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Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award 2009 - 2000

Select an award winning author to view the biography.


Robert J. Conley, one of Oklahoma’s most prolific authors, was born in Cushing in 1940. His first novel, Back to Malachi, was published in 1986. Since that time he has had more than seventy books published, both fiction and non-fiction. His poems and short stories have been published in numerous periodicals and anthologies over the years, including some in Germany, France, Belgium, New Zealand and Yugoslavia. His poems have been published in English, Cherokee, and Macedonian.

Conley is known for his accurate depiction of the old West, focusing on the history, tradition, and folklore of the Cherokee people. A member of the Western Writers of America, he has won Spur Awards for two of his novels, Nickajack and The Dark Island, and for his short story “Yellow Bird: An Imaginary Autobiography”. The Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers named him Wordcrafter of the Year in 1997. That same year, he was also inducted into the Oklahoma Professional Writers Hall of Fame. Also in 2007, his book Cherokee Medicine Man was part of the annual literary six-pack for the Oklahoma Reads Oklahoma statewide centennial literary celebration.

He is an enrolled member of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma. Conley has been assistant programs manager for the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, director of Indian Studies at Bacone College, associate professor of English at Morningside College, coordinator of Indian Culture at Eastern Montana College, and instructor of English at Southwest Missouri State University and at Northern Illinois University. He is the new Sequoyah Distinguished Professor in Cherokee Studies at Western Carolina University.


David Dary is a respected journalist and educator, and a prize-winning historian of the Old West. He has written 15 books and more than 200 articles for newspapers and magazines. He is emeritus professor of journalism at the University of Oklahoma. He retired in 2000, after 11 years as head of what is now the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

Dary was born in Manhattan, Kansas, in 1934. After graduating from Kansas State University, in 1956, and completing a stint in the Army Reserve, a newly-wed Dary went to work in the radio business in Texas. In the 1960s Dary worked in production and administration for CBS and NBC News in Texas and Washington D.C. In 1967, while at NBC, Dary wrote his first book, Radio News Handbook.

In the late 60s, after returning to Kansas for family reasons, Dary helped plan and build a new NBC television station in Topeka. In 1969, he joined the faculty of the journalism school at the University of Kansas, Lawrence. He earned his master’s degree in journalism during his first year of teaching. Over the next 20 years at KU, Dary rose to the rank of full professor.

His university teaching schedule allowed him time to write, and in 1974, Dary completed The Buffalo Book. It became a Book-of-the-Month selection. During this time he also began writing stories for the Kansas City Star’s Sunday supplement—collected in True Tales of the Old-Time Plains (1979). In 1981, Dary wrote Cowboy Culture: A Saga of Five Centuries. Published by Alfred A. Knopf of New York, Cowboy Culture won several awards and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. The books that followed—including Seeking Pleasure in the Old West, Entrepreneurs of the Old West, The Santa Fe Trail: Its History, Legends and Lore, and The Oregon Trail: An American Saga—confirm his place as a leading authority on the American West. Dary has received the Cowboy Hall of Fame’s Wrangler Award, two Western Writers of America Spur Awards, the Westerners International Best Nonfiction Book Award, and the Owen Wister Award for lifetime achievement from the Western Writers of America.

In 1989, the University of Oklahoma recruited Dary to head the School of Journalism, where he hired new faculty, rebuilt the program, and elevated the journalism school to a freestanding college. In 2007, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame.


Clifton Taulbert is probably best known for his memoir Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored, about his experience of growing up in the racially charged Mississippi Delta during the civil rights movement. In his picture of tiny Glen Allen, Mississippi, Taulbert focuses more on the bonds of family and community—“the front porch people”—rather than the growing conflict between black and white. The work is also a love song to the family that nourished him and protected him from a world of hatred and segregation. Publishers Weekly described the book as a “funny, sweet, touching memoir.” Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored was made into a popular motion picture.

A second memoir, The Last Train North, continues his experiences after high school, when he left Mississippi and traveled to St. Louis for “the good life.” This book was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Rounding out the trilogy is Watching our Crops Come In, which covers Taulbert’s time in the United States Air Force, and a revealing return trip to his Mississippi home town.

Other non-fiction books include, Eight Habits of the Heart, The Journey Home: A Father’s Gift to His Son, and Eight Habits of the Heart for Educators.

Taulbert has also written three children’s books: Little Cliff and the Porch People, Little Cliff’s First Day of School, and Little Cliff and the Cold Place.

He also is the founder and director of the Building Community Institute located in Tulsa. A popular lecturer and motivator, he speaks throughout the world on the need to create an environment branded by respect, affirmation, and inclusion.


Bob Burke, an Oklahoma City attorney and historian, is tonight’s recipient of the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award. He has written or co-written sixty-five books about Oklahoma including Roscoe Dunjee: Champion of Civil Rights, Kate Bernard: Oklahoma’s Good Angel, Oklahoma Government Today: How We Got There, and A History of the Oklahoma Governor’s Mansion.

A native of Broken Bow, Oklahoma, Burke received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a Juris Doctor degree from Oklahoma City University. He served as a journalist and sportscaster for local radio and television stations in Oklahoma before joining the American Broadcasting Company in New York. He has held numerous positions in state government including director of a large state agency during Governor David Boren’s administration.

Burke has written on such diverse topics as aviation, baseball, and religion in Oklahoma. He received the Oklahoma Book Award for non-fiction in 1999 for From Here to Eternity: The Life of Wiley Post and the Winnie Mae. His biography on Bryce Harlow was a Pulitzer Prize nominee and won the Oklahoma History Book of the Year Award from the Oklahoma Historical Society. Burke currently serves on the governing boards of the Jim Thorpe Association, Oklahoma Arts Council, Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, and the Oklahoma Heritage Association.


C.J. Cherryh is one of the most prolific and highly respected authors in America. She has more than sixty books to her credit and is the winner of numerous honors, including three prestigious Hugo Awards, given by the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS).

Cherryh’s first book, Gate of Ivrel, was published in 1976. Since then she has become a leading writer of science fiction and fantasy, known for extraordinary originality, versatility, and superb writing. She received the John W. Campbell Award in 1977 for the Best New Writer, voted by the WSFS. Cherryh received the coveted Hugo Award for short story in 1979 for Cassandra, for novel in 1982 for Downbelow Station, and in 1989 for Cyteen. Cyteen also won the Locus Award, presented to winners of Locus magazine’s annual readers’ poll, for the best science fiction novel of 1988.

A person of varied talents, Cherryh’s personal interests lie in human genetics, astronomy, space science, aeronautics, astrophysics, botany, geology, climatology, archaeology, cosmology, anthropology, and technology in general with practical and anthropological consideration. In her official biography she states, “I write full time. I travel. I try out things. The list includes, present and past tense; fencing, riding, archery, firearms, ancient weapons, donkeys, elephants, camels, butterflies, frogs, wasps, turtles, bees, ants, falconry, exotic swamp plants and tropicals, lizards, wilderness survival, fishing, sailing, street and ice skating, mechanics, carpentry, wiring, painting (canvas), painting (house), painting (interior), sculpture, aquariums (both fresh and salt), needlepoint, bird breeding, furniture refinishing, video games, archaeology, Roman, Greek civ, Crete, Celts, and caves.” At 61 she took up figure skating.

Cherryh has a BA in Latin from the University of Oklahoma and a MA in Classics from John Hopkins University in Maryland. She taught Latin and ancient history in Oklahoma City Public Schools. Today she lives in Spokane, Washington.


Carolyn Hart is an acknowledged master of mystery and suspense. Hailed as America’s Agatha Christie, she is the author of 35 novels with more than 2.5 million copies of her books in print. Hart is the first author to win all three major mystery awards for her novels—the Agatha, the Anthony, and the Macavity awards. She has won each award twice, and is the only author to be nominated seven times for the coveted Agatha Award. She was one of ten authors appearing in the Mystery and Thriller Pavilion at the 2003 National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.

Born in Oklahoma City, Hart began her love affair with mystery by reading Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and Beverly Gray. She received a BA in journalism with honors from the University of Oklahoma in 1958. She was a newspaper reporter and worked in public relations before her first book, a children’s mystery, was published in 1964. She wrote four more young adult novels before moving into the mainstream.

Hart is renowned for her two bestselling mystery series—the Henrie O mysteries and the Death on Demand series. She was the recipient of the Oklahoma Book Award for Fiction in 2001 for Sugarplum Dead. Hart’s novel Letter From Home—a finalist for 2004’s fiction award—was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Hart lives in Oklahoma City with her husband Phil.


Joy Harjo was born in Tulsa and is an enrolled member of the Muscogee Nation; she is also recognized as one of America’s foremost poets. She received the Oklahoma Book Award in 1995 in the poetry category for The Woman Who Fell From the Sky.

She is a high school graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico where she studied painting and theater, not poetry and music. She received a BA degree from the University of New Mexico followed by an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. She began writing poetry when the national Indian political climate demanded singers and speakers, and was taken by the intensity in the craft.

She has published seven books of poetry. They include: The Last Song, She Had Some Horses, In Mad Love and War, The Woman Who Fell from the Sky, A Map to the Next World, and What Moon Drove Me to This? Her most recent book, How We Became Human, New and Selected Poems won the 2003 Oklahoma Book Award for poetry.

Awards for her writing include the 2002 Beyond Margins Award from the PEN American Center, the 2001 American Indian Festival of Words Author Award from the Tulsa City County Library, the 2000 Western Literature Association Distinguished Achievement Award, the 1988 Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Award, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas, and the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. She is also a member of the National Council on the Arts.

Harjo was the narrator for the Native American series on Turner Network and the narrator for the Emmy award-winning show, Navajo Codetalkers for National Geographic.

Currently living in Honolulu, Hawaii, Harjo travels nationally and internationally playing saxophone with her band.


For the first time, the Oklahoma Center for the Book presented the annual Arrell Gibson Award not to an individual, but to an institution—World Literature Today, the world’s oldest international literary quarterly in English. This year marks the 75th anniversary of this Oklahoma-born, world-renowned journal and its affiliated programs.

Scholar Roy Temple House founded the journal under the name Books Abroad in 1927. Dr. House directed the department of modern languages at The University of Oklahoma. A proponent of internationalism, he believed a non-ideological commentary on foreign literature could help counter America’s trend toward isolationism, and promote international understanding.

From a modest seedling of thirty-two pages (January 1927), Books Abroad grew to 256 pages by the end of its 50th year (the Autumn 1976 issue). In January 1977, under the direction of Ivar Ivask, the journal became World Literature Today, reflecting the truly international range that its coverage and reputation had acquired.

Dr. Ivask, the journal’s fifth director, was also responsible for initiating the journal’s international award for literature in 1969. Today, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, supported by an endowment from the Neustadt family of Ardmore and Dallas, remains one of the few international prizes for which poets, novelists, and playwrights are equally eligible.

Another journal-sponsored event, the Puterbaugh Conferences on World Literature, brings a prominent author to The University of Oklahoma each spring for free lectures. In conjunction with the lectures, World Literature Today sponsors a symposium featuring world-renowned scholars and specialists in the author’s work. The conference series began in 1968 and was endowed in perpetuity in 1978 by the Puterbaugh Foundation of McAlester.

After 75 years, WLT continues to promote international understanding through the celebration of literature. A new award honoring children’s literature will debut in 2003. In addition, the journal has begun a new venture: WLT Magazine, designed for both the general public and the scholar. In his introduction to the inaugural issue, current director Robert Con Davis-Undiano writes, “In creating a magazine that may reach a wider public, we are attempting to enlarge that circle of understanding, as has always been the goal at both Books Abroad and WLT.”


Joyce Carol Thomas was born in Ponca City, Oklahoma. Although she moved to California at the age of ten, she never forgot her Oklahoma background. Known for her poetry, playwriting, and novels—especially for children and young adults—her books resonate with the language, and rhythms of Oklahoma. Her work evokes a childhood when she made up songs, stories, and poems and shared them with her family and playmates.

Presently living in California, Thomas has returned to her birthplace through much of her writing. Oklahoma is the setting for her novels Marked By Fire (Avon Books), Bright Shadow, and The Golden Pasture. Her poetry books, I Have Heard Of A Land (HarperCollins Juvenile Books), Brown Honey In Broomwheat Tea (HarperTrophy), and Gingerbread Days, are infused with prairie sensibility.

Joyce Carol Thomas received the National Book Award for her first book, Marked by Fire. That book was also voted the best book for young adults by the New York Times in 1983. Her first illustrated book, Brown Honey and Broomwheat Tea won the Coretta Scott King Award in 1994.

Joyce Carol Thomas also won the 2001 Oklahoma Book Award in the Children and Young Adult category with her collection African American lullabies, Hush Songs (Hyperion Books for Children). This is the first time that a Lifetime Achievement winner has also won an award for a book entered that year. Thomas’ books Gingerbread Days and I Have Heard of A Land were both finalists for earlier Oklahoma Book Awards.


The 2000 recipient was Bill Wallace of Chickasha, Oklahoma. Born in Chickasha in 1947, he started out his working life as a teacher. In 1971, after graduating with a degree in elementary education, Wallace began teaching school in his hometown. He taught kindergarten and fourth grade classes. After earning a Masters degree in Elementary Administration, Wallace served as an assistant principal, and eventually as principal of West Elementary in Chickasha. Along the way, Wallace studied professional writing with William Foster-Harris and Dwight Swain at the University of Oklahoma.

A prolific writer, Bill Wallace has written or co-written 25 novels for young people. With titles like The Biggest Klutz in Fifth Grade, The Great Escape (Upchuck and the Rotten Willy), and Snot Stew, his books have been popular from the beginning.

In 1983, Wallace received the Oklahoma Sequoyah Children’s Book Award for his book A Dog Called Kitty. The novel written for young people went on to win the Texas Bluebonnet Award in 1983, and the Nebraska Golden Sower Award in 1985. Over the years, Wallace has received writing awards from seventeen different states, including a second Sequoyah award in 1991 for Beauty. Watchdog and the Coyotes was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award in 1996, and Aloha Summer was a finalist in 1998.

Last Modified on Nov 06, 2023
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