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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

ASKEW, RILLA (1951– ).

Born in Poteau, Oklahoma, in the Sans Bois Mountains area, and raised in the oil-rich fields around Bartlesville, Rilla Askew has become one of the most honored recent Oklahoma authors. She attended the Bartlesville schools and Northeastern State University and spent her college-years summers as a dancer in the Trail of Tears drama in Tahlequah. In 1980 she received a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater from the University of Tulsa. Originally thinking she wanted to become an actress, she went to New York. She found her true talent in creative writing, however, and in 1989 earned a master of fine arts degree from Brooklyn College in New York.

Askew's published works capture life in Oklahoma in both broad and subtle realistic outline. Askew published her first short story, "The Gift," in Nimrod in 1989, and her short stories and essays have been published in World Literature Today and other media. Her collections have also been prize winners; in 1993 "The Killing Blanket" was selected as the O. Henry Prize Story. In 1993 she received the Oklahoma Book Award for Strange Business.

Askew is an acknowledged master novelist. Her first, The Mercy Seat (1997), was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Dublin IMPAC Prize. It was listed as a Boston Globe Notable book and in 1998 earned both the Oklahoma Center for the Book's Oklahoma Book Award and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame's Western Heritage Award for Fiction. Her second novel, Fire in Beulah (2001), a fictional account of the Tulsa Race Massacre, received the American Book Award and the Myers Book Award in 2002. Harpsong (2002), set in Depression-era Oklahoma, received a second Oklahoma Book Award and a second Western Heritage Award and in 2008 earned a WILLA Award from Women Writing the West and the Viola Crown Award from the Writers League of Texas. In 2013 ECCO published her third novel, Kind of Kin.

Married to actor Paul Austin, Askew divides her time between their home in upstate New York and a residence in Oklahoma. She frequently lectures and teaches creative writing at the university level. She has taught at Syracuse University, Brooklyn College, the University of Central Oklahoma, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Arkansas, and the University of Massachusetts–Amherst. In 2002 she was inducted into the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame and in 2011 received the Arrell M. Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Center for the Book. In 2009 she received the Arts and Letters Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Linda W. Reese


Rilla Askew, "The Smokescreen of Race in America," Oklahoma Humanities (May 2010).

Rilla Askew, "Trail," This Land: A Quarterly Magazine from the Middle of Somewhere, www.thislandpress.com, accessed 21 May 2016.

Ann DeFrange, "Writers Obsession with State Fuels Novels," The Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 23 November 1997.


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Linda W. Reese, “Askew, Rilla,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=AS008.

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