The Oklahoma Experience: Re-Vison–Reading and Discussing

Winter 2005

Oklahoma didn’t become a state until 1907, and although we have had our share of well known authors, such as Ralph Ellison and John Berryman, the Oklahoma experience hasn’t often been their focus. This red earth was the territory forced on some, a newly opened area others rushed to secure, and, later, a scorched or unproductive home that many were forced to leave. The four novels and one memoir of this series re-envision the past from the perspective of the late 20th Century. Two deal with Native Americans—the Cherokee and the Choctaw, one with the conflicts that led to the Tulsa race riot of 1919, another with poor rural whites who became the “Okies,” and the final one with the harmonious diversity of a small contemporary town. We will explore whether so many groups, taken together, created a common “Oklahoma experience.” Do these works suggest that the state’s distinctive experience has merged with mainstream narrative ones? If you want the stimulation of being exposed to the minds of five provocative and entertaining writers, please join us for this “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma” reading and discussion series. Some of our region’s finest and most entertaining contemporary writers will challenge us to explore the relationships among the varied peoples of Oklahoma’s history from the perspective of the present.

Oklahoma City University invites participants to make this theme come “alive” in the readings of this five-part series. At each session, a Humanities scholar will make a 30-40 minute presentation on the book in the context of the theme. Small group discussion will follow with experienced discussion leaders. At the end, everyone will come together for a brief wrap-up. Anyone interested in participating is encouraged to preregister and borrow the reading selections and theme brochure by calling Harbour Winn at 521-5472, emailing him at or dropping by OCU’s Walker Center 171 (southwest corner of the building just south of NW 26th and Florida). Information can also be found on the web site of the Center for Interpersonal Studies through Film & Literature:

The series will be held in Walker Center, Room 151, on the Oklahoma City University campus from 7:00 to 9:00 PM on Tuesdays, beginning January 11 and continuing on alternate Tuesdays through February 24. The final session will then be one week later on March 1st. Books, theme materials, and services for this series are provided by “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma,” a cooperative project of the Oklahoma Library Association and the Oklahoma Humanities Council. Funding for this series is provided by a grant from the Oklahoma Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.


1/11/2005 Diane Glancy’s Pushing the Bear

The Cherokee trek known as the Trail of Tears represents one of the first great stories of the people of this land. Betrayed and uprooted from their original homes, the Cherokee face the prospect of beginning anew on unfamiliar soil. Glancy recreates this mythical but all too real odyssey like an archaeologist putting together the fragments of a pot: she constructs the tale from the imagined voices and real documents of some who marched.

1/25/2005 Rilla Askew’s Fire in Beulah

Another seminal and controversial event in Oklahoma’s history, the Tulsa race riot of 1921, serves as the backdrop for Askew’s novel. She depicts a turbulent period in Oklahoma when speculation in oil could make instant millionaires or paupers and a hasty accusation could lead to the total destruction of a prosperous community. The lives of two women provide juxtaposing perspectives in this crucible that melds and tests each of them and their families.

2/8/2005 Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie

Through an account of her own life, Dunbar-Ortiz records the effects of growing up dirt poor in Piedmont, Oklahoma, during World War II and afterward. In the process, she explores the social psychology of the poor whites who became the “Okies” of the Thirties and Forties. Be prepared for a rendering of what it means to be Okie beyond Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

2/22/2005 LeAnne Howe’s Shell Shaker

Focusing on a family of women, peacemakers, and visionaries known as shell shakers, Howe weaves together stories which parallel Choctaw experience in Mississippi in the 1770’s with Choctaw experience in Durant in the late 1990’s. Through associating ancient roots and contemporary directions, she develops a mystery novel of betrayal, murder, romance, organized crime, political corruption, and international intrigue.

3/1/2005 Billie Lett’s The Honk and Holler Opening Soon

The winner of the 2004 “Oklahoma Reads Oklahoma” award, Letts builds her popular novel on Vietnam vet Caney and his waitress Molly-O. In mythical Sequoyah, they run a diner that soon becomes home for a Crow woman and a Vietnamese refugee. In a state with as diverse a heritage as Oklahoma’s, does the restaurant become a testament of the extent to which a community can incorporate strangers and discipline and heal its own. Don’t miss this book!