2019 Winners of the Oklahoma Book Awards announced
A deftly plotted crime novel set against the backdrop of JFK’s assassination in 1960s America took top honors for fiction and a warts-and-all biography of colorful and controversial Oklahoma Gov. William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray won for nonfiction Friday at the Oklahoma Book Awards.
The 30th annual book awards banquet was held at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City. Sponsored by the Friends of the Oklahoma Center for the Book, the awards recognize books published in 2018 by Oklahomans or about Oklahoma.
Also, during the evening, suspense/thriller novelist William Bernhardt, of Choctaw, was honored with the 2019 Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award. The award is named for the Norman historian who served as the first president of the Oklahoma Center for the Book.
“I’m here today because in going to the library as a boy I thought it would be so wonderful to see my name on the spines of a row of books on a shelf in the library,” Bernhardt, 59, told the awards crowd of nearly 200. “It almost seems wrong to get an award for something I’ve loved doing all my life.”
The fiction winner, “November Road,” written by Oklahoma City author Lou Berney, has been named one of the best books of 2018 by Entertainment Weekly, the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Newsweek, Booklist, Library Journal, the Guardian, the Dallas Morning News and numerous others.
According to Amazon’s plot summary, the novel’s main character, Frank Guidry, a loyal street lieutenant to a New Orleans mob boss, knows a little too much about the Kennedy killing for his own good.
When a lot of his associates start turning up dead and hitmen come looking for him, Guidry hits the road to Las Vegas. En route, he stops to help a pretty woman with a broken-down car, two kids and a dog in tow. Thinking this ready-made family provides the perfect cover for his escape, Guidry soon finds his dream of a second chance has gotten way more complicated.
Berney’s wife Christine accepted the fiction award because her author-husband was out of town, saying: “Lou is so sorry he couldn’t be here but he wanted me to express his profound thanks to all here who have made Oklahoma such a welcoming place for people who love books.”
In the non-fiction winning book, “Alfalfa Bill: A Life in Politics,” by Edmond author Robert L. Dorman, Murray’s intriguing life and career is traced from his childhood in Texas to his rise as a colorful political figure, serving in the Oklahoma Legislature, in Congress, as governor of Oklahoma and later as a candidate for president.
Dorman, a professor of library science at Oklahoma City University, describes Murray’s political life as a paradox and not fitting any set label. The book also examines the issues of race, class and gender, and presents the argument that Murray was an ambitious, domineering, relentless and unapologetically racist figure.
Accepting his award, Dorman thanked his family “for putting up with Alfalfa Bill Murray for four years. It was like having a set of twins in the family.””
Ada author/illustrator Hannah E. Harrison scored a historic first for the state book awards by winning top honors for both children’s writing and for illustration of ”Friends Stick Together,” her children’s book about a poignant friendship between a rhinosaurus and a tickbird.
“You all are going to make me cry,” Harrison, the mother of two daughters, said as she accepted her second award. “”I don’t know what to say other than I’m humbled and thankful.”
Lifetime Achievement awardee Bill Bernhardt, whom “Library Journal” has dubbed “the master of the courtroom drama,” is an award-winning writer and one of Oklahoma’s most prolific authors, having sold more than 10 million copies of his books.
Bernhardt has authored 47 books, including the bestselling Ben Kincaid series; the historical novels “Challengers of the Dust” and ”Nemesis;” two books of poetry (“The White Bird” and “The Ocean’s Edge”) and the Red Sneaker books on fiction writing.
Bernhardt founded the Red Sneaker Writers Center to mentor aspiring writers. The Center hosts an annual writers conference, small-group seminars, a monthly newsletter, a phone app and a bi-weekly podcast. More than three dozen of Bernhardt’s students have subsequently affiliated with major publishing houses.
Bernhardt also has been nominated for the Oklahoma Book Award 18 times in three different categories, and has won the award in fiction twice for ”Perfect Justice“ (1995) and “Dark Justice” (2000).
“Why do we here love books and keep coming back to them in a world that offers so many distractions?” Bernhardt said in his closing remarks. “It’s because all that disappears when you get into a book. Books force you to see things from another perspective. It helps us to realize we are all connected and not alone.”
2019 Oklahoma Book Award winners
• CHILDREN: “Friends Stick Together,” by Hannah E. Harrison, of Ada; published by Penguin Random House.
• YOUNG ADULT: “Legends of the Lost Causes,” by Brad McLelland, of Ponca City, and Louis Sylvester, of Lewiston, Idaho; published by Henry Holt and Co.
• ILLUSTRATION: “Friends Stick Together,” illustrated by Hannah E. Harrison, of Ada; published by Penguin Random House.
• DESIGN: “Love Can Be,” book design by Christopher Lee, of Oklahoma City; cover design by Steven Walker, of Norman; cover photography by Joel Sartore, of Lincoln, Neb.; and illustrations by J.J. Ritchey, of Norman; published by Kirkpatrick Foundation.
• FICTION: “November Road,” by Lou Berney, of Oklahoma City; published by William Morrow/Harper Collins.
• NON-FICTION: “Alfalfa Bill: A Life in Politics,” by Robert L. Dorman, of Edmond; published by University of Oklahoma Press.
• POETRY: “Nothing but the Blood,” by Laura Apol, of Lyons, Mich.; published by Michigan State University Press.
The Oklahoma Center for the Book, an organization dedicated to promote Oklahoma authors, celebrate the state’s literary heritage and encourage reading for pleasure, is housed in the Oklahoma Department of Libraries and is a state affiliate of the National Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.
For more information on the book awards, visit the website at libraries.ok.gov/ocb, or contact Connie Armstrong, executive director, Oklahoma Center for the Book, Oklahoma Department of Libraries, 200 NE 18 St., Oklahoma City, OK 73105, call 405-522-3383, or email email@example.com.