Thirty-two books have been chosen as finalists in the 22nd annual Oklahoma Book Award competition. Winners in the categories of fiction, poetry, design/illustration, children/young adult and nonfiction will be announced at the Oklahoma Book Awards banquet April 9 at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and Jim Thorpe Museum in Oklahoma City. Master of ceremonies for the event will be former Lt. Gov. Jari Askins.
Sponsored by the Oklahoma Center for the Book in the Oklahoma Department of Libraries and the Friends of the Center, the awards recognize books written the previous year by Oklahomans or about Oklahoma. This year some 122 books were entered in the competition.
In addition to the literary awards, Oklahoma-born author Rilla Askew will be presented with the Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award. The award is named for the Norman historian who served as the first president of the Oklahoma Center for the Book.
A fifth-generation descendant of Southerners who settled in the Choctaw Nation in the late 1800s, Rilla Askew was born in the Sans Bois Mountains in southeastern Oklahoma. The middle of three sisters, Askew grew up in the oil company town of Bartlesville, where she first encountered the complex forces of race and class that she continues to explore in her fiction.
Askew lived for several years in the Cherokee capital of Tahlequah before relocating to Tulsa, where she graduated from the University of Tulsa with a degree in theater performance. In 1980 she moved to New York to pursue an acting career, but soon turned to writing fiction.
To date, all of Askew's books have been set in Oklahoma. Her collection of stories, “Strange Business,” received the Oklahoma Book Award in 1993. Her first novel, “The Mercy Seat,” was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and received the Western Heritage Award and the Oklahoma Book Award in 1998.
“Fire in Beulah,” her 2001 novel about the Tulsa Race Riot, received the American Book Award, the Myers Book Award and was the 2007 selection for Oklahoma's statewide centennial reading program. Her most recent novel, “Harpsong” (2007), received the Oklahoma Book Award, the Western Heritage Award, the Willa Cather Award from Women Writing the West and the Violet Crown Award from the Writers League of Texas.
The recipient of a 2009 award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Askew received her master's degree in fiction in 1989 from Brooklyn College. She is married to actor Paul Austin, and they divide their time between Oklahoma, where she now serves as artist-in-residence at University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, and their home in upstate New York.
The following books are finalists for the 2011 awards:
• Children/young adult: “Portrait of a Generation: The Children of Oklahoma, Sons and Daughters of the Red Earth,” by M.J. Alexander, Oklahoma City; “‘Cholhkanat Lowak Ishminti' (Spider Brings Fire),” by Linda Hogan, Tishomingo; “Salvaged,” by Stefne Miller, Edmond; “Mostly Monsterly,” by Tammi Sauer, Edmond; and “Saltypie: A Choctaw Journey From Darkness Into Light,” by Tim Tingle, Canyon Lake, Texas.