This year’s competition attracted 134 entries in fiction, non-fiction, children/young adult, poetry, and design/illustration categories. Thirty-two finalists were selected, including one book that is a finalist in two categories.
Because we will not be able to meet and congratulate the medalists and finalists this year, we hope many people will be able to use this time to discover these titles, to reach out and congratulate the honorees, and to support them with the purchase of their books. In addition to finding copies at the big bookstores, we encourage you to check out Oklahoma's Independent Booksellers.
The annual awards program, sponsored by the Oklahoma Center for the Book in the Department of Libraries, and the Friends of the Oklahoma Center for the Book, honors books about the state and books written, illustrated and designed by Oklahomans during the previous year.
The Awards program also annually honors an Oklahoman for lifetime achievement with the Arrell Gibson Award. Tulsa author Hannibal Johnson was selected to receive the 2020 award but will be honored at the 2021 ceremony. No date has been selected for next year’s event.
Since the ceremony was canceled and we were unable to present the awards to the winners in person, we reached out to them virtually to get their reactions. View responses from the 2020 Oklahoma Book Award winners here.
Bear is Awake!
Hannah E. Harrison
Penguin Random House
For months, Bear has slumbered away in hibernation. Now Bear is awake and decides to take a walk outside. Bear stumbles onto a cabin, rings the doorbell, and finds a very surprised girl, who becomes a new friend. Together they embark on an exciting journey through the alphabet. They discover how each letter begins a word, and words describe all sorts of things including emotions. For example, Bear loves to eat, and the letter “F” is the first letter in “food!” Harrison is an award-winning children’s author and illustrator. Her book Extraordinary Jane won the 2015 Oklahoma Book Award for illustration. She won the 2019 Oklahoma Book Award for both children’s book and illustration for Friends Stick Together. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Ada, Oklahoma.
Simon & Schuster
Josie O’Maley decides that if she cannot fight in World War II like her dad, or be like her beloved superheroes who have mysteriously disappeared, she will use her own skills to help in the war effort: puzzling and coding. When she is rejected from a puzzling tryout because she is a girl, Josie is swept into a secretive program along with two new friends, Akiko and Mae. These three share a love of female superheroes, and one afternoon the three are suddenly transformed into the newest caped crusaders. This awesome trio must now use their superpowers to thwart a shape-shifting henchman of Hitler, crack the code on a top secret project that hits too close to home, and bring back the missing superheroes once and for all. Award-winning author Hannigan grew up in Oklahoma and writes young adult fiction and non-fiction. She lives with her family in Chicago, Illinois.
Protecting Our People: Chickasaw Law Enforcement in Indian Territory
Cover design by Corey Fetters and book design by Gentry Fisher
The velvet laminated, tactile dust jacket draws the reader in with its beautiful vintage photograph suggesting notable subject matter. Inside, there is an uncluttered and consistent approach to layout with large type. Both headings and text have typefaces clearly chosen with care and consideration of context. The numerous archival photographs are presented with understated drop shadows, transitioning to contemporary, color photographs. The design has a serious, yet welcoming feel. Both Fetters and Fisher are previous Oklahoma Book Award finalists for their design work with Chickasaw Press. Fetters received the 2016 Oklahoma Book Award for his work on Ilittibaaimpa’: Let’s Eat Together! A Chickasaw Cookbook.
Bear is Awake!
Hannah E. Harrison
Penguin Random House
Harrison fills her own story with meticulous illustrations. Each page reflects a spirit of fun—and even joy—as the story follows the whimsical adventures of a little girl and her surprise new friend, a bear just woken from hibernation. Harrison’s people and animals are a fine mix of caricature and naturalism, colorful and detailed. Hannah Harrison won the illustration award in 2015 for Extraordinary Jane. She made Oklahoma Book Award history in 2019 when she received both the writing and illustration awards for Friends Stick Together. She lives in Ada with her family.
Mary Anna Evans
Poisoned Pen Press
In her latest Faye Longchamp mystery, Evans explores what secrets can lie beneath the surface? Faye is in Oklahoma City, attending a conference celebrating indigenous arts. A deafening explosion rocks the historic hotel she is staying at, and sends Faye crashing to the lobby’s marble floor. She is not injured, but she is shaken—after all, anytime something blows up in Oklahoma City, the first word that comes to mind is bomb! To Faye’s amazement, the explosion reveals subterranean chambers that once housed Chinese immigrants a century before. Her excitement upon the discovery soon turns to dread, as the bodies of three children are found deep beneath the city. Evans teaches fiction and nonfiction writing at the University of Oklahoma. She resides in Washington, Oklahoma.
Tulsa 1921: Reporting a Massacre
University of Oklahoma Press
Krehbiel gives a thorough account of the events surrounding one of America’s most horrific race massacres. Tulsa’s Greenwood District was a thriving African American community in 1921, but events surrounding the alleged rape of a white girl by a young black man resulted in the death of at least 300 people and the destruction of “Black Wall Street.” The author explores the local culture, including political and economic corruption during the 1920s; a feud among black-owned newspapers; and the role of both the Tulsa World and the Tulsa Tribune to answer how these entities may have influenced the event. Krehbiel also highlights the resiliency of the African American community in Tulsa following the massacre, despite continuing to face systemic racism. Finally, he addresses whether Tulsa and the nation has finally exorcised the prejudices that led to the tragedy. Krehbiel is a reporter for the Tulsa World, and is the author of Tulsa’s Daily World: The Story of a Newspaper and Its Town.
An American Sunrise
W.W. Norton and Company
Two hundred years after her people were forcibly removed from their original home east of the Mississippi to Indian Territory, Harjo returns to her family lands to engage in a dialogue with the past. Tribal history and personal experience interweave to reveal spiritual connections and new insights. Harjo’s beautiful work educates, engages, and elevates. A multiple-award winning poet, Harjo is a two-time Oklahoma Book Award medalist in poetry, and recipient of the Arrell Gibson Award for Lifetime Achievement. In 2019 she was named the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States, the first Native American poet to hold that honor.