A collection of personal essays by 50 Oklahoma women – edited by four female professors at Rogers State University – has been published by the University of Oklahoma Press and is now available online and at bookstores across the state.
“Voices from the Heartland” – the creation of RSU professors Dr. Carolyn Taylor, Dr. Emily Dial-Driver, Carole Burrage (former RSU professor) and Dr. Sally Emmons-Featherston – is a compilation of essays focusing on women’s contributions to Oklahoma’s recent past. It records defining moments in women’s lives, whether surviving the Oklahoma City bombing or surviving abuse, and represents a wide range of professions, lifestyles and backgrounds “to show how extraordinary lives have grown from the seeds of ordinary girlhoods,” according to Taylor.
The book is an official Oklahoma Centennial Project as designated by the Oklahoma Centennial Commission.
All four editors have contributed essays to the book. Taylor recalls the inspiration she received from two heroines she never met while attempting to pass tough legislation as a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Dial-Driver wonders who will pick up the mantle of matriarch when her mother dies. Burrage writes about her two sons, their difficult births and their obvious perfection – through the eyes of a mother. And Emmons-Featherston recalls battling with anorexia and emerging with a healthy and rewarding lifestyle. In addition, Julie Carson, a Claremore resident and a state education regent, reflects on her life as a southpaw.
The book also features essays by former Cherokee Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller, Oklahoma First Lady Kim Henry, novelist Billie Letts, Prima Ballerina Maria Tallchief and OU Basketball Coach Sherri Coale, among many others.
“We brainstormed about Oklahoma women that we knew or knew of who have interesting stories to tell,” Taylor said. “We wanted to make sure that our contributions were a mix of well-known and new voices, and we wanted a diverse representation of professions, races, perspectives, lifestyles and backgrounds.”
The authors share their personal reflections on finding balance as they look back on defining moments in their lives, mull over what they wish they had learned sooner and convey the wisdom they’ve unearthed on their journeys thus far. Touching on topics from adultery to left-handedness, from losing children to losing perspective, the essays speak reveal what it means to be an American woman today, Taylor said.
Inspiration for the book began when the four women expressed dismay for the stubborn social problems facing Oklahomans, particularly women, and gratification at the emergence of female leaders in the state at the same time.
“We were struck by the paradox of the grim statistics we’ve heard about Oklahoma women – high rates of poverty, incarceration, divorce, and teen pregnancy and low rates of women in elected positions and other professions, and the fact that Oklahoma has also produced so many women of outstanding achievement and character. We wanted to somehow begin a dialogue to reconcile this obvious disconnect,” said Dial-Driver. “We personally knew of many success stories and role models, yet those stories rarely made the evening news. There needed to be a vehicle for stories of real Oklahoma women making a positive impact on our society so that people could learn what was possible in our state.”
All profits from the book will be directed to the Women’s Foundation of Oklahoma to fund an endowment which provides a permanent source of grants investing in the economic self-sufficiency of women and brighter futures for girls.
“We did not limit the stories in Voices from the Heartland to one theme or thread, such as family, work, relationships, etc.,” said Emmons-Featherston. “The contributors were guided by two questions: what do you know now that you wish you had learned sooner, or what story do you wish to share with others? The common thread through these stories is the wisdom of persevering, or nurturing a passion, of paying attention to what brings happiness, and of appreciation that the path from here to there is seldom a straight line.”
Taylor is a fifth-generation Oklahoman. Her great-great-grandfather participated in the Oklahoma Land Run. She was born and raised in Norman and represented her hometown in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1984 to 1992. She received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Oklahoma and a doctorate from Oklahoma State University. Currently she is a professor at RSU, where she lives with her husband, Stratton, and their two children, Carson and Abbey Anne.
Dial-Driver is a professor in the RSU Department of English, having also been a waitress, hatcheck girl, assistant director of a Girl Scout camp, dietary interviewer on a national preschool nutrition survey, and captain in the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps. Reared as a traveling Army brat and a rancher’s grandkid, she was born in Oklahoma but hardly lived in the state until she returned to college. She thinks of southwestern Oklahoma as the place where climate and foliage are correct: red dirt, brown grass, trees with thorns. She lives in Claremore with her husband and a large black dog. She has one child on each coast.
Burrage is a native Virginian and an Okie on her mother’s side. She attended undergraduate and law school at the University of Oklahoma, where she met her husband, Sean. She has worked in the nonprofit sector, as a federal law clerk and as an assistant professor at RSU before recently “retiring” to devote more time to her family. She and Sean live in Claremore with their two sons, Truman and Carter.
Emmons-Featherston is a self-described adopted Oklahoman who now proudly considers Oklahoma home. Of Creek and Cherokee descent, she is an associate professor of English at RSU and teaches a variety of writing and literature courses. When she is not teaching, she serves as managing editor of RSU’s literary and artistic journal, the Cooweescoowee.
Carson moved to Tulsa with her family at the age of fifteen from Kansas City, Mo., though her family roots in the state go back many generations on her father’s side. She has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Vanderbilt University and a law degree from the University of Tulsa. She currently resides in Claremore with her husband, former U.S. Congressman Brad Carson, and their son, Jack David. She is a member of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.
The editors of the book will appear at a panel discussion and book signing at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15, at the Stratton Taylor Library on the RSU campus in Claremore. The event is sponsored by the Claremore Reads organization. Several other book signings and similar events will be held at locations across the state this fall, including a launch party for the book at the Full Circle Bookstore in Oklahoma City on Oct. 26 and a presentation and book signing at the Red Dirt Book Festival in Shawnee, Okla., on Nov. 6.
“Ultimately, what this book reveals is that we’re all connected,” Burrage said. “At the core of these stories we found a longing for love, friendship, peace, happiness and a chance to be heard. As a whole, they reveal what it means to be an American woman today.”