Nationally known author and Oklahoma's third poet laureate, Jennie Harris Oliver, the eldest child of Baptist evangelist George W. and Mary Ann Walton Harris, was born March 18, 1864, in Lowell, Michigan. She supplemented her negligible elementary education by reading books from her father's library and taking nature walks with her mother. At age sixteen the girl taught school in Lowell, and she continued to teach after she and her family moved to Shiloh, Oklahoma Territory, in 1898. In 1901 she married Lloyd Oliver, a cotton planter and gin owner. They lived in Fallis, a small town located in Lincoln County situated on a rocky hill reached by a red dirt road lined with black jack oaks.
Encouraged by author and neighbor Vingie Roe, Oliver started her writing career by borrowing a typewriter and typing on wrapping paper that she ironed in order to remove the wrinkles. Like many Oklahoma writers, Oliver's literary pieces first appeared in the local newspapers and in Sturm's Oklahoma Magazine. In 1908 Oliver sold her first short story to Munsey's Live Wire Magazine for ten dollars. During the 1920s and 1930s Good Housekeeping published many of her stories and featured her in their March 1931 issue. Other national magazines also published her stories.
Although she was not a native Oklahoman, her poetry reflects the beauty and joy she found in Oklahoma's landscape. Steeped in a religious background, she selected many of her titles and themes from the Bible. Her poetry, Red Earth: Complete Collection of Poems, has gone through five editions since 1934. Also, Mokey, a collection of her well-received Mokey Delano series, was published in 1935. Because the stories of the mischievous boy named Mokey had wide appeal, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer bought the book rights and planned to star Jackie Cooper in the lead role.
Oliver was popular among her peers. Oklahoma writers made an annual springtime pilgrimage to her home, where they discussed their works and received encouragement from her. She was a member of the Oklahoma Writer's League and an honorary member of Guthrie's Altrurian Club. In 1935 she was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, because she was outstanding among the Sooner State's authors. In 1940 she was named Oklahoma's third poet laureate, an honor she held until her death. Oliver died on June 3, 1942, in an Oklahoma City hospital after a brief illness.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Lyle H. Boren and Dale Boren, Who is Who in Oklahoma (Guthrie, Okla.: Cooperative Publishing Co., 1935). Charles Campbell and Betty Brown, eds., Scribes of the Red Earth (N. p.: N.p., ). Mary Hays Marable and Elaine Boylan, A Handbook of Oklahoma Writers (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1939). "Jennie Harris Oliver," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City. O. P. Sturm, "The Oklahoma Literati," Sturm's Oklahoma Magazine (January-February 1911). Bess Truitt, "Jennie Harris Oliver," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 22 (Summer 1944).
Linda D. Wilson
© Oklahoma Historical Society