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RAWLS, WOODROW WILSON (1913-1984)

Born in Scraper, Cherokee County, Oklahoma, on September 24, 1913, to Minzy O. and Winnie Hatfield Rawls, novelist and short-story writer Woodrow Wilson Rawls published a widely popular children's novel, Where the Red Fern Grows, in 1961. He grew up on the family farm, which was his mother's Cherokee allotment. Taught to read by his mother, he was profoundly affected by the novels of Jack London and resolved to be a writer. He had little formal education. During the Great Depression of the 1930s he hoboed around the country, collecting stories along the way. He usually made his living as a laborer, once working on the Alcan Highway in Alaska. He married Sophie Styczinski in 1958 while working for the Atomic Energy Commission in Idaho.

Rawls's childhood experiences in the eastern Oklahoma hills provided the material for his fictional characters and settings. Where the Red Fern Grows, about a country boy who finds and trains two hunting dogs, was twice adapted as a motion picture and released in 1974 and 2003. The 1974 version was filmed in and around Tahlequah, Oklahoma. His second and final book, The Summer of the Monkeys, about a boy who tried to catch monkeys that had escaped from a carnival, appeared in 1976. The novel won the William Allen White Children's Book Award and the Oklahoma Library Association's Sequoyah Children's Book Award in 1979. Both of his novels were set in eastern Oklahoma. A popular speaker, Rawls spent much of his spare time visiting schools to encourage students to read and write. Wilson Rawls resided in Idaho Falls, Idaho, from 1958 to 1975 and then moved to Wisconsin, where he died of cancer at Marshfield on December 16, 1984.

SEE ALSO: MARQUIS JAMES, JAMES (JIM) THOMPSON.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Ann Conmire, ed., Something About the Author, Vol. 22 (Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research Company, 1981). Idaho Falls (Idaho) Post-Register, 18 December 1984. "Sequoyah Book Award Winner Traces Career," Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 23 March 1979.

Dianna Everett

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