Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award 2017 - 2010
Select an award winning author to view the biography.
Since he joined the University of Oklahoma faculty as a young professor of education and sociology in 1967, George Henderson’s name has become synonymous with efforts to promote ethnic diversity and interracial understanding on the OU campus and throughout the country.
Henderson and his wife, Barbara, were the first African-American couple to purchase a home in Norman. Their continued dignity and courage in the face of racially motivated hostility during that time won them the admiration of the community and the university.
Soon after joining the university, Henderson founded OU’s Human Relations Program. He eventually served as the Dean of the College of Liberal Studies, and later returned to the Department of Human Relations as director of the advanced studies program.
In 1969, only two years after arriving at OU, he received the Sylvan N. Goldman Professorship. He holds three additional distinguished professorships at OU. In 2001, the Henderson Scholars Program was initiated at the university in honor of Dr. Henderson.
A trailblazer among African-American university educators, Henderson is celebrated throughout the country for his research and writings. One of his more than thirty books is Race and the University: A Memoir (2010), an Oklahoma Book Award finalist that covers his early years in Norman, Oklahoma and the struggles of young students during the University of Oklahoma’s own civil rights movement. In the preface of the book, Henderson writes:
“I was only going to stay in Oklahoma for two or three years. Then I would move to a better place. More than 40 years later, I am still here. I came for a job and it turned into a career. But that is not why I stayed. I could have had a career in one of the dozen or so other universities that tried to recruit me. I stayed because of some very special people whom I would not have found elsewhere. Together, we made the University of Oklahoma a better place. So, as you will find out in this book, I found my destiny. Or better yet, I found my dignity.”
Among Henderson’s other scholarly works are Cultural Diversity in the Workplace (1994); Migrants, Immigrants and Slaves (1995); Our Souls to Keep: Black/White Relations in America (1999); Psychosocial Aspects of Disability (2004); and Introduction to Human Relations Studies (2016).
The recipient of numerous accolades over the years, Henderson was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 2003. He retired from the University of Oklahoma in 2006. At the request of President David Boren, he continues to teach courses as an adjunct professor.
Few Arrell Gibson Award recipients have been as prolific in so many genres as Diane Glancy. She has excelled in poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, essays, playwriting, and screenwriting—winning awards and critical acclaim along the way.
Born of Cherokee and German/English descent, Glancy’s work often weaves Native and Christian traditions together, and the similarities and contrasts of these traditions have provided a wellspring for her creativity. This multi-cultural experience finds resonance in much of her poetry (where she experiments with “a broken text to carry a broken heritage”) and in the novels Flutie (1998), Designs of the Night Sky (2002), and her Oklahoma Book Award-winning The Mask Maker (2002).
Glancy grew up in Kansas City and attended the University of Missouri, planning to study journalism. After attending a writing workshop that introduced her to poetry, she knew what she wanted to do.
After she received her bachelor’s degree in English in 1964, she moved to Tulsa. She spent the next 20 years in Oklahoma, raising a family, earning a master’s degree from the University of Central Oklahoma, and researching her Cherokee heritage. She was Artist-in-Residence with the State Arts Council of Oklahoma from 1980 to 1988, when she began publishing her work. She joined the faculty of Macalester College in Minnesota in 1989 teaching Native American Literature and creative writing. Today, she is professor emerita at the college.
Glancy’s other novels include Stone Heart, about Sacajawea and the Lewis and Clark expedition; The Man Who Heard the Land; Pushing the Bear, about the 1838–39 Cherokee Trail of Tears; and Pushing the Bear: After the Trail of Tears. She has published two books of plays, American Gypsy and War Cries. Her latest works are the novels Uprising of Goats, One of Us, and Ironic Witness.
In 2010, Glancy adapted her novel Flutie to make the independent film, The Dome of Heaven, a title she took from the western Oklahoma sky. The film, made in and around Vici, Oklahoma, was an official selection of twenty independent film festivals and won several awards. In 2013, she made a second film, Four Quartets; and the script is finished for a third film, When Everett Was Still Dancing.
Whether Glancy’s art emerges on the page, in a poetry reading, on the screen, or in the classroom, the land of Oklahoma remains an influence on her work.
Rennard Strickland began writing because he hated law school. That’s one of the revelations the honoree shared in a 2009 interview conducted for the University of Oklahoma’s Sooner Magazine:
“At the end of my senior year, my absolutely favorite professor told me, ‘What you need to do is go into legal education, and you can change the way it is taught.
“Legal education has changed since then,” [Strickland] says. When he began teaching law, “women and minorities were told to write about ‘mainstream law,’ not about minorities or women or even social and cultural issues. That non-traditional scholarship, we were told, was for ‘after tenure.’ I decided I didn’t care to have my academic menu selected by others.”
No one could accuse Dr. Strickland of following an established menu. Instead, he has followed his bliss in a variety of directions and has blazed new trails. He is a pioneer of Native American legal scholarship, and has written or edited more than thirty-five books on Indian law, history, and culture. He served as editor-in-chief of Felix S. Cohen’s Handbook of Federal Indian Law, considered the “Bible of Indian Law.” He has also pursued his interest in art and film, writing articles, essays, books, and museum/conference presentations about these subjects, as well.
Of Osage and Cherokee heritage, Strickland was born in 1940 in Muskogee. After graduating from Northeastern State College in Tahlequah, he earned a M.A. from the University of Arkansas, and a J.D. and a S.J.D. from the University of Virginia. As the Sooner Magazine article notes, after law school, “He had a nomadic career, teaching or serving as dean at nearly twenty universities. But he has always come back to Oklahoma.” He has taught at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma City University, and the University of Oklahoma, where he was founding director of the American Indian Law and Policy Center in the 1990s. Today, he is OU Visiting Professor and Scholar in Residence at the renamed Center for the Study of American Indian Law and Policy.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Strickland served on the Editorial Board for the Newcomers to a New Land series of books, part of the Oklahoma Image project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities in preparation for the state’s Seventy-fifth Anniversary Diamond Jubilee. The series was a 10–volume set that explored the different ethnic groups that played a major role in the development of the state.
Strickland’s own The Indians in Oklahoma remains one of the most popular titles of this series, and it is the author’s most recognizable work to the general public. Of his forty-plus books, it may also be the most telling of the author’s approach to history. The book does not follow mainstream historiography. Instead, Strickland looks outside of the box, integrating the arts to tell a more complete, poetic story. Just what we would expect from a man who has carved his own path.
Educator, historian, author, and poet—Alvin O. Turner is the ultimate storyteller. It has been said that Turner’s research and writing is based upon a holistic vision of the world. For him, it is not enough just to relay the facts regarding a period or incident in history. He searches for and provides the reader with a deeper understanding of the people, places, and events that have shaped our society.
Born in Guthrie, Oklahoma, on July 28, 1943, Turner earned a bachelor’s degree in history at Central State University (UCO), a master’s degree in history from Central Missouri State University, and his PhD in history from Oklahoma State University. He held a variety of teaching and university administrative positions during his career, including dean for the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and professor of history at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma, from 1997 until his retirement in 2006.
The author of six history books and numerous articles, Turner’s scholarship has focused primarily on regional history. His work has proved to be a valuable asset to researchers, historians, and general audiences who want a better insight into Oklahoma’s story. Turner has focused much of his research on what he calls “non-elite memoirs.” These are stories of ordinary Oklahomans who have published their autobiographies or memoirs. His current work involves the annotations of more than 250 of these memoirs.
Turner’s poetry also focuses on regional themes. In Waiting for the Rain, the poems achieve his original intent of “preserving memories of people’s responses to hard times.” Those hard times included the dust bowl and depression. Re-Membering Journeys is also a reflection of hard times. For Turner, however, the “journeys they represent … are the products of an increasingly conscious process of re-membering, taking old memories apart and putting them back together again.” In Hanging Men, he provides a poetic approach to the history of Ada, Oklahoma, from the town’s birth to the modern day. Particular emphasis is placed on the events surrounding the hanging of four men in 1909.
Turner served as co-author with Bob Blackburn on First Family: A Centennial History of the First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City. His compilation of writer Caroline Henderson’s work for Letters from the Dust Bowl was a finalist for the non-fiction award from the Oklahoma Center for the Book, and for the Centennial Oklahoma Reads Oklahoma Initiative. His latest book L.W. Marks: A Baptist Progressive in Missouri & Oklahoma, 1862–1943 was published in 2009 by Mongrel Empire Press. Turner and his wife, Carmelita, make their home in Norman, Oklahoma.
“I suppose I’d categorize my books as ‘slice of life’ novels. What happens to my characters seems to me to be the result of living in the chaos of the real world.” From “Interview with Billie Letts,” ReadersRead.com—July 2004
The protagonists in the novels of Billie Letts begin their journeys alone in the world: a pregnant teenage girl abandoned in a WalMart parking lot (Where the Heart Is); a wounded Vietnam War veteran who never leaves the small Oklahoma café he owns (The Honk and Holler Opening Soon); an unloved California plastic surgeon who travels to Oklahoma to find his biological mother (Shoot the Moon); two children, who must choose between becoming wards of the state or taking to the road to find their absent father (Made in the U.S.A.).
How these characters grow, what they endure along the way, and where they end up by the time the reader has closed the book, relate a strong central theme of Billie’s work—that home, love, family, and a place to belong is possible “in the chaos of the real world.”
The two-time Oklahoma Book Award winner was born Billie Gibson in Tulsa in 1938 (a “child of children” she has said). When she shocked her fourth grade teacher with a book review on Erskin Caldwell’s God’s Little Acre, she realized the power of writing. “If I had the power to agitate a language-arts teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by simply writing about someone else’s writing, how much power might I have in telling my own stories?” At the age of nine, the idea of becoming a writer took hold.
Before she would find success as an author, she found success as a teacher, wife, and mother. She met Dennis Letts at Northeastern State University, and married him in 1958. The couple moved to Durant, home of Southeastern Oklahoma State University, after Dennis finished graduate school at the University of Illinois. “We planned to be there a year, maybe two. We stayed almost 30,” she said.
Billie continued her own education while raising a family, earning a Master’s degree from Oklahoma State University in 1974. She eventually joined the faculty at Southeastern along with her husband. When the time to contemplate retirement arrived, Billie began to focus more attention on her writing. Like one of her characters, she began a new journey that would take her to a place she could never have imagined.
Her books are international bestsellers. Where the Heart Is, the Walker Percy Award winner and Oprah Book Club selection, has alone been translated into more than a dozen languages. It’s a good bet that if someone on the other side of the world is reading a book about a place called Oklahoma, if it’s not The Grapes of Wrath, it’s probably a Billie Letts novel.
Award-winning young adult author Anna Myers loves to tell stories, so it is only fitting that we should give her the first words:
“I was born in the west Texas town of White Face. My father was an oil field worker who had been transferred to Texas from Oklahoma. I had five older brothers and sisters, and when I was seven years old, my little brother was born. I was only a few months old when the family moved back to Oklahoma, but being born in Texas had a big impact on my life. Because I was the only one in the family born outside of Oklahoma, one of my uncles always called me ‘Tex.’ My oldest brother used to tell me that the family found me in a tumbleweed. I was fairly certain he was only teasing, but when I heard the song, ‘Tumbling Tumbleweed,’ I felt a little thrill.
“Stories were always important in our family. My grandmother, my mother, my father, and my aunts, and my uncles were all storytellers. I never tired of hearing the stories about what went on in the Oklahoma hills where my parents grew up as neighbors. My older brothers and sisters loved books. Going to the library on Saturdays was a big event at our house, and my older siblings frequently read aloud to me. It was that love of stories, I believe, that made me decide early on that I wanted to be a writer. “
Anna Myers is one of Oklahoma’s most beloved writers of youth literature. She has written nineteen books, is a perennial finalist in the Oklahoma Book Awards, and has received four Oklahoma Book Award medals during her writing career, for Red Dirt Jessie, Graveyard Girl, Assassin, and Spy. She has received many more awards and honors from across the country.
Myers brings her stories into schools, and even hosts writing workshops for young people. She also serves as a mentor for aspiring authors in the state by serving as the regional advisor to Oklahoma’s Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
Let’s give Anna the final words, as well:
“All but two of my nineteen books are historical fiction. I had a Sunday school teacher when I was a girl who used to say, ‘If you don’t know where you have been, you can’t know where you are going.’ I like to think my books help kids know where we have been.”
“Oklahoma isn’t what I write about; it’s the place I write from—my spiritual and emotional and geographical center. It’s where the voices reside. As a writer I always think of America as my subject, and Oklahoma as the landscape where the stories unfold.” —From “A Writer’s Source” by Rilla Askew, Tulsa World, December 20, 2090
All of Rilla Askew’s books to date have been set in Oklahoma. She was born in the Sans Bois Mountains in the southeastern corner, a fifth generation descendant of southerners who settled in the Choctaw Nation in the late 1800s. Her maternal grandfather was a sharecropper who stayed on the land when the hard times came during the Great Depression, and her paternal grandfather was a coal miner, a carpenter, merchant, and one-time deputy sheriff. The daughter of a coon-hunting Southern Baptist deacon and an independent-minded mom, Askew is the middle of three sisters. She grew up in the oil company town of Bartlesville, where she first encountered the complex forces of race and class that she continues to explore in her fiction. She lived for several years in the Cherokee capital of Tahlequah before relocating to Tulsa, where she graduated from the University of Tulsa with a degree in theatre performance. In 1980 she moved to New York to pursue an acting career, but she soon turned to writing fiction and went on to study creative writing at Brooklyn College, where she received her MFA in 1989.
Her collection of stories Strange Business received the Oklahoma Book Award in 1993. Her short fiction has appeared in a variety of journals and has been selected for Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. Her first novel The Mercy Seat was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and received the Western Heritage Award and the Oklahoma Book Award in 1998. Her novel about the Tulsa Race Riot, Fire in Beulah, received the American Book Award, the Myers Book Award, and was the Oklahoma Reads Oklahoma selection for 2007. Askew’s most recent novel Harpsong was nominated for the Dublin IMPAC Prize and received the Oklahoma Book Award, the Western Heritage Award, the Willa Cather Award from Women Writing the West, and the Violet Crown Award from the Writers League of Texas. She was the recipient of a 2009 Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Askew is married to actor Paul Austin, and they divide their time between Oklahoma, where she currently serves as Artist in Residence at the University of Central Oklahoma, and their home in upstate New York.
The spectacular photography of lifelong Oklahoma resident David G. Fitzgerald has thrilled booklovers for more than three decades. Fitzgerald’s published work began receiving national attention immediately when the coffee-table book Oklahoma arrived in bookstores in 1979. This would be the first of many books featuring his stunning photographic work. Books that followed include Ozarks, Israel: Land of Promise, Mansion Fare, Oklahoma II, Portrait of the Ozarks, Oklahoma Crossroads,Bison: Monarch of the Plains, Cherokee, Chickasaw: Unconquered and Unconquerable, Oklahoma 3, and Cherokee Trail of Tears.
Fitzgerald began his career as an artist and illustrator, and this background continues to influence his photography, prompting one critic to note, “the painter’s eye remains much in evidence.”
In addition to his books, his work has been showcased in both state and national exhibits. His photographic documentary of the Benedictine Monks at St. Gregory’s Monastery in Shawnee, Oklahoma, is displayed there. “Oklahoma II” is a permanent exhibit in the Donna Nigh Gallery at the University of Central Oklahoma. His “Cherokee Nation: A Portrait of a People” exhibit has appeared at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the Natives of North America Museum in Zurich, Switzerland, and the Oklahoma Historical Society. The “Cherokee Trail of Tears” exhibit includes fifty photographs from his book Cherokee Trail of Tears. Fitzgerald’s work also appears in the State Arts Collection and the University of Oklahoma Museum of Art.
In 1999 Fitzgerald received the Oklahoma Book Award in the Design/Illustration category for Bison: Monarch of the Plains. In 2003 his book Cherokee won the Benjamin Franklin Award and was a finalist for the Oklahoma Books Awards. In 2007 he won a gold and bronze IPPY award at the Independent Publishers Book Awards for Chickasaw: Unconquered and Unconquerable. Fitzgerald was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame in 2005, and has been named Oklahoma Photographer of the Year three times. He is a lifetime member of the International Photography Hall of Fame.
Lovers of his work can rest assured there is more to come. Fitzgerald has two new books available in May 2010: Chickasaw Renaissance and Building One Fire. He is currently working on a book entitled Courthouse Legends that features all seventy-seven county courthouses and four federal courthouses in Oklahoma.