Local writers of 'Echoes from the Prairie' find universality in each other's memories

It’s never too late to start writing.

The women in the Great Plains Writers Group have demonstrated this with their second published collection of short memoirs, “Echoes from the Prairie.” Their first, “Voices from

Available for purchase at:

"Echoes from the Prairie: A Collection of Short Memoirs" is available for $14.99 at these locations:

The Raven Bookstore, 8 E 7th St.

Signs of Life, 722 Massachusetts St.

The Merc, 901 Iowa St

Hastings, 1900 W 23rd St.

LMH Gift Shop, 325 Maine St.

the Great Plains,” was published in 2011.

Some of the works are by members of this writers group, and some by members of the community who participate in story slams, who often end up joining this group later on. They meet every Wednesday evening at Signs of Life, 722 Massachusetts St.

“I decided on ‘echoes’ (in the title) because there is almost kind of a call and response of these stories,” says book editor Nicole Muchmore.

No matter where each writer comes from, or the subject they select from childhood memories to the passing of parents, connections are formed on a weekly basis.

“What has emerged repeatedly is the universality among stories,” Muchmore says.

She cites an instance where she wrote about a graphic hunting accident, and someone else wrote an apology in response to her piece. Someone once read aloud an experience of a rooster attack, and sure enough, others in the group had their own similar rooster story.

Muchmore intentionally arranged the collection by placing dissimilar pieces side by side, drawing attention to the wildly different backgrounds of the members, yet similar themes throughout.

“No matter how educated you are, all of our stories are valuable,” Muchmore says. “And voices vary and details of stories vary and each of them are beautiful. Sometimes putting stories next to each other that are quite disparate emphasizes or highlights elements of voice or beauty or complexity.”

The Great Plains Writers Group formed after some members took a memoir writing class at the Lawrence Arts Center. They wanted to continue workshops in a less formal forum.

From time to time, one person will take charge with a lesson on grammar, setting, opening and closing lines, or senses. During the majority of the meetings, however, the writers are offered a prompt to spark a memory, or a few will bring in a project they’ve been working on for outside feedback.

Many members of the group have writing backgrounds, but not necessarily creative writing. Mary McCoy is a retired biologist with degrees in zoology and entomology, and her written work now biology-infused.

“I’ve always liked to write very much, but when you’re in academia like the sciences, if you get very creative you get in trouble,” McCoy says. “I want to perpetuate this passion I feel for the natural world. It’s just what I was doing with teaching, and now I’m doing it with writing.”

Margaret Kramar found her passion for writing memoirs as a book editor who wanted to demonstrate imagery to an author whose book wasn’t as descriptive as she wanted. Telling him to add more adjectives and sensory language wasn’t getting him anywhere, so she showed him by writing a scene about taking her son to the emergency room, and his death the next day. That scene turned into a full-blown creative dissertation on the entire memory.

“It was a means to process the loss,” Kramar says.

“It’s more than therapy,” says nurse and group member Lynn Burlingham, who wished she had pursued writing as a career. “It’s true art.”

For most it’s about self-expression in a new format. For Lucy Price, it’s about reflecting on her native Lawrencian memories, having lived here her entire life, and fitting them into larger themes of human experience within the context of Kansas.

“It’s a way of expressing who you are outside of what people see you as,” Mary Kathleen Felton says.

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