Rilla Askew

Apr 16, 2021

Panhandle State Communications

OPSU Hosts Author, Rilla Askew

Rilla Askew is an American novelist and short story writer who was born in Poteau, in the Sans Bois Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma, and grew up in the town of Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Askew graduated from the University of Tulsa with a B.F.A. in Theatre Performance in 1980. She moved then to New York where she studied acting. She began writing—plays first, then fiction—with her theatre background supporting the use of language and rhythm in her works. She went on to study creative writing at Brooklyn College, where she received her MFA in 1989. Rilla has taught in MFA writing programs at Syracuse University, Brooklyn College, the University of Arkansas, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She currently teaches creative writing at the University of Oklahoma.

Often capturing life in Oklahoma, Askew’s work handles themes of place, outsiders, religion and politics, greed and ambition, race, and women’s lives.

In 2002, her second novel Fire in Beulah (2001), about the Tulsa Race Massacre, received the American Book Award and the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights. In this historical novel, as in her other works, some critics have discussed how Askew offers the strong presence and prominence to the Other as a corrective to a-historic and romanticized visions of the American southwest.

Her fourth novel, Kind of Kin (2013), is set in Cedar, Oklahoma and focuses on state immigration laws, race, religion, and class. Published by Ecco, Kind of Kin was a finalist for the 2014 Western Spur Award, the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award in 2013, and was long-listed for the 2015 Dublin IMPAC Prize.

In 2009, she received an Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2003, she was inducted into the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame. Askew was a 2004 fellow at Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Umbertide, Italy, and a featured writer at the 2008 World Literature Today and Chinese Literature Conference in Beijing. She served as a juror for the 2008 Neustadt Prize for Literature.

Askew received the 2011 Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Center for the Book.

Fire in Beulah was selected as the 2007 Oklahoma Reads Oklahoma book.

Askew will be on campus on Monday, April 19 to discuss her book, Fire in Beulah, which addresses the Tulsa Race Massacre and has been made into a play for the upcoming 100-year commemoration of the event. Her visit here is sponsored through the Masonic Foundation Cultural Grant program through Panhandle State Foundation. For more information, contact Teri Mora at

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