Essex Books Presents Shelf Awareness: The Kansas Spirit

Romalyn Tilghman: The Kansas Spirit

"I love the Kansas spirit, the no-drama, get-it-done, attitude," says Romalyn Tilghman. Her debut novel, To the Stars Through Difficulties (She Writes Press), takes its title from the Kansas state motto, Ad Astra per Aspera.

In the story, an artist, a graduate student, and a wife who lost her hometown to a tornado converge on the same historic Carnegie building, now an arts center. Tilghman believes the spirit of "grit and gumption" remains alive and well; the actual tornado-ravaged town of Greensburg, Kan., which rebuilt itself as a green community, is the basis for the destroyed Prairie Hill in her novel. "Seeing the commitment of its residents served as inspiration, as well as proof that a community can make miracles happen."

A Kansas native, Tilghman also found inspiration in her home state's history, particularly in the many historic libraries built with funding from industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Tilghman herself grew up "frequenting the Carnegie library in Manhattan [Kansas] before I learned to read" and, later, as an adult, she "thought about what it would've taken to build these in the early 1900s." She adds, "At the time, the Lawrence Arts Center was renovating the Carnegie library, and so it was easy to see community action happening in two eras." She found her imagination captured not by Carnegie, but by the unsung female volunteers who held bake sales, raffles and pancake suppers to furnish and supply the buildings. Tilghman observes that "volunteer work is often undervalued, especially women's.... I think women do carry a gene that requires them to make the world a better place for their children."

Tilghman's work as an arts consultant helps her communicate the transformative force of arts and crafts, specifically the "meditative" art of quilting. "To put one's head in a space of color and texture, to rearrange shapes, can become addictive." To the Stars Through Difficulties celebrates the healing power of women, art and tradition.

Written by Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads, for Essex Books Presents Shelf Awareness for Readers

Photo Credit: Rachael Warecki

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