Red dirt writers
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Sunday, November 11, 2012
11/11/12 at 8:52 AM
Oklahoma was a source of literature long before it became a state.
Washington Irving, whose stories such as "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" made him world-famous, published "A Tour on the Prairies" in 1835, a recounting of his expedition through what is now Oklahoma.
Irving's book was great success, with rousing tales of hunting everything from bees to buffalo, as well as discovering, "There is something inexpressibly lonely in the solitude of a prairie."
Since then, Oklahoma has produced countless contributions to American literature, from the writers who were born here or made this state their home, to the novels, stories, plays, essays and histories about this land and its people.
Oklahoma's literary history is the subject of a new exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City. Created in collaboration with the Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa, "Oklahoma Writers: A Literary Tableau" features stories, artifacts and videos that help tell the story of the state's contributions to the world of books and literature.
The exhibit, which opened in late October, will be on display for at least two years, said Teresa Miller, executive director for the Center for the Poets and Writers and guest curator of the exhibit.
In that time, she said, new items will be continually added to the show, to make it a comprehensive research tool for those wishing to study Oklahoma writers.
Miller said the idea for the exhibit came out of a casual conversation she had with Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, and Jeff Moore, director of the proposed OKPop Museum.
"It just came up in the course of our conversation, how many wonderful writers we have in Oklahoma," Miller said. "And it just came to us that there ought to be an exhibit about that."
Miller spent about six months gathering and preparing the exhibit and the narrative for the exhibit.
"The hardest part was having to limit myself because of the exhibit's space," she said. "Trying to get all I wanted to say in such a relatively small space was a little frustrating, but in the end, it proved to be one of the most fun and inspiring projects I've ever done."
The exhibit also includes a collection of memorabilia, ranging from the writing case of Helen Churchill Candee, whose 1901 novel "An Oklahoma Romance" helped promote the idea of statehood (Candee was also a survivor of the Titanic), to the Hugo Award presented to the late Tulsa writer R.A. Lafferty in 1973 for his short story "Eurema's Dam."
Other items include the guitar and tape recorder of Lynn Riggs, the playwright whose "The Corn is Green" was adapted into the musical "Oklahoma!" and the leatherbound edition of "Where the Heart Is" that Oprah Winfrey presented to Tulsa novelist Billie Letts when the book was chosen for the Oprah Book Club. Also, mystery novelist Tony Hillerman's favorite tie, which he always wore at public appearances.
"That's been one of the most enjoyable aspects of the exhibit for me - collecting all this memorabilia," Miller said. "I've also enjoyed getting to know and even become friend with some of the relatives of these authors, such as Helen Chandler Candee's great-great grandchildren, Tony Hillerman's wife Ann, Jim Thompson's daughter. Everyone we approached about this exhibit has been so kind and generous."
In addition, 50 of the writers included in the exhibit are part of an online database that includes additional information and video interviews, from vintage footage of Oklahoma City native and "Invisible Man" author Ralph Ellison to authors featured on Miller's "Writing Out Loud" program.
"We chose these 50 for the exhibit because they helped best tell the story we wanted to tell about Oklahoma and literature," Miller said. "We want this to be the beginning of an on-going, all-encompassing exhibit."
'OKLAHOMA WRITERS: A LITERARY TABLEAU'
When: Through October 2014
Where: Oklahoma History Center, 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive, Oklahoma City
For more: 405-521-2491. tulsaworld.com/okhistory.
James D. Watts Jr 918-581-8478
Oklahoma's literary history is the subject of a new exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City. Courtesy