A comic adventure novel about the early days of the Peace Corps, with the edgy title “Che Guevara’s Marijuana & Baseball Savings & Loan,” written by California author Jack Shakely, took home the best fiction award at the 2014 Oklahoma Book Awards.
The 25th annual book awards banquet was held Saturday night at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and Jim Thorpe Museum in Oklahoma City.
The awards banquet was sponsored by the Oklahoma Center for the Book, part of the state Libraries Department and the state affiliate of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. The awards recognize books written in 2013 by Oklahomans or about Oklahoma. Of the 102 books entered in this year’s competition, 28 were selected as finalists. Twenty of this year’s book finalists were by authors, poets, designers or illustrators who reside in Oklahoma.
Sex, drugs, revolution and the dawn of the Peace Corps are the focus of the novel, according to book-seller Amazon.com’s website. Shakely’s novel begins in the 1950s outside Ardmore and quickly moves to 1963, when Oklahoma-born Peace Corps volunteer Jack Harjo sits in the jungles of Costa Rica pondering three questions: Is there a greater good; does it apply here; and can you really trademark Panama Red, Acapulco Gold and Maui Wowie?
Shakely, who could not attend the awards, sent his thanks via Elizabeth Prosser, who was among the 180 attendees and whom he has known since their high school days.
Prosser said Shakely wrote, “This award is deeply meanigful to me because it’s from my home state of Oklahoma, where I first learned to read and to love books. So in receiving this award from Oklahoma, my life has made a complete arc.”
Shakely’s previous novels include “The Confederate War Bonnet” and “POWs at Chigger Lake.” His collection of short stories, ”Pretty Boy Floyd’s Clarinet,” will be published later this year. During his career, Shakely has been president of the California Community Foundation in Los Angeles, a newspaper reporter in Oklahoma, a U.S. Army officer and a Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica. A native Oklahoman, he now resides in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
The five poets responsible for the winning poetry book, “Red Dirt Roads: Sketches of Western Oklahoma by the Custer County Truck Stop Poets,” expressed elation over their award. Carol Waters, of Cordell, speaking for her colleagues Yvonne Carpenter, Nancy Goodwin, Catherine McCraw and Clynell Reinschmiedt, said, “We want to thank all the judges. We’re humbled and thrilled.”
In addition to the literary awards, the Oklahoma Center for the Book presented the 2014 Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award to Norman historian, poet and author Alvin O. Turner for his contributions to Oklahoma’s literary heritage. The Gibson award is named for the Norman historian who served as the first president of the Oklahoma Center for the Book.