2021 Oklahoma Book Awards

The Center has partnered with the non-profit Friends of the Oklahoma Center for the Book for more than 30 years to co-sponsor the annual Oklahoma Book Awards.

Oklahoma Book Awards are given each year in fiction, non-fiction, children/young adult, poetry, and design/illustration categories for works written by an Oklahoman or about Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Center for the Book received 115 entries for the 2021 Oklahoma Book Awards. A panel of judges representing writers, poets, librarians, educators, graphic artists, and readers narrowed it down to twenty-five finalists. The winners in each category were then selected by the judges.

Due to the cancellation of the in-person ceremony, the Book Award winners were contacted virtually. View interviews below.




Hannibal B. Johnson

The Center for the Book honors author, attorney, educator, and consultant Hannibal B. Johnson with the Arrell Gibson Award for Lifetime Achievement, which celebrates a body of work by an Oklahoma writer.

Johnson has written extensively about Tulsa’s Greenwood District­­—known as America’s Black Wall Street in the early 20th Century—its virtual destruction in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, and its resilience and renaissance in subsequent years. His current work, Black Wall Street 100: An American City Grapples with its Historical Racial Traumais a window into the Tulsa that was and the Tulsa that is now, providing updates since the 1998 publication of his Black Wall Street: From Riot to Renaissance in Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood District.

Other books by Johnson include The Sawners of Chandler: A Pioneering Power Couple in Pre-Civil Rights OklahomaApartheid in Indian Country? Seeing Red Over Black DisenfranchisementAcres of Asperation: The All-Black Towns of OklahomaMama Used to Say: Wit and Wisdom from the Heart and SoulIncogNegro: Poetic Reflections on Race and Diversity in America, and Up from the Ashes, which tells the story of Greenwood from a child’s perspective.

Johnson serves on the federal 400 Years of African-American History Commission, a body charged with planning, developing, and implementing activities appropriate to the 400th anniversary of the arrival, in 1619, of Africans in the English colonies at Point Comfort, Virginia. He chairs the Education Committee for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission.



My Mastodon
by Barbara Lowell

Creative Editions

My Mastodon is a fictional story inspired by a unique American family, the Peales of Philadelphia. Sybilla lives with her large, artistic family at America’s first natural history museum. One day, she helps her papa and big brother assemble the bones of a magnificent mastodon. She soon starts visiting her fossilized friend for regular tea parties and chats. But then her mastodon is invited to tour Europe, and she is heartbroken. Will Sybilla be content to share her best friend with the world? A lover of non-fiction and biographical works, Lowell says reading as a child and reading to her daughter inspired her to write books for children. She lives in Broken Arrow.



The Secret Life of Sam
by Kim Ventrella

HarperCollins Publishing

When Sam’s dad dies, he’s shuttled off to the dusty town of Holler, Oklahoma. He misses everything from his former life in the Louisiana swamp, especially the stories his Pa used to tell him. Once in Holler, though, he encounters a mysterious cat who leads him to a strange portal through which Sam can revisit his old life for a few minutes at a time, and be with Pa once more. As Pa’s old stories unfold around him, in beautiful but sinister detail, Sam begins to realize that Pa is not quite himself. Sam will learn an important but bittersweet lesson: sometimes, loving someone means having to say goodbye. Ventrella’s Skeleton Tree was a 2019 Oklahoma Book Award finalist. She lives in Oklahoma City with her dog and cowriter, Hera.



Renegades: Bruce Goff and the American School of Architecture
designed by Tony Roberts

University of Oklahoma Press

Documenting Oklahoma’s respected and renowned architect Bruce Goff, this oversized paperback uses elegant and straightforward design to compliment the subject. Renegades is illustrated throughout with architectural renderings, sketches, drawings, paintings, and photographs. Fine design details are found on nearly every page, from the artistic font used for the title, to the simple blue rule along the top of captions. Among the remarkable style choices is the ample, almost exaggerated white space at the bottom of most pages, appearing to push body text upward, while also enabling illustration captions to sit uniformly in the bottom quarter of each page. The beautiful cover—an artwork by Ernest Burden, a student of Goff’s—attracts the reader, while the design choices within keeps us reading. This is Roberts' third Oklahoma Book Award.



All God’s Children
by Aaron Gwyn

Europa Editions

In 1827 Duncan Lammons, a disgraced young man from Kentucky, sets out to join the American army in the province of Texas, hoping that here he may live and love as he pleases. That same year, Cecelia, a young slave in Virginia, runs away for the first time. Soon infamous for her escape attempts, Cecelia drifts from owner to owner until she encounters frontiersman Sam Fish, who helps her escape from a slave auction in New Orleans. Sensing an opportunity for freedom, Cecelia travels with Sam to his Texas homestead. There they begin a life together, unaware that their fates are intertwined with those of Sam’s former army mates, some of whom harbor dangerous dreams of their own. This novel brings to life the paradoxes of the American frontier in the decades leading up to the Civil War—a place of liberty and bondage, wild equality, and cruel injustice. Gwyn was raised on a cattle ranch in rural Oklahoma. He teaches English at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. This is his fourth novel.



Breaking Down Barriers: George McLaurin and the Struggle to End Segregated Education
by David W. Levy

University of Oklahoma Press

Levy provides a succinct, detailed account of George McLaurin’s fight to become the first African American to attend the University of Oklahoma School of Education as a graduate student in October 1948. Levy details the life of McLaurin, noting he was a notably private person, a veteran educator, and a qualified candidate for admission to the university. When he was denied entrance, solely on the basis of race, the NAACP and its lead attorney Thurgood Marshall vigorously fought for McLaurin in both state and federal courts. The University of Oklahoma allowed McLaurin to attend classes in a segregated area, which set off a firestorm of national outrage. Ultimately, in 1950 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in McLaurin’s favor. The court decision did not end the doctrine of “separate but equal,” but led directly to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. Levy is retired as the Irene and Julian J. Rothbaum Professor of Modern American History and David Ross Boyd Professor of History at the University of Oklahoma. He resides in Norman, Oklahoma.



A History of Kindness
by Linda Hogan
Torrey House Press

Hogan offers this poetic medicine for a world on the precipice. She excavates how history instructs the present. She envisions a future alive with hope for a healthy and sustainable world that now wavers between loss and survival. Relating experience by experience, tear by tear, her poems are unique to her history, childhood, friends, and family; they are also universal in their guidance to reclaim happiness, gratitude, and kindness. The Chickasaw poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, teacher, and activist calls this collection “a tree,” an image that reflects growth upon growth and the interconnectedness of all things. She has received numerous literary awards, including the 1991 Oklahoma Book Award in fiction for her novel Mean Spirit, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her poetry collection The Book of Medicines was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.



Presented by the Awards Committee of the Friends of the Oklahoma Center for the Book Board of Directors for works of special merit.

The Great Oklahoma Swindle: Race, Religion, and Lies in America’s Weirdest State
by Russell Cobb

University of Nebraska Press

Cobb weaves a fascinating story regarding the state of Oklahoma, noting it is much more than a “flyover state.” He notes that Oklahoma is one of the most tragic, fascinating, and unpredictable places in the United States. Over the span of a century, the state gave birth to movements for an African American homeland, a vibrant Socialist Party, armed rebellions of radical farmers, and an insurrection by a man called Crazy Snake. At the same time, the state saw numerous oil booms, racial violence, a statewide takeover by the Ku Klux Klan, and the rise of a paranoid far-right agenda by a fundamentalist preacher named Billy James Hargis. Cobb explains Oklahoma has been a laboratory for all kinds of social, political, and artistic movements, producing a singular list of weirdos, geniuses, and villains. Cobb is an associate professor in Latin American Studies and creative writing at the University of Alberta, Canada. He resides in Edmonton, Canada.