New Exhibit: Oklahoma Writers – A Literary Tableau


Larry O’Dell
Oklahoma Historical Society
(405) 522-6676

The Oklahoma History Center is opening a new exhibit that will examine the significance of Oklahoma writers on Thursday, October 25, 2012.

The exhibit will focus on writers in a variety of mediums including historians, western writers, journalists, memoirists, playwrights and screen writers, literary novelists, mystery and crime writers, science fiction, fantasy and horror writers, young adult and children’s writers, poets, and Oklahoma song writers.

The Oklahoma History Center sees this exhibit not only as a celebration of our heritage, but also as the beginning of a statewide literacy initiative. This is an exhibit visitors will want to see more than once because the OHC will be rotating artifacts throughout the next two years to keep the exhibit fresh and expand its outreach.

The Oklahoma History Center has partnered with the Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers at OSU-Tulsa to launch an online database celebrating 50 authors. According to Teresa Miller, executive director of the OSU center and guest curator of the exhibit, “The plan is to steadily expand the database, making it a comprehensive research tool for anyone studying Oklahoma authors. We particularly want to reach out to teachers and students.”

In 1835, Washington Irving published A Tour on the Prairies, a travelogue of his expedition to what would one day be Oklahoma. Regaling readers with tales of everything from bee hunts to buffalo hunts, Irving also captured the nuances of the land itself, noting “There is something inexpressibly lonely in the solitude of a prairie.”

Oklahoma’s terrain and the people who struggled to conquer it would continue to inspire generations of writers, like Irving, who never called the state “home.” Novelists Edna Ferber (Cimarron, 1929) and John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath, 1939) both wrote books which capture the essential paradox of Oklahoma. Ferber’s work focuses on the 1889 and 1893 land rushes and those pioneers who competed to become Oklahoma stakeholders. Steinbeck’s story highlights the Dust Bowl years and the desperate migration of Okies to California.

Many Oklahomans took exception to The Grapes of Wrath, convinced it stereotyped them as backward and the state as desolate. After its release, Congressman Lyle Boren denounced the book on the House floor, declaring it “an infernal creation.”

More recently authors such as Toni Morrison and Jim Lehrer have visited Oklahoma through their writing. Morrison’s novel,Paradise (1997), is set in an all-Black, fictional town of Ruby and explores the consequences of spiritual isolation. Lehrer’s milieu is the larger world of Oklahoma politics. Some pundits credit his satire, Crown Oklahoma (1989), with jumpstarting the successful campaign to get a dome for the state capitol.

For more information about this exhibit contact Larry O’Dell at 405- 522-6676 or by email at or David Davis at 405-522-0798 or by email at

A project of the Oklahoma Historical Society
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