Wilson’s seventh novel draws inspiration from his Native roots - The University of Tulsa
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Wilson’s seventh novel draws inspiration from his Native roots

Screenwriter and novelist Daniel H. Wilson grew up just a bike ride from The University of Tulsa and, as a teenager, used to sneak on campus to use the tennis courts. “TU has always been a part of my life,” he said.

After high school, he came to TU to study computer science, but he admits that science was never really his true passion. “For me,” he said, “science was a consolation prize for science fiction.”

Nonetheless, he joined the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge, an innovative program that enables undergraduates to conduct advanced research under the guidance of some of TU’s top professors. Sandip Sen, a professor in the Tandy School of Computer Science, became a mentor and immersed Wilson in the world of artificial intelligence.

That research would later inspire Wilson (BS ’00) to pursue a doctorate in robotics at Carnegie Mellon University – but not before Wilson enrolled in TU’s Honors Program, the predecessor to the current-day Honors College, which enabled him to broaden his studies beyond science.

“I took English classes and learned to write,” he said. “So really, both parts of my career started at TU: science and writing.”

Wilson wrote his first book, a tongue-in-cheek guide on “How to Survive a Robot Uprising,” during the final year of doctoral program at Carnegie. Paramount bought the rights to adapt it for the screen, and Wired magazine named it the Science Book of the Year for 2006.

His first novel came in 2011 with Wilson drawing some inspiration from his Cherokee heritage. “Robopocalypse” is set partly in Osage County, where Native American characters play a significant role in humanity’s fight for survival.

Wilson is now working on his seventh novel, “Heliopause,” which will take place in Spiro, Oklahoma, where the ancient and mysterious Spiro Mounds are one of the state’s most important prehistoric archeological sites. “It’s a story of Native first contact,” Wilson said. “It’s about what happens when a non-human entity shows up in Indian Country.”

Growing up, Wilson spent a lot of time on his grandparents’ land near Sallisaw, which is less than half an hour from Spiro.

“It has been really fun to set this story near the mounds and really dig into all of the mythology and lore and history around the mound-builder civilization,” Wilson said. “It’s informed by me having spent a lot of my life out in that area, knowing people from there and having that landscape in my DNA.”

Now living in Portland, Oregon, Wilson has been thrilled to see what he called “the blossoming of Native voices in Oklahoma” in recent years.

Martin Scorsese filmed last year’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” in Osage County. And Wilson’s friend, Native American filmmaker Sterlin Harjo, produced three seasons of “Reservation Dogs,” a television series set and filmed in northeast Oklahoma.

“I’ve been having a ball watching all these Native storytellers find success,” Wilson said. “And we’re going to see many new voices coming out, too, as people bring each other up. I like to think I can be a part of that.”