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The write stuff

A new exhibit celebrates all things Oklahoma and literary.

Louis Fowler December 5th, 2012

Oklahoma Writers: A Literary Tableau
Oklahoma History Center
800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive

Photo: Shannon Cornman

Oklahoma has a long, varied history in pop culture. From actors and filmmakers like Brad Pitt and Blake Edwards to musicians and singers like Charlie Christian and Garth Brooks, the state has been a leader in exporting world-class talents.

One area that often gets overlooked is the state’s role in the realm of literature. The Oklahoma History Center’s newest exhibit, Oklahoma Writers: A Literary Tableau, presented in participation with Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers at OSU-Tulsa, aims to change that.

With artifacts and manuscripts, as well as a growing database of all things Sooner-lit, the importance of the state’s contribution to the written word is on display as never before.

Larry O’Dell, director of collections for the Oklahoma History Center, said the exhibit “breaks down Oklahoma writers into 12 different genres and celebrates them and their contribution to literature.”

Renowned Oklahoma writers such as Ralph Ellison, N. Scott Momaday, Louis L’Amour and Billie Letts are featured, as well as playwrights like Tracy Letts and songwriters like Jimmy Webb.

Also featured are non-Oklahoman writers who have set stories in the Sooner State, including John Steinbeck, Washington Irving, Edna Ferber and Toni Morrison.

“A lot of people from Oklahoma have made major contributions as writers,” O’Dell said. “S.E. Hinton’s book The Outsiders, for example. I was talking to a couple from Europe, and it gets taught in their junior highs as an example of American teenage popular culture. It’s international. Our creative people have made an impact on the world. This exhibit shows just how deep that impact is.”

That contention is backed by David Davis, director of exhibits.

“We have lots of writers in lots of different genres, whose literary contributions make up a very unique art form,” he said. “You think, ‘Well, gosh, I had no idea that many people from Oklahoma wrote that much good stuff,’” he said.

In conjunction with Oklahoma Writers, the center plans a series of speakers and panels for 2013. Davis said he hopes he exhibits and events will fuel the passions of an entire new generation of Okie authors.

“It’s going to inspire people to further that legacy of literature for our state,” he said. “We want to inspire kids to say, ‘Hey, if someone from Claremore can write a play that became Oklahoma!, then why couldn’t I do that?’”

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