Literary Landmark: Tahlequah Public Library

Tahlequah, Okla.

Dedicated: April 30, 2011
Partners: Friends of Libraries in Oklahoma, Tahlequah Friends of the Library, and the Cherokee Heritage Center of Tahlequah

The Rawls family (photo credit: Sharon Douthitt)Tahlequah (Okla.) Public Library was designated a Literary Landmark in recognition of the literary contributions of Woodrow Wilson Rawls (1913-1984), author of Where the Red Fern Grows and Summer of the Monkeys.

Rawls’ early childhood was spent on his mother’s Cherokee allotment 13 miles northeast of Tahlequah, along the Illinois River in Cherokee County. As a young boy, he was inspired to become a writer by Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. Rawls visited the Carnegie Library in Tahlequah when he was young. He wrote, “The day I discovered libraries was one of the biggest days of my life. Practically all of my spare time was spent there. I read everything I could get my hands on pertaining to creative writing. I didn’t just read those books, I practically memorized them.”

Rawls’ lifelong dream of writing was finally realized after he married Sophie Ann Styczinski in 1958. She encouraged and supported him as he began working on a story of a boy and his dogs. In 1961, his story “The Hounds of Youth” was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post. Doubleday renamed the story Where the Red Fern Grows and published it as a book. Rawls’ second book, Summer of the Monkeys, was published by Doubleday in 1976. Where the Red Fern Grows is a bestselling book with over 6.5 million copies sold. Both of Rawls’ books were made into films

At the Literary Landmark dedication, Robin Mooney, branch manager of Tahlequah Public Library, welcomed more than Wilson Rawls (photo credit: Cherokee Heritage Center Archives, Tahlequah, Okla., and Sophie S. Rawls)100 guests. Rob McClendon, host and executive producer Oklahoma Horizon TV, served as master of ceremonies. Oklahoma Horizon TV airs nationally on PBS and is producing a segment about the dedication. In honor of Rawls’ Cherokee heritage, John Ketcher offered a Cherokee blessing, and the D. D. Etchieson United Methodist Church Choir sang three hymns in Cherokee. Information about the significance of the Wilson Rawls Collection donated by Sophie S. Rawls to the Cherokee Heritage Center was shared by Tom Mooney, archivist at the Cherokee National Historical Society, Inc., Tahlequah. Dr. Bill Corbett, professor of history, Northeastern State University, Tahlequah, discussed Wilson Rawls’ life.

Special guests who traveled from out-of-state were Rawls’ nephew Carl George and wife Laura, and their children, Danni, and Kaya; Carl’s mother, Charlotte George; niece Susan Rawls Faulk and her daughter Vanessa Rawls Estes; niece Jeanne Styczinski and daughters Kayla and Elizabeth.

The dedication occurred during Tahlequah’s sixth annual Red Fern Festival, sponsored by the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Council. Festival events include hound dog trials, crawfish pond, children’s games, music, and a car show. The movie Where the Red Fern Grows was shown outdoors in Norris Park near a chainsaw sculpture of Billy Colman, Old Dan, and Little Ann from the book Where the Red Fern Grows.

In conjunction with the event, FOLIO published a 28-page booklet titled Woodrow Wilson Rawls: Writer, Storyteller, Carpenter, Cherokee, Outdoorsman for the purpose of celebrating Rawls and his writing, encouraging literacy and storytelling, and helping instill pride in Oklahoma’s literary heritage and the Cherokee Nation.

The full-color booklet contains Rawls’ autobiography; pictures; timeline; the essay “Where the Red Fern Grows -- Life-Changer, Mind-Changer” by Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook; lists of Rawls’ publications and awards and places of interest; and information about Sophie S. Rawls, the Cherokee Nation, the Tahlequah Public Library, FOLIO and Literary Landmarks. The booklet was edited by Karen Neurohr, associate professor and librarian, Oklahoma State University (OSU) Library, and Friends of Libraries in Oklahoma (FOLIO) Committee Chair, Oklahoma Literary Landmarks; and FOLIO members and Tahlequah residents Irene Wickham and Harlene Wills.

The booklet was funded in part by the Oklahoma Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Major booklet partners include FOLIO, the Oklahoma State University Library, Friends of the Oklahoma Center for the Book, the Cherokee Heritage Center, Kiwanis Club of Tahlequah, Reading Tree Productions, the Tahlequah Community Foundation, World Literature Today, and the OSU Native American Student Association. The booklet will be digitized for online access by the OSU Library. 

Resources:

Author profile: Wilson Rawls by Jim Trelease

Friends of Libraries in Oklahoma