I hail from the small town of Forgan, Oklahoma, population 400. (As I have been wont to say, the entire population could perish on a single jetliner.) Like many small towns throughout America, Forgan is marked by a love of high school sports. In 1975, the year I graduated, we won the state championship in eight-man football (itself another story for another column). Since then, the women’s basketball team have won state once, and the men three or four times.
But while some of us were engrossed in sports, others were obsessed with words. At least three published writers (including, humbly, myself: look for my first foray into fiction coming soon, The Second Baptism of Albert Simmel) have in recent decades come out of Forgan and its rural environs. This week I finished reading the Forganian Samuel Hall’s Daughter of Cimarron (Ashberry Lane). Sam is a little older than my mother, so I didn’t go to school with him and I don’t know him personally. But it was a pleasure to read his novel, the fictionalized story of his mother settling into life on an Oklahoma farm right in the middle of the Depression and the Dust Bowl. Sam did a solid job of writing from a woman’s perspective, and describing in vivid detail the hardships the pioneers of the area faced.
Perhaps the most successful of Forgan-based writers has been John Erickson, who worked for several years as a ranch-hand outside town. From his experiences, he created the series of Hank the Cowdog, a canine who faithfully (and often amusingly) helped his rancher-masters. The book series was later developed into a Saturday morning cartoon series for children, and ran for several years.
We can’t compare to the success of writers of the small Alabama town that produced Harper Lee and Truman Capote. But it’s notable that a town as tiny as Forgan can produce writers out of proportion to its size. What accounts for this? Surely, in no small part, love of talk and oral storytelling in small towns, and the tendency to gather regularly with extended families and hear about the past in all it challenges and humor.