TOPEKA — Salina poet Patricia Traxler shared last week with a Washburn University audience some of the work that made her the recent recipient of the 2019 Hefner Heitz Kansas Book Award in Poetry.

The Hefner Heitz honor is given annually in celebration of those who write and read and whose lives are enhanced by the literature, history and culture of Kansas.

Traxler was born and raised in California but moved to Kansas in 1980, where three generations of her family had homesteaded and farmed in the Waterville area. Since that time, she has lived in Salina, where she has taught creative writing and worked as a poet.

Before reading her work to listeners gathered in Washburn’s Mabee Library, Traxler talked about her paternal grandmother, to whom she dedicated the award. While her mother’s mother was a published poet, her father’s mother was a farm wife during the Great Depression.

Traxler spoke of how the family couldn’t afford a typewriter, so her grandmother wrote novels by hand, having her first one rejected by a publisher because it wasn’t typed.

Traxler became emotional when describing how, after her grandmother’s death, decades of her writings were found when family members cleaned out the western Kansas homestead. They didn’t know what to do with the work, so all of it was burned.

“Imagine. Sixty years of handwritten manuscripts becoming a bonfire,” Traxler said, choking back tears.

An award-winning poet, essayist and fiction writer, Traxler is the author of four poetry collections: the award-winning “Naming the Fires” (Hanging Loose Press), “Forbidden Words” (University of Missouri Press), “Blood Calendar” (William Morrow) and “The Glass Woman” (Hanging Loose Press), as well as a novel, “Blood” (St. Martin’s/Macmillan).

Traxler donated her $1,000 Hefner Heitz prize to Washburn student Jossie Hicks. In her 30s and considered a nontraditional student, Hicks is a communications and English major with minors in philosophy and Spanish.

A native of Washington state, she moved to Kansas with her fiancé. After doing her research, she decided to return to school at Washburn.

Hicks would like to be a science fiction writer, so she was completely taken off guard when her poetry garnered enough attention to receive Traxler’s prize.

“I thought they were kidding,” Hicks said. “I never thought my writing was that good.”

The Hefner Heitz Kansas Book Award is given in three genres: poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. The award alternates yearly between the genres; the fiction award will be given in 2020 and creative nonfiction will be awarded in 2021.