The Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award is an American literary prize awarded by the Tulsa Library Trust in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It is bestowed annually upon an "internationally acclaimed" author who has "written a distinguished body of work and made a major contribution to the field of literature and letters".
History of the award
First given in 1985, with a cash prize of $5,000, by 2006 the prize had increased to $40,000 cash and an engraved crystal book. To date, all of the recipients have been English-language writers.
The award is named after Peggy V. Helmerich, a prominent Tulsa library activist, philanthropist and the wife of Tulsa oilman Walter Helmerich III. Before her marriage, under the stage name Peggy Dow, she had been a motion picture actress, best known for playing the role of Nurse Kelly in the 1950 James Stewart film vehicle, Harvey and for co-starring with Best Actor Oscar nominee Arthur Kennedy in 1951's Bright Victory.
The first honoree was writer and longtime Saturday Review of Literature editor Norman Cousins, with the evening's theme announced as “The Salutary Aspects of Laughter” while twelve years later, in 1997, distinguished African-American historian John Hope Franklin became the only (as of 2009) native Oklahoman to receive the award. While in Tulsa to accept the award, Franklin made several appearances to speak about his childhood experiences with racial segregation as well as his father's experiences as a lawyer in the aftermath of the 1921 Tulsa race riot.
In 2004, 88-year-old Arthur Miller was initially announced as the honoree, but subsequently declined the award when illness, which led to his death two months later, prevented him from attending the December award ceremony and dinner. David McCullough, the 1995 winner, replaced him as featured speaker at the dinner and, later, returned his honorarium to the library.
The following year's initial choice to be the honoree was again unable to accept due to illness—Oklahoman Tony Hillerman, who would have been the state's second native son to receive the award was, ultimately, replaced by John Grisham. Library Journal reported that Grisham donated the monetary prize to his Hurricane Katrina relief fund, and also used the occasion to research details for The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town, his non-fiction account of an Oklahoma inmate cleared of murder charges shortly before his execution date. Reporting on Grisham's selection as Hillerman's replacement, a Virginia newspaper called the Helmerich Award the "best literary award you've never heard of."
List of winners
The following 26 authors have received the award since 1985:
- 1985 Norman Cousins
- 1986 Larry McMurtry
- 1987 John Updike
- 1988 Toni Morrison
- 1989 Saul Bellow
- 1990 John le Carré
- 1991 Eudora Welty
- 1992 Norman Mailer
- 1993 Peter Matthiessen
- 1994 Ray Bradbury
- 1995 David McCullough
- 1996 Neil Simon
- 1997 John Hope Franklin
- 1998 E. L. Doctorow
- 1999 Margaret Atwood
- 2000 William Manchester
- 2001 William Kennedy
- 2002 Joyce Carol Oates
- 2003 Shelby Foote
- 2004 not awarded
- 2005 John Grisham
- 2006 Mark Helprin
- 2007 Thomas Keneally
- 2008 Michael Chabon
- 2009 Geraldine Brooks
- 2010 Ian McEwan
- 2011 Alan Furst
- 2012 Wendell Berry
- 2013 Kazuo Ishiguro
- Althea Peterson, "Brooks to receive Helmerich Award", Tulsa World, February 18, 2009.
- "Spangled banner's new star", Sydney Morning Herald, March 23, 2007 (retrieved May 24, 2009).
- Tom Droege, "Author makes snowy trek for Helmerich award", Tulsa World, December 3, 2006.
- Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award: History of the Award (retrieved May 22, 2009).
- Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award: Award Winners (retrieved May 22, 2009).
- Oklahoma Library Legends: Peggy Helmerich at Oklahoma State University library website (retrieved May 23, 2009).
- Henry G. Bennett Distinguished Service Award: Peggy V. and W. H. Helmerich III at Oklahoma State University library website (retrieved May 23, 2009).
- "Helmerich Family Leaves Fascinating Legacy", GTR Newspapers, July 6, 2007 (retrieved May 23, 2009).
- Cathy Logan, "Tulsa's Peggy Dow Knew Him When", Tulsa World, July 3, 1997.
- Leslie Halliwell, John Walker, Halliwell's Who's Who in the Movies (HarperCollins, 2003), ISBN 978-0-06-053423-3, p. 142 (excerpt available at Google Books).
- Michael Overall, "City's `Favorite Son'", Tulsa World, December 6, 1997.
- Michael Overall, "Franklin Tells of Life in Early Tulsa", Tulsa World, December 7, 1997.
- Danna Sue Walker, "Black History First Learned, Then Taught", Tulsa World, December 8, 1997.
- "Arthur Miller rewarded for distinctive work", AP at USA Today, April 26, 2004.
- "Arthur Miller declines award because of illness", Tulsa World, November 6, 2004
- "$25,000 returned to library", Tulsa World, January 5, 2005.
- "Arthur Miller, playwright of 'Death of a Salesman,' dies at 89", Tulsa World, February 12, 2005.
- "Author Grisham to receive 2005 Helmerich award", Tulsa World, November 13, 2005.
- "Acclaimed author Tony Hillerman dies at 83", Tulsa World, October 27, 2008.
- "Grisham Wins Tulsa City-County Library Literary Award", Library Journal, January 4, 2006.
- "4BetterOrWorse - The week in review", The Hook, December 1, 2005.
- James D. Watt, Jr., "Novelist to receive 2013 Helmerich award", Tulsa World, March 24, 2013.
- Althea Peterson, "2009 Helmerich award winner has unusual past", Tulsa World, February 19, 2009.
- James D. Watts, Jr, "Ian McEwan Wins Helmerich Award", Tulsa World, March 2, 2010.
- David Harper, "Spy novelist Alan Furst chosen for 2011 Helmerich Award", Tulsa World, March 6, 2011.
- "Meet Wendell Berry, Winner of the 2012 Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award", StudioTulsa, KWGS, December 5, 2012 (includes audio interview).
- Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award official website
- Tulsa Library Trust official website
- Peggy Dow at Internet Movie Database.
- Voices of Oklahoma interview with Peggy Helmerich. First person interview conducted with Peggy Helmerich on October 9, 2009. Original audio and transcript archived with Voices of Oklahoma oral history project.