Helmerich Award

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The Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award is an American literary prize awarded by the Tulsa Library Trust in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It is awarded annually to an "internationally acclaimed" author who has "written a distinguished body of work and made a major contribution to the field of literature and letters".[1][2]

History of the award[edit]

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.[3][4] To date, all of the recipients have been English-language writers.[5]

The award is named after Peggy V. Helmerich, a prominent Tulsa library activist, philanthropist[6] and the wife of Tulsa oilman Walter Helmerich III.[7] Before her marriage, under the stage name Peggy Dow, she had been a motion picture actress,[8] 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[9] in 1951's Bright Victory.[10]

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".[4] In 1997, distinguished African-American historian John Hope Franklin became the first (and so far only) 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.[11][12][13]

In 2004, 88-year-old Arthur Miller was initially announced as the honoree,[14] but subsequently declined the award when illness prevented him from attending the December award ceremony and dinner; he died two months later. David McCullough, the 1995 winner, replaced him as featured speaker at the dinner[15] and, later, returned his honorarium to the library.[16][17]

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.[18][19] 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.[20] 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."[21]

The 2017 honoree is novelist Richard Ford.[22]

List of winners[edit]

The following authors have received the award since 1985:[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Althea Peterson, "Brooks to receive Helmerich Award", Tulsa World, February 18, 2009.
  2. ^ "Spangled banner's new star", Sydney Morning Herald, March 23, 2007 (retrieved May 24, 2009).
  3. ^ Tom Droege, "Author makes snowy trek for Helmerich award", Tulsa World, December 3, 2006.
  4. ^ a b Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award: History of the Award (retrieved May 22, 2009).
  5. ^ a b Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award: Award Winners (retrieved May 22, 2009).
  6. ^ Oklahoma Library Legends: Peggy Helmerich at Oklahoma State University library website (retrieved May 23, 2009).
  7. ^ Henry G. Bennett Distinguished Service Award: Peggy V. and W. H. Helmerich III at Oklahoma State University library website (retrieved May 23, 2009).
  8. ^ "Helmerich Family Leaves Fascinating Legacy", GTR Newspapers, July 6, 2007 (retrieved May 23, 2009).
  9. ^ Cathy Logan, "Tulsa's Peggy Dow Knew Him When", Tulsa World, July 3, 1997.
  10. ^ 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).
  11. ^ Michael Overall, "City's `Favorite Son'", Tulsa World, December 6, 1997.
  12. ^ Michael Overall, "Franklin Tells of Life in Early Tulsa", Tulsa World, December 7, 1997.
  13. ^ Danna Sue Walker, "Black History First Learned, Then Taught", Tulsa World, December 8, 1997.
  14. ^ "Arthur Miller rewarded for distinctive work", AP at USA Today, April 26, 2004.
  15. ^ "Arthur Miller declines award because of illness", Tulsa World, November 6, 2004
  16. ^ "$25,000 returned to library", Tulsa World, January 5, 2005.
  17. ^ "Arthur Miller, playwright of 'Death of a Salesman,' dies at 89", Tulsa World, February 12, 2005.
  18. ^ "Author Grisham to receive 2005 Helmerich award", Tulsa World, November 13, 2005.
  19. ^ "Acclaimed author Tony Hillerman dies at 83", Tulsa World, October 27, 2008.
  20. ^ "Grisham Wins Tulsa City-County Library Literary Award" Archived 2011-06-07 at the Wayback Machine, Library Journal, January 4, 2006.
  21. ^ "4BetterOrWorse - The week in review", The Hook, December 1, 2005.
  22. ^ a b James D. Watts, Jr., "Novelist Richard Ford wins 2017 Helmerich Award", Tulsa World, April 30, 2017.
  23. ^ Paul Galloway, "In From The Cold: John Le Carre Faces The Future With A Polished Public Presence", Chicago Tribune, December 21, 1990. ("You wouldn`t expect to find John le Carre in this beautiful city of almost 400,000 in the verdant hills of eastern Oklahoma. But on a December weekend, there he was, tall, patrician, witty, an engaging raconteur, utterly British, sampling the house specialty from a local chili parlor, dining on barbecued ribs, baked beans and other regional delicacies at a country club luncheon, visiting a museum that features art from the American West, addressing a black-tie dinner, and giving a public lecture at the Tulsa City-County Library.")
  24. ^ Althea Peterson, "2009 Helmerich award winner has unusual past", Tulsa World, February 19, 2009.
  25. ^ James D. Watts, Jr, "Ian McEwan Wins Helmerich Award", Tulsa World, March 2, 2010.
  26. ^ David Harper, "Spy novelist Alan Furst chosen for 2011 Helmerich Award", Tulsa World, March 6, 2011.
  27. ^ "Meet Wendell Berry, Winner of the 2012 Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award", StudioTulsa, KWGS, December 5, 2012 (includes audio interview).
  28. ^ James D. Watt, Jr., "Novelist to receive 2013 Helmerich award", Tulsa World, March 24, 2013.
  29. ^ James D. Watts, Jr., "Ann Patchett is 2014 Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award recipient", Tulsa World, March 30, 2014.
  30. ^ "A Conversation with Rick Atkinson, Winner of the 2015 Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award", KWGS, December 3, 2015.
  31. ^ James D. Watts, Jr., "Poet Billy Collins wins 2016 Helmerich Award", Tulsa World, April 11, 2016.
  32. ^ "2018 Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award | Tulsa Library |". www.tulsalibrary.org.
  33. ^ "2019 Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award", Tulsa City-County Library.

External links[edit]