December 2017 Commencement Speaker
TU alumna Rilla Askew is the author of four novels, a book of stories and a collection of creative nonfiction.
A fifth generation Oklahoman, she graduated from The University of Tulsa with a BFA in Theatre Performance in 1980 before moving to New York to become an actress. In New York, Askew soon turned to writing plays and then fiction. In 1987, she enrolled in the writing program at Brooklyn College, where she received her MFA in 1989. She published her first book, Strange Business, a collection of stories set in a fictional small town in southeastern Oklahoma, in 1992. Critical and popular responses to her work soon followed. Askew is a PEN/Faulkner finalist, has received the American Book Award, the Myers Book Award and the Violet Crown Award. Her work has been included in Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards. She has twice received the Western Heritage Award for Best Novel and is a three-time recipient of the Oklahoma Book Award.
Askew’s writing is deeply grounded in the Oklahoma landscape and experience. Her first novel, The Mercy Seat, was inspired by old stories about her family’s migration into Indian Territory in the late 1800s. She has written about the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot in her novel Fire in Beulah and about the homeless and dispossessed during the Great Depression in her novel Harpsong. Her most recent novel, Kind of Kin, is the story of a fractured family and small-town community at the vortex of Oklahoma’s immigration laws. Her latest book, Most American: Notes from a Wounded Place, is a collection of creative nonfiction that posits Oklahoma, its history and character, as the most American of places. Askew’s essays and short fiction have appeared in Tin House, World Literature Today, Nimrod, TriQuarterly, The Daily Beast, The Daily Telegraph, and elsewhere.
A former Fellow at Civitella Ranieri in Umbertide, Italy, Askew was a featured reader at the 2008 International Chinese and World Literature Conference in Beijing. In 2009, she received the Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She is a member of the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame and received the 2011 Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Center for the Book. She and her husband, actor Paul Austin, live in Norman, where Askew teaches creative writing at the University of Oklahoma.