By John Callahan & Sarah Coleman


The nation is full of writers hopeful of authoring the next great American novel, and Arkansas is home to a growing roster of ever-evolving literary talent, who define greatness in the state. With much to be proud of, Arkansan authors have written in every genre, and this month, AY About You is showcasing a few of the best books to set your sights on.  


The holiday season may be busy and bustling, but it’s also a time to press pause and relax, a great setting to find comfort and joy in a new read.  This holiday season, take time to check out reads from a few authors who proudly call the Natural state home. Nonfiction or history, romance or mystery, there is something for readers of all ages, levels and genre interests to enjoy – just in time to support local artists in the pique gift-giving season. 


John A. Kirk- 

Winthrop Rockefeller, From New Yorker to Arkansawyer, 1912-1956


What do a history professor from Rochdale, England, and a Rockefeller from New York have in common? Both made a new home in Arkansas. 


Born across the pond, John A. Kirk, Ph.D., holds a long-standing fascination with American history, particularly the civil rights movement. Kirk’s interest extends past the major flashpoints that have come to define the movement to include the context of grassroots-level Black activism that both preceded and followed those events. He has published no fewer than eight books on the subject, often traveling to Arkansas for his research, in addition to his teaching duties at the University of Wales and University of London. In 2010, he moved to the state he had studied for so long, becoming a professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. 


Discovering Winthrop Rockefeller through his research, Kirk became intrigued by the New Yorker. The scion of industrialist John D. Rockefeller’s staggering wealth, Winthrop decided to forego his place in the family oil empire to live in what was considered one of the poorest and most underdeveloped states in the union. 


Winthrop Rockefeller, From New Yorker to Arkansawyer, 1912-1956 is the product of many years of research, through which Kirk has endeavored to understand Rockefeller’s unique and unexpected life. Covering the period from his birth in 1912 until 1956 when Rockefeller was serving as the first chairman of the new Arkansas Industrial Development Commission, the book primarily addresses why he left behind one of the most powerful families in American history to become a roughneck on a Texas oil field, a soldier at Okinawa and then a cattle rancher on an Arkansas mountaintop. 


Offering great detail at every step, Kirk builds a clearer picture of who this singular man was, ultimately building to his next book which will examine the rest of Rockefeller’s life, a project already well underway.


Arkansas authors

Trenton Lee Stewart-

The Mysterious Benedict Society


One of Arkansas’s best-selling contemporary writers, Trenton Lee Stewart is known for The Mysterious Benedict Society, a remarkably clever and engaging series of young adult novels that have recently been adapted into a TV series. A native of Hot Springs, Stewart earned a bachelor’s degree in English at Hendrix College, then went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree from the celebrated Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a program that counts no fewer than 17 Pulitzer Prize winners among its alumni. He worked a variety of jobs while also writing and publishing short stories, at one point working as a professor at Miami University of Ohio. In 2005, he published his first book, the Southern Gothic novel Flood Summer.


After returning to Arkansas, where he now lives in Little Rock, he published The Mysterious Benedict Society, which remained on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year. The novel tells the story of four children who are each extraordinarily gifted in different ways: Reynie Muldoon has a strong intuition and excellent problem-solving skills; George “Sticky” Washington has a photographic memory allowing him to absorb and recall enormous amounts of information; Kate Wetherall is the most athletic of the group and carries a bucket full of miscellaneous but useful items she uses in creative ways; and Constance Contraire is a very young girl far more intelligent than her age would suggest.


Brought together by an eccentric man named Nicholas Benedict, who suffers from narcolepsy and tends to fall asleep when he laughs, the children are sent to the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, or L.I.V.E., to discover the source of subliminal messages being sent out over TV and radio that threaten to destabilize governments across the world. Every element of the story is a mystery, and the reader is given the opportunity to put the pieces together alongside the characters, or even solve the puzzle before they do. 


Stewart has written three more novels in the series, the most recent being The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Riddle of Ages, released in 2019. 


Tim Ernst- 

Ozark Highlands Trail Guide #7

Tim Ernst is one of the premier wilderness photographers of Arkansas, and there are few who know the Ozarks as well as he does. From National Geographic to Hallmark calendars to the New York Times, his work has achieved nationwide renown. His online journal is home to frequent updates full of beautiful photography and commentary on his time spent outdoors. He taught photography workshops for more than 35 years and has published numerous picture books, prints and guides. 


One of his newest, and at the same time oldest, publications is the Ozark Highlands Trail Guide. Making full use of his Ozarks knowledge, the guide gives every necessary detail for hiking along what has been rated one of the top 10 trails in the United States. Ernst’s original guide, published in 1990, has been lovingly kept up to date over the years. The seventh and most recent edition includes the newest 43.7 miles, known as the Buffalo River Trail, which brings the total length of the Ozark Highlands Trail to 207.6 miles.


On such an imposing route, there’s a great deal a hiker needs to know, and the Ozark Highlands Trail Guide #7 provides all of it. The book features no fewer than 11 section maps and elevation profiles, 12 mileage logs, information about campgrounds, parking areas, good spots for hunting, fishing or taking in the sights, historical features, a month-by-month weather guide, information about connecting trails and more. 


Once you’ve explored the Ozark Highlands Trail with Ernst’s assistance, you can find information on even more trails, swimming holes and other natural wonders in his wide array of publications.


Sidney Moncrief 

The G.R.I.T. Factor in Kindness: 

Transforming your Workplace Through Acts of Kindness


In his post-basketball life, former Razorback and NBA All-Star Sidney Moncrief has been devoted to creating unique experiences through Game Changer , establishing workplace readiness, creating leadership opportunities, working to create environments of diversity and inclusion, keynote speaking and improving morale within teams. All this, in addition to writing several self-help books. 


In his latest book, “The G.R.I.T.  Factor in Kindness: Transforming your Workplace Through Acts of Kindness,” Moncrief explores the topic of how the G.R.I.T. Factor can be applied to situations outside of just athletics. The book walks readers through in-depth application of strategies that allow for better work environments. 


Moncrief details these approaches in a clear way promoting efforts of creating a better social world. He also preaches the importance of the “Four C’s,” which include collaboration, communication, care and confidence in ways appropriate or students and adults alike. 


The author of 11 books, Montcrief’s other works include “Reinventing You!” “The G.R.I.T. Factor,” and “Your Passport to Becoming a Valuable Team Player.” 



By Jenny B. Jones 

A Sugar Free Christmas 


“A Sugar Free Christmas,” is the first book in the Sugar Creek series by award-winning author Jenny B. Jones. Jones’ past work includes romance, mystery and young fiction and the Sugar Creek series lands squarely in the romantic comedy genre.  


Set in the fictional town of Sugar Creek outside of Bentonville, the story focuses on Emma Sutton, a television morning show host who moves back to her hometown after being fired. There, she embarks on a new career as a Christmas events planner. In taking on the new role, Sutton has the harrowing realization one of her new clients isn’t just the mayor of Sugar Creek, but also her ex-fiancé. While the two are determined to work past their prior differences, it soon becomes clear that their love story isn’t quite finished yet.


Jones ‘writing offers a breezy Southern charm and the quaint town she creates is one cut from the same cloth as those beloved holiday movies, so “A Sugar-Free Christmas is sure to make readers swoon in all the romance that ensues. 


Arkansas authors

Amy Matayo 

Lies We Tell Ourselves 


An award-winning romance author from Siloam Springs, Amy Matayo embarks on yet another novel dedicated to humor, love and change in “Lies We Tell Ourselves.” 


The story follows Micha Leven, who’s in love with two women: childhood friend Presley, who prints a small-town newspaper in between rescuing animals, and Mara, an ambitious newscaster. As the reader follows Leven’s dilemma and emotional aftermath, Matayo illustrates throughout the novel that life is equal parts the lies we tell each other as well as ourselves.  


Matayo studied journalism at John Brown University and is the talent behind “Christmas at Gate 18,” “The Wedding Game,” “The Thirteenth Chance” and “The Last Shot.”  


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