M.J. Alexander

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Portraits of centenarians by M.J. Alexander on display in the Tulsa World Gallery of the Oklahoma Heritage Association

Mary Jane Alexander (born July 18, 1961, in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan) also known as M.J. Alexander, is an American writer and photographer, playwright, poet, and lyricist who documents people and places of the American West, with an emphasis on the very young, the very old, and American Indian culture.

Documentary work[edit]

Alexander "combines the vision of an artist with the skills of a storyteller," according to the International Photography Hall of Fame.[1] Her photographs have been featured in 10 solo shows since 2006, including at the Oklahoma State Capitol,[2] the Red Earth Museum,[3] and the Main Gallery of the International Photography Hall of Fame. Her iconic portrait of Thomas Jefferson Brown, 103, was named one of the top photographs in Oklahoma history by the editors of Oklahoma Today magazine.[4]

She is author and illustrator of two books: Salt of the Red Earth: A Century of Wit and Wisdom from Oklahoma’s Elders, portraits and interviews with 100 centenarians, including dozens born in Indian Territory[5] and Portrait of a Generation - Children of Oklahoma: Sons and Daughters of the Red Earth featuring interviews with and environmental portraits of more than 250 Oklahomans from varied walks of life.[6] The book launch and opening exhibit for Portrait of a Generation were hosted by the Oklahoma City Museum of Art; a collection of 36 of Alexander's fine art portraits was featured in the OKCMOA Founders' Gallery from January 20 to February 27, 2011.[7] The book was a finalist in two categories[8] and selected as top young adult book of the year at the 2011 Oklahoma Book Awards, sponsored by the Oklahoma Center for the Book.[9][10]

Critical acclaim[edit]

Alexander was the only U.S. photographer honored at the 2009 UNESCO-sponsored World Humanity Photography Awards in Guangzhou, China, for her photographic series on Apache crown dancers.[11] Of her ongoing portrait series of indigenous peoples, a reviewer wrote: "Alexander’s imagery moves beyond stereotypes to reflect not only a difficult and challenging past but today’s American Indian renaissance and hopeful future….[offering] deep connection to the ancient and modern and to human transience. Now and then the earth shifts and if we're looking, art such as this can bring indescribable joy in the simple act of connecting to the human spirit. Such is the gift of Alexander's portraits."[12]

"M.J. Alexander has a way of seeing the world that shows it to you," according to the writer Alice Walker. "The layers of it that are sometimes ignored or overlooked, especially in our country. A brilliant photographer." Suzanne Tate, executive director of the Oklahoma Arts Council, calls Alexander "a transcendent visual storyteller...Her distinct style and abilities as an artist make her an invaluable cultural asset." Heidi Evans of the New York Daily News calls the work "remarkable, moving photographs and words that reveal the inner lives and quiet power of ordinary people -- people you might otherwise pass by. M.J. Alexander shows the poetry deeply rooted in the Oklahoma -- and American -- landscape."[13]

From a public radio feature on Alexander's "Salt of the Red Earth" centenarian project: "Many of us who work in radio would say that hearing the undoctored human voice is about as intimate as you can get. But take one look at M.J. Alexander’s stunning sepia-toned portraits of Oklahomans over 100 years old, and there’s a certain timeless quality that seems to capture the essence of who these people are for all eternity."[14]

From a 2010 feature on the release of her second book: "The true storytellers mine deep into the hearts and souls of their subjects...M.J. Alexander knows well the power of storytelling that uses both words and images. This month sees the release of an extraordinary new book by the award-winning Oklahoma City photographer and writer, as she continues her exploration of the people who are the heart and soul of her adopted home state."[15]

Alexander's writing and photo features have been recognized with several awards from the Society of Professional Journalists.[16] Her portraits of Alice Walker and Gloria Steinem were featured on the cover of the Fall 2009 issue of Ms. magazine, commemorating Steinem’s 75th birthday.[17] A second portrait of Walker by Alexander was the cover photograph of the October 2010 Writer's Digest, and was discussed by Walker on her personal blog.[18]

Creative writing[edit]

Alexander is also a poet, playwright and lyricist. With her husband, composer Edward Knight,[19] she has created two full-length musicals: Strike A Match (1999) and Night of the Comets (2001), both premiered at the Bass School of Music at Oklahoma City University.[20] Cradle of Dreams, their work for chorus and orchestra, was commercially recorded by the Kiev Philharmonic and the Chamber Choir Kyiv.[21] Alexander and Knight’s song cycle, Tales Not Told, is based on her poems exploring the viewpoints of six American ancestors of the composer: Helen Harvey Tiffany Paddock, Patience Brewster, Keziah Keyes Ransom, Sarah Town Bridges Cloyce, Bessie Barton Paddock, and Mary Dyer. The work has been performed in New York, Oklahoma and California, including by the San Francisco Cabaret Opera, and published by Subito Music.[22] The work was the subject of a doctoral dissertation by Catherine McDaniel at the University of Oklahoma.[23] A national reviewer called the poems "beautiful" and the cycle "intriguing, heartfelt, and beautifully crafted."[24]


Alexander is a dual citizen of Canada and the United States, raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She attended a two-room schoolhouse before graduating from Vassar College and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.[25] She is a veteran of The Associated Press in New York City and former head of the journalism department of Saint Michael's College in Vermont.[26]


  1. ^ International Photography Hall of Fame: Recent Exhibitions "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-04-18. Retrieved 2009-12-01.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) Retrieved 30 November 2009
  2. ^ Oklahoma Arts Council: Artists. M.J. Alexander: The Centenarians http://www.arts.ok.gov/capitolart/peg/eg07/mja.html Retrieved 30 November 2009
  3. ^ Tribal images featured in Red Earth Museum exhibit. Native American Times. 18 August 2009. http://nativetimes.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2291& Retrieved 30 November 2009
  4. ^ "Oklahoma Today." July/August 2007. Volume 57, Number 4.
  5. ^ Alexander, M.J. Salt of the Red Earth: A Century of Wit and Wisdom from Oklahoma’s Elders. Published by the Oklahoma Heritage Association, Oklahoma City, 2007. ISBN 1-885596-59-6
  6. ^ Alexander, M.J. Portrait of a Generation - Children of Oklahoma: Sons and Daughters of the Red Earth. Published by Southwestern Publishing, Oklahoma City, 2010. ISBN 978-0-9704615-2-0
  7. ^ Spears, Leslie A. Portrait of a Generation. Oklahoma City Museum of Art Press Room. http://www.okcmoa.com/press-room/portrait-of-a-generation Archived 2011-05-24 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved March 12, 2011
  8. ^ Watts, James D., Jr. "Oklahoma Book Awards Name Finalists." Tulsa World. February 27, 2011. http://www.tulsaworld.com/scene/article.aspx?subjectid=67&articleid=20110227_67_G4_Former684743 Retrieved March 1, 2011.
  9. ^ Klinka, Karen. "Oklahoma Book Awards Honor State Authors." The Oklahoman. April 10, 2011. http://newsok.com/oklahoma-authors-receive-honors/article/3557218 Retrieved April 11, 2011.
  10. ^ Oklahoma Department of Libraries: Oklahoma Center for the Book. "2011 Oklahoma Book Award Winners" http://www.odl.state.ok.us/ocb/11win.htm
  11. ^ Warlick-Moore, Heather. "Portrait More Than Sum of Parts for Oklahoman." The Daily Oklahoman, 17 November 2009. http://newsok.com/portrait-more-than-sum-of-parts-for-oklahoman/article/3417906 Retrieved 30 November 2009
  12. ^ Struby, Shauna. Wisdom and Modern Renaissance in American Indian Portraits. Travel Oklahoma. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-02-07. Retrieved 2010-01-13.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) Retrieved January 12, 2010.
  13. ^ Portrait of a Generation. Back cover.
  14. ^ Gurian, Scott. Salt of the Red Earth. KGOU, Oklahoma Public Radio. Broadcast Jan. 10. 2007. http://www.radioexchange.org/pieces/16122-salt-of-the-red-earth Retrieved Jan. 8, 2010.
  15. ^ Anderson, Kent. Faces of the Future. SLICE magazine. Issue One, Volume One. November 2010. Pages 142-143. Southwestern Publishing. http://issuu.com/sliceok/docs/slice-current-issue
  16. ^ Society of Professional Journalists Awards, Oklahoma Chapter. 2009-10 list: http://www.okspj.com/SPJ_AwardsBook_web.pdf 2008-09 catalog: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-02-25. Retrieved 2010-03-05.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) Retrieved March 5, 2010.
  17. ^ Wilkinson, April. "Uncommon Portraits." The Journal Record, Oklahoma City, 10 November 2009. http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:7fvioAMkoREJ:www.journalrecord.com/article.cfm%3FrecID%3D104225+journal-record+oklahoma+alexander+steinem&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=safari Retrieved 30 November 2009
  18. ^ "Alice Walker: The Official Website." Reclaiming the Crossroads: 10 November 2010. http://www.alicewalker.info/ Retrieved 2 January 2011.
  19. ^ "Mary Jane Alexander to Wed in May." The New York Times, 17 March 1991. https://www.nytimes.com/1991/03/17/style/mary-jane-alexander-to-wed-in-may.html Retrieved 30 November 2009
  20. ^ McBride, Murdoch. "Night of the Comets Bows in September 2001 After 30-Week OCU Workshop." Playbill.com. 6 November 2000. http://www.playbill.com/news/article/56543-Night_of_the_Comets_Bows_in_September_2001_After_30-Week_OCU_Workshop[permanent dead link] Retrieved 30 November 2009
  21. ^ Sigma Alpha Iota International Music Fraternity - Composers: Edward Knight. http://www.sigmaalphaiota.org/home/ComposersBureau/KnightEdward/tabid/342/Default.aspx[permanent dead link] Retrieved 30 November 2009
  22. ^ San Francisco Cabaret Opera. http://www.goathall.org/Past-Productions/index.html Retrieved 30 November 2009
  23. ^ McDaniel, Catherine. "'I Offer a Dance of Joy...': The Intersection of Genealogy and Genre in Edward Knight's Tales Not Told." D. M. A. dissertation, University of Oklahoma, 2009.
  24. ^ Carmen, Judith. "Music Review: Tales Not Told." Journal of Singing: The Official Journal of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, Inc. September/October 2009 Volume 66, No. 1. pp 111-114.
  25. ^ "Mary Jane Alexander to Wed in May." The New York Times, 17 March 1991. https://www.nytimes.com/1991/03/17/style/mary-jane-alexander-to-wed-in-may.html Retrieved 30 November 2009
  26. ^ Alexander, "Salt of the Red Earth." op cit.

External links[edit]