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Novel explores families impacted by Oklahoma's immigration law

Rilla Askew, who splits her time between Oklahoma and New York, will read from her new novel “Kind of Kin” Wednesday night at Full Circle Bookstore in Oklahoma City.
BY GEORGE LANG Published: January 16, 2013
/articleid/3746115/1/pictures/1927722">Photo - Rilla Askew
Rilla Askew

“In this case, the characters had such dimension to me that once I tuned into them, it didn't present too much of a problem,” she said.

Focus on Oklahoma, detail

Askew, who splits her time between Oklahoma and New York and recently completed a semester as an artist-in-residence at the University of Central Oklahoma, frequently incorporates Oklahoma's history into her fiction. Her 2001 novel “Fire in Beulah” was set during the Tulsa race riots, and “Harpsong” depicted the plight of people who stayed behind when thousands moved westward during the Dust Bowl era.

For “Kind of Kin,” Askew set most of the novel in the area around Wilburton, specifically in the fictional small town of Cedar. Some action is based on real events that touched her own family, and the residents of Cedar — the Brown family, the church parishioners and the people of different ethnicities and backgrounds at the center of the novel — are based generally on people Askew said she has known throughout her life.

“I know people whose lives are like that,” she said. “The story is set in a fictional small town in southeast Oklahoma, but visually it's the small town that my parents live in — you know, in my mind. Wilburton is real, and how people visit prisoners there standing around a fence is real.”

Askew, a three-time recipient of the Oklahoma Book Award who received a 2009 award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award, said she researched extensively at the state Capitol, working with people such as former Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, who introduced HB 1804. “Kind of Kin” includes accurate depictions of real Oklahoma locations, media and businesses. The author said that such details will mean something to Oklahomans and will help create a rich depiction of the state for readers unfamiliar with the culture and place names.

“I think when something is authentic, the reader perceives that authenticity, even if they know nothing about it,” Askew said.

“What matters to me as a writer is I'm always writing to Oklahoma. Our purpose is to write with as much authenticity as possible. The specific is the universal. The more specific it is and the more authentic it is, people who are not familiar with our place and culture will believe it,” she said.


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