The Ralph Ellison Award
The Ralph Ellison Award was created by the Center to posthumously honor
individuals who have made outstanding contributions to Oklahoma's literary
Alexander Lawrence Posey, a Creek poet, journalist, and essayist was born August 3, 1873, in Indian Territory near present-day Eufaula. He would live only 34 years before his death by drowning on May 27, 1908, but it was a remarkable 34 years.
Intelligent and ambitious to serve, he moved quickly from student to educator, writing poetry and essays along the way. Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr. writes in his biography Alex Posey: Creek Poet, Journalist and Humorist (University of Nebraska Press, 1997):
Although he claimed he did not speak English until age fourteen, he had received sufficient American-style education at the Creek national boarding school at Eufaula to enter Bacone Indian University at sixteen. There he acquired his literary tastes and began to write, publishing enough works to establish a local literary reputation by the time he left the university in 1894. The next year, at age twenty-two, he was elected to the House of Warriors, the lower chamber of the Creek National Council, as representative from Tuskegee, his tribal town, and was also appointed superintendent of the Creek Orphan Asylum at Okmulgee. At age twenty-four he had become superintendent of public instruction for the Creek Nation; at twenty-six, superintendent of the Eufaula boarding school; and at twenty-seven, superintendent of the national boarding school at Wetumka. In 1901 he left Creek national service for good.
In 1902 he turned his attention to journalism and political commentary, purchasing the Indian Journal, a weekly newspaper in Eufaula that he edited until its sale in 1904. In 1904 he became a field worker for the Dawes Commission. In 1905 he served as secretary at the Sequoyah Convention in Muskogee as the tribes worked to draft a constitution.
His widely circulated satirical newspaper columns, under the pseudonym Fus Fixico, from 1902–1908, are today considered his most outstanding literary achievement. Historian Linda D. Wilson writes that the column “presented the dialogues of fictional characters, Fus Fixico and his full-blood Creek friends, who discussed land allotment, tribal termination, and impending statehood, which would end their way of life.”
The columns, presented as Letters to the Editor, provided both astute and humorous comment on the politics, and economic and social conditions in Indian Territory. They were compiled and published as The Fus Fixico Letters (University of Nebraska Press, 1993). Also published: The Poems of Alexander Lawrence Posey (Crane, 1910, Hoffman, 1969).
Author and historian Stan Hoig became one of the most prolific writers
of the American West. A native Okie, Hoig was raised in Gage, Oklahoma,
and joined the Army Air Corps in 1943, serving three years during World
War II. Following his tenure in the military, he returned home and received
a bachelor’s degree in English from Oklahoma State University,
and later received a master’s degree as well as a doctorate degree
from the University of Oklahoma.
Hoig began his career writing articles and books on the American West
in the 1950s. His first book, The Humor of the American Cowboy, was published
in 1958 and remains in print today. Hoig published a wide variety of
articles in magazines and professional journals such as the Chronicles
of Oklahoma and Encyclopedia of the American West. Moreover, he had twenty-five
books published and listed with the Library of Congress including The
Sand Creek Massacre, The Battle of the Washita, Perilous
Pursuit: The U.S. Calvary and the Northern Cheyennes, and The
Chouteaus: First Family of the Fur Trade.
Hoig’s expertise on the American West led him to become advisor
to several television productions including the Discovery Channel’s “The
Way the West Was Lost,” “Real West,” A&E Channel’s “Southern
Cheyennes,” and the British Broadcasting Company’s “Land
Runs of Oklahoma.”
Hoig enjoyed a distinguished teaching career, serving as a professor
of journalism at the University of Central Oklahoma. He was the recipient
of numerous awards including the Muriel H. Wright Award, the Edmond Historical
Society Roll of Honor, Oklahoma State University Clement E. Trout Writing
Award, and the American Association of University Professors Distinguished
Hoig received the Oklahoma Book Award in the Children/Young Adult category
in 1991 for A Capitol for the Nation. He was honored four additional
times as a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award: three times in Non-fiction
for The Cherokees and their Chiefs: In the Wake of Empire (2000), White
Man’s Paper Trail: Grand Councils and Treaty-Making on the Central
Plains (2007), and The Chouteaus (2009); and once again in the Children/Young
Adult category for It’s the Fourth of July (1996).
Professor Danney Glenn Goble was a rare person, a seamless blend
of teacher, scholar, and friend. His brilliant intellect and biting humor
were balanced by humility and generosity of heart. He often defied convention.
An exceptionally gifted teacher, he made Oklahoma history and politics
come alive to his students. They respected, admired, and adored him.
He taught at Tulsa Junior College (now Tulsa Community College), Rogers
University (now Oklahoma State University–Tulsa), the University
of Tulsa, and the University of Oklahoma. He was recognized with several
Danney Goble earned his undergraduate degree at University of Central
Oklahoma and his master’s degree at OU, but he discovered that
Oklahoma history was “real history” while he was earning
his doctorate at University of Missouri. As an Oklahoman he was keenly
aware of the inferiority complex that many Oklahomans tend to have about
their state. He worked hard throughout the remainder of his adult life
to help Oklahomans become better acquainted with their state’s
history, especially the colorful events of the twentieth century. He
traveled all around the state to speak about Oklahoma history wherever
he was invited—in classrooms, libraries, civic groups, seminars,
Author or co-author of eight books, he was a scholar who wrote with
the polish of a professional writer, unmatched in his ability to tell
a good story. This is particularly evident in two collaborative works, Little
Giant: The Life and Times of Speaker Carl Albert, which won the Oklahoma
Book Award and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and A Matter of
Black and White: The Autobiography of Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, which
was named the outstanding book in political science by the National Conference
of Black Political Scientists. He also collaborated very successfully
with David Baird in writing The Story of Oklahoma, a high school
textbook that has been adopted by many public schools, and with Bob Goins
on the award-winning fourth edition of Historical Atlas of Oklahoma.
At the time of his death, he was co-authoring with Mike Cassity a book
on the history of Presbyterianism in Oklahoma.
Danney’s first book, Progressive Oklahoma: The Making of a
New Kind of State, remains a classic for its description of the
impact of Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory on the development
of political traditions in the state.
It is fitting that Muriel Wright be recognized in the year of
Oklahoma’s Centennial. She has been acclaimed as both making and
preserving the history of our state. She wrote or co-authored 12 books
on Oklahoma, and from 1955 to 1973, she served as editor of The Chronicles
of Oklahoma, a journal published by the Oklahoma Historical Society,
shaping it into a well-regarded publication.
She described her identity as thoroughly American: one-fourth Choctaw
and from distinguished colonial ancestry. She traced her genealogy to
descendents aboard the Mayflower in 1620. Wright was born in Lehigh,
Choctaw Nation, in 1889. Her grandfather was Allen Wright, chief of the
Choctaw Nation from 1866 until 1870, and the man credited with coining
the name “Oklahoma” from two Choctaw words translated as “Red
Among Muriel Wright’s literary achievements is the four-volume
work Oklahoma, a History of the State and its People (1929) written
with Joseph Thoburn. This was and still is the most comprehensive study
of the state’s history and biography. Three of her other books: The
Story of Oklahoma, Our Oklahoma, and The Oklahoma History were
adopted by the state textbook commission for the public schools. She
also wrote A Guide to the Indian Tribes of Oklahoma and, with
historian LeRoy Fischer, Civil War Sites in Oklahoma.
Upon her retirement in 1973, George Shirk, board president of the Oklahoma
Historical Society, said, “The thought of the gap that would have
been left in Oklahoma history, had it not been for her work, makes me
Her awards and honors include: Oklahoma Hall of Fame, Hall of Fame of
Famous American Indians, Oklahoma Historical Society Historians Hall
of Fame, the University of Oklahoma Distinguished Service Citation, and
an Honorary Doctorate from Oklahoma City University. She was also named
Oklahoma City Woman of the Year in 1951. In 1971, Wright was named Outstanding
Indian Woman of the Twentieth Century by the North American Indian Women’s
A native of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, John Joseph Mathews (1895–1979),
grew up among the Osage and developed a respect and admiration for his
native people. One of his earliest recollections as a child was hearing
an Osage Indian prayer-chant to the morning star. Following his service
in the United States Air Force during World War I, Mathews returned to
Oklahoma and received a bachelor’s degree in geology from the University
of Oklahoma. He graduated from Oxford University in 1923, as one of the
school’s first graduates with Native American heritage. Mathews
later worked as a realtor in California, until he became a rancher and
began devoting his time to writing.
Mathews authored both fiction and non-fiction books. His work focused
primarily on southwestern history and particularly the Osage Indians.
He became one of the early writers to be concerned with the loss of traditional
Native American culture. His books include Wah’Kon-Tah: The Osage
and the White Man’s Road, Talking to the
Moon, Life and Death of
an Oilman: The Career of E.W. Marland, and The
Osages: Children of the Middle Waters. His novel, Sundown, is somewhat autobiographical. The
book’s main character is Challenge Windzor, a young man born and
raised on an Oklahoma reservation, who has difficulty blending his Indian
heritage and white culture.
Throughout his life, Mathews continued to preserve the history of the
Osage people and their culture. He served as a member of the Osage Tribal
Council from 1934 to 1942, and played an integral role in the development
of the Osage Tribal Museum in Pawhuska. He died in June 1979. The Oklahoma
Historical Society honored Mathews for his work in preserving the history
of Oklahoma and the Osage people by posthumously inducting him into the
Oklahoma Historians Hall of Fame.
Born in Okemah, Oklahoma, and known as the Dust Bowl Balladeer, Woody
Guthrie was both “common man” and “renaissance
his prose and song, he illuminated some of the most significant and troubled
periods of the twentieth century—the Great Depression, the Great
Dust Storms, and World War II.
Guthrie wrote more than a thousand songs—dust bowl ballads, union
songs, children’s songs, patriotic songs, anti-fascist songs, and
songs celebrating the beauty and power of America—including the
masterpiece This Land is Your Land. Guthrie’s concerns as
a songwriter and his approach to the form have had a far-reaching and
enduring impact on popular music.
His famous semi-autobiographical work, Bound for Glory, was published
in 1943. He has been inducted into The Songwriters Hall of Fame (1971),
The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (1977), and The Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame and Museum (1988). In 2001 the community of Okemah was named
a Literary Landmark in honor of Guthrie by the Friends of Libraries in
In 1954, suffering from Huntington’s Chorea, a degenerative disease,
Woody admitted himself into Greystone Hospital in New Jersey, one of
several that he would go in and out of for the next thirteen years. While
at Creedmoor State Hospital in Queens, New York, Woody Guthrie died on
October 3, 1967.
Rollie Lynn Riggs is probably best known as the author of Green
Grow the Lilacs, the play that Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein
II used as the basis for their groundbreaking musical Oklahoma! While Lilacs opened
on Broadway in 1931, and had a limited eight-week engagement (before
going on the road), its 1943 musical adaptation was the first Broadway
show to run for over 2,000 performances, and was later translated into
a motion picture.
During the first half of the twentieth century, Lynn Riggs was the
only active American Indian playwright , and by the end of his life,
he had written thirty plays. Once an aspiring Hollywood actor, Riggs
also worked on scripts for fourteen films produced between 1930 and 1955.
His best known work includes co-writing Cecil B. DeMille’s Gary
Cooper Western, The Plainsman, and two installments of the Basil
Rathbone and Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes series.
Riggs was born on August 31, 1899, in the Cherokee Nation, a few miles
southwest of Claremore, Oklahoma. His mother Rosie was one-eighth Cherokee,
and had registered herself and her children on the Cherokee rolls. His
father William was a prominent cattleman and banker.
As a youth, Riggs held a variety of jobs, including cowhand and singer
in local movie houses. He later moved to New York, where he worked as
a proofreader at the Wall Street Journal, and clerked for Macy’s
department store. Beginning in 1920, Riggs attended the University of
Oklahoma, where he was poetry editor for the University of Oklahoma Magazine,
and taught freshman English. In 1923, Riggs first play, Cuckoo,
was produced at the university.
Riggs’s first play to be produced in New York was The Big
Lake in 1927, which the American Laboratory Theatre presented to
mixed reviews (despite a cast that boasted Stella Adler and Harold
Hecht). In 1928, Riggs received a Guggenheim Fellowship. While in France
on that fellowship, he began writing his two most important plays, Green
Grow the Lilacs and The Cherokee Night. Both plays were
set in Indian Territory, in the last decades of the nineteenth and
first decades of the twentieth centuries, depicting ordinary people
struggling in a hard and unyielding land during a time of rapid, unsettling
Riggs also wrote such plays as The Lonesome West, The Cream
in the Well, Laughter from a Cloud, Russet Mantle,
and Borned in Texas. Lynn Riggs died of stomach cancer on June
recipient of the Ralph Ellison Award is John Berryman, poet, biographer,
and editor. Born October 25, 1914, Berryman spent the first ten years
of his life near McAlester, Oklahoma.
He earned an A.B.
degree from Columbia University and a B.A. in 1938 from Clare College,
Cambridge. Considered by many to be a brilliant teacher, Berryman taught
literature at Wayne State, Harvard, Princeton, the University of Washington,
and the University of Cincinnati. In 1955, he was appointed Regents Professor
of Humanities at the University of Minnesota, where he spent the last
years of his life.
With the publishing
(in book form) of Homage to Mistress Bradstreet in 1956, John Berryman
gained wide recognition and praise for originality as he began working
within the voices of diverse personae. In Bradstreet, which was
nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, he imagines and inhabits the dramatic
voice of Early American poet Anne Bradstreet.
77 Dream Songs, for
which he won the 1965 Pulitzer Prize, is widely considered a masterpiecean
essential work that continues to set him apart from any other poet. A
series of sonnet-like poems, this book is a harrowing and intimate exploration
of the depths of a human soul using a number of memorable and sometimes
comic alter egos (including Henry and Mr. Bones).
Berryman continued to add to this sequence of poems, and the complete Dream Songs eventually numbered nearly 400.
His Toy, His
Dream, His Rest (a companion piece to 77 Dream Songs) won the
National Book Award (1969) and the Bollingen Prize. Other important works
include Berrymans Sonnets, Love and Fame, and his novel Recovery.
two Guggenheim Fellowships (1952 and 1966) during his career. He was elected
a Fellow of the Academy of American Poets in 1966 and served as a Chancellor
from 1968 until his death.
Berryman, who never
recovered from the childhood shock of his fathers suicide, was
prone to emotional instability and heavy drinking throughout his life.
he ended his own life on January 7, 1972.
Born September 27,
1906, Anadarko native James Meyers Thompson used his experiencegrowing
up in the Depression, working the Texas oil fields, gambling, and drinkingto
become renowned as one of this countrys finest pulp novelists.
Thompson found an
original voice in the crime genre. The darkness of his vision quickly
set him apart from others in the field. Possibly Thompsons best
known novel—The Killer Inside Me—is the story of
a doomed small-town sheriff unable to control his blood lust as circumstances
compel him to kill and kill again. Thompson authored no fewer than
29 novels. A number of his books have been made (and remade) into
The Killer Inside Me, The Getaway, Coup de Torchon (based on Thompsons
Pop. 1280), The Grifters, and After Dark, My Sweet.
Known as a journalist,
as well as fiction writer, Thompson directed the Federal Writers Project
in Oklahoma during the 1930s, and later worked for the New York Daily
News and Los Angeles Times Mirror.
In the mid-fifties,
Thompson began working in Hollywood. He worked with Stanley Kubrick on
screenplays for two of the directors seminal films, The Killing
and Paths of Glory. Despite a promising beginning, Thompsons
remaining film career was marked by unproduced screenplays, and some writing
for undistinguished television series. These years were marred by alcoholism
and chronicled in his works The Alcoholics and Bad Boy.
When he died April
7, 1977, at the age of 71, none of Thompsons novels remained in-print
in this country. However, critical opinion of his novels has grown steadily
since his death. Today, Jim Thompsons work is considered alongside
that of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and James M. Cainwriting
that transcends genre.
was a poet, journalist, and dramatist. Tolson was born February 6, in
1898. He attended Fisk University and earned a B.A. with honors from Lincoln
University in 1923. Tolson earned an M.A. from Columbia University in
He lived in Guthrie,
Oklahoma, and in nearby Langston, where he served as mayor from 1952 until
1958. He was professor of creative literature at
Langston University and director of the Dust Bowl Theater from 1947
Tolson won first
place in the American Negro Exposition National Poetry Contest in 1939
for Dark Symphony and was Poet Laureate of Liberia
in 1947. He was honored at the Library of Congress, the White House, and
the Tuskegee Institute. In May of 1965, the American Academy of Arts and
Letters presented him with the annual poetry award.
He wrote a weekly
column for the Washington Tribune, and a compilation of these articles
was published under the columns title, Caviar and Cabbage.
Other works include: Rendezvous with America, Libretto for the
Republic of Liberia, and A Gallery of Harlem Portraits.
Tolson died in Dallas,
Texas, August 29, 1966, and is buried in Guthrie.
was a historian who lived near Marshall, Oklahoma, from the time she was
nine years old. She was known as, and remains, the first lady of
Debo was born on
January 30, 1890, in Beattie, Kansas. When she was 16, she obtained a
rural school license and later earned an A.B. degree from the University
of Oklahoma in 1918, an A.M. degree from the University of Chicago in
1924, and a Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma in 1933.
She was inducted
into the Oklahoma
Hall of Fame in 1950 and won a Western Wrangler Award in 1978 for
Geronimo: The Man, His Time, His Place.
Her other works
include: The Rise and Fall of The Choctaw Republic, And Still the Waters Run: The
Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes, The Road to Disappearance: A History of the Creek Indians,
and Oklahoma: Foot-Loose and
Angie Debo died
Ellison was born on March 1, 1914, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. His
father, a small businessman who died when the boy was three years old,
was said to have wanted his son to be a poet, and named him after Ralph
Waldo Emerson. His mother was a domestic worker who is often recognized
for recruiting blacks into the Socialist Party.
In 1933, aiming
for a music career, Ellison began studying at Tuskegee Institute. In
he moved to New York City to study sculpture. Instead, he met Richard
Wright, and became associated with the Federal Writers Project,
writing short stories and articles for magazines such as New Challenge and New Masses.
During World War
II, while serving in the Merchant Marines, Ellison published several
short stories. After the war, Ellison envisioned writing a war novel,
but, instead he began the seven year process of writing his only novel, Invisible Man.
Published in 1952, Invisible Man won
the National Book Award for 1953, and brought the author international
fame and a permanent place as a respected American
The book mixes
naturalistic, expressionistic, and surrealistic styles to relate the
to a young black mans alienation and ultimate isolation. The novel
is admired as a treatment of racial repression and betrayal, a satire
of mid-century life in Harlem and the American South, and finally an affirmation
of the need for individual self-awareness. Widely regarded as a masterpiece,
it remains one of the central texts of the African-American experience.
His other major
works are Shadow and Act (1964) and Going to the Territory (1986),
collections of his essays, interviews, and fragments of autobiography.
After teaching at various universities, he became the Albert Schweitzer
Professor in the Humanities at New York University (197079). He
was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969.
Ellison, who married
Fanny McConnell in 1946, died of pancreatic cancer on April 16, 1994.
He is buried in New York City.
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