TALLGRASS Writing Workshop

The 2020 TWW Keynote speaker is Wes Jackson, founder and president emeritus of The Land Institute. Jackson earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Kansas Wesleyan University, Salina; a master’s degree in botany from the University of Kansas, and a doctorate in genetics from North Carolina State University. He established and served as chair of one of the country’s first environmental studies programs at California State University-Sacramento and then returned to his native Kansas to found The Land Institute in 1976. He is the author of several books, including New Roots for Agriculture, Becoming Native to This Place, Consulting the Genius of the Place, and most recently Nature as Measure. Wes is widely recognized as a leader in the international movement for a more sustainable agriculture. He was a Pew Conservation Scholar in 1990, a MacArthur Fellow in 1992, and received the Right Livelihood Award in 2000. Life magazine included him as one of 18 individuals predicted to be among the 100 important Americans of the 20th century. Smithsonian in 2005 included him as one of “35 Who Made a Difference.”

Tallgrass Writing Workshop

April 17 & 18, 2020

Pioneer Bluffs

Matfield Green, Kansas

The Tallgrass Writing Workshop brings together emerging and mid-career writers across disciplines of study. Since 1985, TWW has been serving writers, journalists, poets, photographers, and artists throughout the Great Plains region.

Our participants work closely with faculty mentors to produce work that is relevant, timely, and informed. Examples of the kinds of things participants may pursue include, but are not limited to, magazine features, news columns, podcasts, photo essays, documentaries, blog posts and commentary, and book projects.

Workshop Schedule

Friday, April 17, 2020

8:00 - 8:30 am - Check-in/Registration

9:00 am - Welcome

9:30 am - Keynote: Tina Casagrand, Creating an Autobiography of Place

11:00 am - Bethany Mowry, Working with a University Press Editor

12:30 pm - Box Lunch (provided)

1:30 pm - Elexa Dawson, Music that Heals

2:30 pm - Break

2:45 pm - Breakout Sessions

    • Kevin Rabas, Sense of Place
    • Jim Hoy, Writing & Riding in the Flint Hills

4:00 pm - Breakout Sessions

    • Max McCoy, The Unexpected Journey
    • John Doan, Collecting Oral History (part 1)

5:30 pm - Barbecue Dinner

6:30 pm - Jam Session and Open Poetry/Prose Mic

8:30 pm - DeWayne Backhus,

Observing the Flint Hills Sky

Workshop Schedule

Saturday, April 18, 2020

8:00 am - Announcements and gathering

8:15 am - Lynn Smith, Executive Director Pioneer Bluffs

8:30 am - Keynote: Wes Jackson, Stories with Digressions

10:00 am - Break

10:15 am - Breakout Sessions

    • Kellen Jenkins, Photojournalism
    • Kelsey Ryan, Introducing The Beacon

11:30 am - George Frazier, Nature Writing on the Road

12:30 pm - Box Lunch (provided) & Book Signing

12:30 pm - Editor Pitch Sessions (sign-up required at 8:00 am Friday, limited space available).

1:30 pm - Julia Fabris McBride, Start Where They Are: Engaging Your Audience in the Writing Process

2:45 pm - Break

2:45 pm - Breakout Sessions

    • John Doan, Collecting Oral History (part 2)
    • Sherman Smith, Watchdog Journalism

4:00 pm - Breakout Sessions

    • Brent Thomas, Critter Walkabout
    • Chris Pettit and Alivia Allison, Drone Photography

5:30 pm - Wrap-up Remarks and Evaluations

Workshop Faculty

Alivia Allison

Saturday, 4:00 pm - Drone Photography

In this session, we will discuss current Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), aerial imagery, as well as examples of UAS applications. Additionally, we will demonstrate several different UAS and various camera systems.


Alivia Allison is an Assistant Professor of Earth Science in the Physical Sciences Department at Emporia State University. She teaches Earth science and geology courses including Introduction to Earth Science, Rocks and Minerals, Geomorphology, Geoarchaeology, Small-Format Aerial Photography, Environmental Soil Science, and Soil Mechanics. Her current research interests revolve around Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) applications, Archaeology/Geoarchaeology, and Paleoseismology. Her current research project, in collaboration with Dr. Chris Pettit, is the study of a 19th century archaeological site located at ESU’s Ross Natural History Reservation near Americus, Kansas.

DeWayne Backhus

Friday, 8:00 pm - Observing the Flint Hills Sky

Following an indoors orientation to some aids for naked-eye observing and basic stellar astronomy that may be inferred from observing a star’s color, we will convene to a pristine, Flint Hills sky canopy presuming that nature cooperates.


DeWayne Backhus, PhD, a native Kansan from rural Dickinson County, is an ESU professor emeritus. He served 44 years in a faculty position teaching courses in his specialty of planetary and space science. Administrative positions included director of Peterson Planetarium (19 years), chair of the physical sciences (chemistry, earth science and physics, 22 years), and he served as interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He was also active with proposal development and extramural grants administration involving several NASA programs, the NSF, and others. Honors include the Roe R. Cross Distinguished Professorship, and most recently he was recognized as an ESU distinguished alumnus. He also has degrees from Harvard University and the University of Kansas.

Tina Casagrand

Friday, 9:30 am - Creating an Autobiography of Place

Session Description coming soon.


Tina Casagrand is a writer, publisher, and teacher. Self described as, "obsessed with place," she grew up on a small Ozark farm with plenty of nature and not a lot of people. Casagrand's writing is about her love and curiosity for both place and people. Writing adventures have taken her from Costa Rica to California and throughout the Midwest. A graduate of the University of Missouri, she is the publisher of "The New Territory: The Magazine of the Lower Midwest."

Elexa Dawson

Friday, 1:30 pm - Music that Heals

Music is a universal language. The author of the new album, Music is Medicine, Elexa Dawson will discuss accessing emotions and working with genuine feeling to create meaningful art.


Elexa Dawson presents a sultry, spirited performance with original music and a "warm honey mixed with prairie dirt" voice. Her newest album, "Music is Medicine" releases December 6th, 2019.
The founding member of Kansas' folk homegrown favorite, Weda Skirts (formerly The Skirts), Elexa is a born entertainer and skilled songwriter. Two albums self-produced by The Skirts (Many Moons - 2016, Mother - 2018) present a collection of songs that are influenced by her Potawatomi and Oklahoma heritage, nature, family, love and loss, all with a hopeful and heartfelt tone.
Elexa performs solo, with a blue folk trio and with Weda Skirts at private and public events, gatherings, pubs, and campfires.

John Doan

Friday, 4:00 pm - Oral History Collection (part 1)

Saturday, 2:45 pm - Oral History Collection (part 2)

Oral Histories! What are they? The best way to start work with Oral Histories is to decide what it is you want to achieve. Decide what your goals are for the process. Oral histories are historical records. The sessions will take a look at these issues, as well as how to do interviews and ask quality questions that produce an accurate record of people's stories. From being to end, the sessions will instruct, guide, and assist in the process and also will include helpful forms plus final evaluations that can be very useful in the future. Oral Histories are meant to be a productive and fun experience for all. My main goal is to record and preserve the many varied experiences of humanity.


John was born in Bismarck, North Dakota and lived in Bismarck and at the family's Black Leg Ranch 24 miles away. Eventually, he moved on from this career looking for new challenges.
A second career spanning almost 20 years began in the ownership, production, and management, including promotion and advertising, of Antique Trade Shows which were held in 12 states (Wisconsin to California).
John embarked upon a third professional career in counseling and psychotherapy which included marriage and family therapy, mental health counseling, clinical hypnotherapy and addiction treatment. He continues to hold a License in Clinical Addiction Counseling in Kansas and an Addictions Counseling License in Texas. He is nationally certified as a Clinical Hypnotherapist. He has degrees from Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (Psychology) and South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota (Counseling and Human Resource Development).
John moved to Kansas in 2001. His wife, Becky, was raised in Emporia. He has strong ties to the Great Plains, history and antiques.

Julia Fabris McBride

Friday, 11:00 am - Start Where They Are: Engaging Your Audience in the Writing Process

Participants will practice creating a focus group of audience members for a topic you are interested in. You’ll learn the value of gathering material from the people you want to inspire, and practice crafting language that speaks directly to the needs and imaginations of the people you want to reach.


Julia Fabris McBride is vice president of the Kansas Leadership Center, a certified coach, and co-author, with Chris Green of Teaching Leadership: Case-in-Point, Case Teaching, and Coaching. At KLC, she oversees teacher and coach development and has created three professional programs for leadership developers, including an International Coach Federation (ICF)-approved Leadership Coach training program, and an Advanced Leadership Development Intensive that has drawn people to Wichita from four continents.
Before joining KLC (and while wrapping up a fun and varied career as an actor in Chicago), Julia taught leadership and management at the University of Chicago, Columbia College Chicago, University of Massachusetts and the James P. Shannon Leadership Institute. She holds a certificate in leadership from the University of Chicago’s Graham School of General Studies and completed the Art and Practice of Leadership Development (taught by Marty Linsky, Ron Heifetz and Robert Kegan) at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

George Frazier

Saturday, 11:30 am - Nature Writing on the Road

With characteristics of memoir, trip journal, nature writing and local history, travelogues are one of the most demanding yet rewarding forms of nonfiction and have had a far-ranging impact on popular culture. University of Kansas Press author George Frazier (The Last Wild Places of Kansas) will share some tips for writing a book, a newsletter trip report or a killer blog post about your own far-flung adventures.


Chronicling three years he spent roaming the Sunflower State by car, canoe, and on foot, The Last Wild Places of Kansas (University Press of Kansas, 2017) takes readers to the remaining "wild places" of Kansas; places where nature collides with folklore. From the unexpected wilds of the Kansas City suburbs to the Cimarron National Grassland in the far southwestern corner of the state, Frazier curates an heirloom collection of little-known sites - tenacious stretches of unplowed prairie, centuries old forests, ancient springs, lost Native American landmarks, and other natural gems. Packed with stories and a host of curious characters, it's the ultimate Kansas wild lands road trip. Frazier lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife and daughter. His work has appeared in Canoe and Kayak, and Wild Earth, among others. The Last Wild Places of Kansas won the Midwest Book Award, Kansas Notable Book Award, Hamlin Garland Prize, and the Ferguson Book Award.

Jim Hoy

Friday, 2:45 pm - Writing & Riding in the Flint Hills

The Flint Hills are known and valued by ranchers throughout the Southwest as Steer Country for their ability to put weight on stocker cattle quickly and cheaply. In recent years the region has become more widely known among the general public for its beauty and for its distinctive folk culture. Even more recently artists--painters, photographers, and writers--have attempted to capture this beauty and spirit of place in their work.


James F. (Jim) Hoy is Professor of English at Emporia State University, Emporia, Kansas. Reared on a stock ranch near Cassoday, he has lived in the Flint Hills area all his life, except for graduate school in Missouri and a teaching stint in Idaho.Hoy holds a B.S. degree (1961) from Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS; an M.A. (1965) from Emporia State University; and a Ph.D. (1970) from the University of Missouri-Columbia. After a couple of years of itinerancy following undergraduate school, he taught two years at El Dorado (Kansas) Junior High (1963-65) before moving into college teaching. He served as Chair of English at ESU for ten years, returning happily to the ranks of full-time teaching and research in 1990.

Kellen Jenkins

Saturday, 10:15 am - Photojournalism

Session Description coming soon.


Max McCoy

Friday, 4:00 pm - The Unexpected Journey

This session will discuss writing about people and place, and the process he used in researching and structuring his nonfiction book, Elevations: A Personal Exploration of the Arkansas River, published in 2018 by the University Press of Kansas. Elevations won the National Outdoor Book Award for history/biography, was named a Kansas Notable Book by the state library, and was called the “Best Cultural West” title of the year by True West magazine.


Max McCoy, the Director of the Center for Great Plains Studies, is an award-winning journalist and author. He has won awards for his reporting on unsolved murders, serial killers, and hate groups. He is Professor of Journalism at Emporia State University where he specializes in investigative reporting and nonfiction narrative. His most recent book is Elevations: A Personal Exploration of the Arkansas River, from the University Press of Kansas.

Bethany Mowry

Saturday, 1:30 pm - Working with a University Press Editor

In this session, we will discuss the process of scholarly publishing through the lens of the author’s (your) interactions with various members of a university press’s staff. From the initial pitch to the completed book, authors will interact with multiple departments from Acquisitions to Production and Marketing, both simultaneously and in sequence. Knowing what to expect in those interactions—and how to prepare for them in advance—can provide a crucial sense of security while wending your way through the often-mysterious world of publishing.


Bethany R. Mowry is the acquisitions editor for Western history, Native American and Indigenous studies, environmental studies, American studies, and Kansas and regional studies at the University Press of Kansas. She is completing her doctorate in history at the University of Oklahoma, where she previously worked in the acquisitions department of the OU Press.

Chris Pettit

Saturday, 4:00 pm - Drone Photography

In this session, we will discuss current Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), aerial imagery, as well as examples of UAS applications. Additionally, we will demonstrate several different UAS and various camera systems.


Chris Pettit is an Associate Professor of Physics in the Physical Sciences Department at Emporia State University. He teaches physics and engineering courses including Introductory Physics I and II, Engineering Statics, Engineering Dynamics, Electric Circuit Analysis, Engineering Graphics, Small-Format Aerial Photography, and Introduction to Robotics. His current research interests revolve around Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) technology and their applications. His current research project, along with Dr. Alivia Allison, is the study of a 19th century archaeological site situated on ESU’s Ross Natural History Reservation.

Kevin Rabas

Friday, 2:45 pm - Sense of Place

In this session, participants will learn about developing a sense of place in your poetry and writing. Midwest regional writing serves an important role in the national and global literary landscape.


Past Poet Laureate of Kansas (2017-2019) Kevin Rabas leads the poetry and playwriting tracks and chairs the Department of English, Modern Languages, and Journalism at Emporia State University. He has twelve books, including Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano, a Kansas Notable Book and Nelson Poetry Book Award winner; All That Jazz; and Everyone Just Wants to Drum. He is a Roe R. Cross Professor and is the recipient of the Emporia State President’s and Liberal Arts and Sciences awards for Research and Creativity. He is also the winner of the Langston Hughes Award and the Salina New Voice Award for poetry.

Kelsey Ryan

Saturday, 10:15 am - Introducing The Beacon

Session Description coming soon.


Sherman Smith

Saturday, 2:45 pm - Watchdog Journalism

Session Description coming soon.


Brent Thomas

Saturday, 4:00 pm - Critter Walkabout

Session Description coming soon.


Brent Thomas is the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ESU. His course offerings at ESU have included Introduction to Human Anatomy & Physiology, Research Design & Analysis, Natural History of Vertebrates, Animal Behavior, and Herpetology. Thomas' research interests include Behavioral and Evolutionary Ecology, Conservation Biology, and Natural History. His published research projects have involved freshwater turtles. Recent projects on slider turtles have involved male alternative mating tactics, characteristics of the foreclaw display behaviors of females, overland movements between aquatic habitats, and various aspects of their basking behaviors. Thomas has served as an associate editor for Herpetological Review and as a member of the World Conservation Union/Species Survival Commission’s Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group.