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The Oklahoma
Center for the Book

Oklahoma Dept. of
200 NE 18th St
Oklahoma City, OK 73105-3298

(405) 521-2502
(405) 525-7804—FAX

Connie Armstrong,
OCB director

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1998 Oklahoma Book Award Winners

Winners of the 1998 Oklahoma Book Awards include three previous Oklahoma Book Award winners, a first-time author, and the poet laureate of the state. This year, 126 books were entered in the five categories.

The ninth annual Oklahoma Book Award ceremony was held March 14, at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. The awards program is sponsored by the Oklahoma Center For the Book in the Department of Libraries. Books published during 1997 and written by Oklahomans or about Oklahoma were eligible to enter the 1998 competition.

Design and Illustration

Carol Haralson received an unprecedented fourth award in the design and illustration category for the book Visions and Voices: Native American Painting from the Philbrook Museum of Art. Haralson, who lived for many years in Tulsa now makes her home in Sedona, Arizona. She was a finalist for two books this year and previously won in 1991 for Cleora's Kitchens, in 1993 for Will Rogers: Courtship and Correspondence, and in 1997 for Big Bluestem: A Journey into the Tall Grass.


Rilla Askew received her second Oklahoma Book Award for fiction for The Mercy Seat. She is the author of Strange Business which received the Oklahoma Book Award in 1993. Askew grew up in southeastern Oklahoma and divides her time between the San Bois Mountains in Oklahoma and upstate New York.

"Winning the Oklahoma Book Award is very meaningful to me. It is very important to me what Oklahomans think of my work," Askew said in her acceptance remarks. The book is set in Indian Territory in 1887, and is described as "an unblinking, keen-eyed vision of the settling of the American West," and "an utterly American retelling of the Cain and Abel story."


Former Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award winner John Hope Franklin and his son, John Whittington Franklin, won the non-fiction award for editing their father's and grandfather's autobiography, My Life and An Era: The Autobiography of Buck Colbert Franklin. Tracing an extraordinary life, stories of Buck Franklin's boyhood adventures on a ranch in Indian Territory to his practice of law in twentieth-century Tulsa are told. He was an observant witness to the changes in politics, law, daily existence, and race relations that transformed the Southwest. John Hope Franklin is chairman of the Advisory Board on the President's Initiative on Race, and has received more than 100 honorary degrees. He was the Center for the Book Lifetime Achievement Award recipient in 1996, and also received the President's Medal of Freedom in 1995. The son of John Hope Franklin, John Whittington Franklin, is a program officer in the Division of Folklife Programs and Cultural Studies at the Smithsonian Institution. The award was accepted by former Secretary of State Hannah Atkins, a student and life-long friend of John Hope Franklin.

Children and Young Adult

The children/young adult award was won by first-time author S.L. Rottman for Hero. Susan Rottman is an English teacher in the Deer Creek school system. A graduate of Colorado State University, she wrote Hero at the age of 24. In a time when few heroes exist, Rottman writes about a confused fifteen-year-old boy who learns just what it means to be a hero. Rottman was not present for the ceremony; she was being married in Colorado.

A highlight of the awards was the introduction of the youngest writer to enter the Oklahoma Book Awards. Seven-year-old Jon Butler wrote The Day the Rainbow Lost Its Color when he was six, and entered it in the children/young adult category of the competition.


The poetry award went to Oklahoma's poet laureate Betty Shipley for Somebody Say Amen. The award was accepted by her publisher and friend, Marcia Preston. Shipley had been very ill the past few months, and died the night of the awards ceremony. She was an artist-in-residence for the state, a published poet, owner of Broncho Press in Edmond, poetry editor of Byline magazine and an asssociate professor at the University of Central Oklahoma.

Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award

In addition to the five categories listed, the board of directors of the Oklahoma Center for the Book selects one person each year to be honored for a body of work. This award, the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award, was named for the Norman, Oklahoma, historian who served as the first president of the Oklahoma Center for the Book.

The 1998 recipient was noted novelist, teacher, and journalist Jack Bickham. The nationally known Norman author wrote 75 published novels and six instructional books on the craft of fiction. Two of his novels, The Apple Dumpling Gang and Bakers Hawk, were released as motion pictures. Two of Bickham's books have been reprinted by Reader's Digest Condensed Books, and two were selected as Detective Book selections.

Bickham conducted writing and journalism workshops across the country. His writing students have published more than 100 short stories, hundreds of articles, and at least 60 books. He was a member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame. Bickham was the director of the professional writer's school at the H.H. Herbert School of Journalism at the University of Oklahoma. Writers all across the country proclaim their success is due in part to Jack Bickham. Because of Bickham's death July 25, 1997, the award was presented to his widow, Louanna. Oklahoma Representative Laura Boyd made the presentation.

Ralph Ellison Award

From time to time the Ralph Ellison Award, posthumously honoring an Oklahoma writer, is also presented. The award is named for Ellison, the first recipient, who was honored in 1995. A plaque is displayed at the Ralph Ellison Library in Oklahoma City bearing the names of each recipient. The 1998 Ellison Award was presented to Melvin B. Tolson.

Tolson was a poet, journalist, and dramatist. Born in 1898, he served as the mayor of Langston from 1952 until 1958, and poet laureate of Liberia in 1947. He wrote a weekly column for the Washington Tribune and a compilation of these articles was published under the column's title, Caviar and Cabbage.

Tolson died August 19, 1966, and is buried in Guthrie. The award was accepted by his son, Melvin B. Tolson Jr, retired professor of modern languages, literatures, and linguistics at the University of Oklahoma.

To see complete list of 1998 Oklahoma Book Award Finalists go here.


The Oklahoma Center for the Book, sponsor of the Oklahoma Book Award competition, is a non-profit, 501-c-3 organization located in the Oklahoma Department of Libraries. Established in 1986 as an outreach program of the Library of Congress, the Oklahoma Center was the fourth such state center formed. In attendance at the awards ceremony was special guest, Maurvene Williams, program director in the Library of Congress Center for the Book in Washington, D.C.

The mission of the Oklahoma Center for the Book is
to promote the work of Oklahoma authors,
to promote the literary heritage of the state, and
to encourage reading for pleasure by Oklahomans of all ages.

For further information about the Oklahoma Center for the Book or the Oklahoma Book Award program, contact Connie Armstrong, 200 N.E. 18th Street, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 73105; or call 405-522-3383.


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