OLIVER, LOUIS (1904–1991).
American Indian writer and poet Louis Oliver, an enrolled member of the Creek Nation, was born in Coweta near Tulsa, Indian Territory, on April 9, 1904, according to his enrollment papers. His mother, Hattie Sarty Oliver, was a full-blood Creek and through her he was descended from the Raccoon clan. His father, Frank Oliver, Ho-dul-gul-ni, was of the Wind clan. Oliver grew up with his mother's family. He was given the name Louis Oliver by a drunken agent of the federal government when his mother opposed apportionment of her land allotment and withheld her son's name. Little Coon ("Wotkoce") is Oliver's Creek name.
Oliver became an orphan as an infant and was raised part time by his aunt and uncle in Okfuskee, Oklahoma, near his beloved Deep Fork River, and by his maternal grandparents. He attended Euchee Boarding School through grade five. On his own he finished high school and graduated from Bacone College in Muskogee in 1926. He stated that in high school he developed some fascination with English and American writers and began to write poetry. After graduation, however, he put aside thoughts of any serious writing for the next fifty years and just dabbled in it as a hobby. There is little information about his adult life, but his later writings hint that he married, had children, and spent some time in California and the Southwest during the Great Depression.
Oliver's life changed in the early 1980s when he attended a workshop for American Indian writers in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Although he felt out of place among the younger men, at the same time he was impressed by the quantity of writing on display and approached some of those in attendance. The writer Joseph Bruchac subsequently encouraged Oliver to continue writing and offered his help in critiquing and distributing his poems. The offer made Oliver determined to write something about his heritage and the history of the Creek people.
His writings appeared in a number of publications such as the Greenfield Review, Vintage, the Beloit Poetry Journal, Northeast Indian Quarterly, Mildred, the Wooster Review, and others. At the same time, two collections of his work, The Horned Snake (1982) and Caught in a Willow Net (1983), which Bruchac published through his Greenfield Review Press, appeared as well. A third effort, Estiyut Omayat: Creek Writings, was printed in a limited edition in 1985. His final work, Chasers of the Sun: Creek Indian Thoughts, contains some of his previous material with some new texts and was also published by Greenfield Review Press in 1990. Oliver's poetry has been anthologized many times and has also been translated into Dutch.
Louis Oliver received the first Alexander Posey Literary Award in 1987 from the Este Mvskoke Arts Council, and that same year was Poet of Honor at Oklahoma Poets Day at the University of Oklahoma. He passed away on May 10, 1991, in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
Joseph Bruchac, "A Red Arrow Arcing Across the Sky: The Writing of Louis Littlecoon Oliver," Tamaqua 2 (Winter/Spring 1991).
Joy Harjo, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (New York: W. W. Norton, 1994).
Carsten Schmidtke, "'A Nomad in a White Man's Jungle': An Introduction to the Works of Louis Oliver," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 87 (Winter 2009–2010).
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Carsten Schmidtke, “Oliver, Louis,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=OL005.
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