is reconstructed in layers of images and episodes from three time periods: the days before and after the raid on Lawrence; excerpts from the WPA guide to Kansas covering the raid; and a view of the violent burning through the modern lens of a young student of local history in a class at KU.

In another story, the infamous Dr. Brinkley’s Goat Gland transplants are revealed in a story within a story about a Wichitan who moves through the city visiting the Aviation Museum, driving past landmarks, and who takes a job in special collections at Ablah Library.

The story "O Death" traces the arduous journey of the Exodusters from slavery in the South to the town of Nicodemus in northwest Kansas.

In the final story, a professor of Kansas history at KU tells his classroom, “the history of one’s home matters. We should understand where we come from, the legacies we inherit. What makes Kansas interesting is that here the changes tend toward social and political extremes. Kansas is and always was a radical state!” We follow him through his days teaching, walking down Massachusetts Street and into the iconic Louise’s, but mainly we trace the path from his days in the radical 1960s to his current complacency.

Lyrical prose beautifully illuminates the complex history of Kansas as Milward tells stories about universal themes, revealing truths only found in fiction.