Oklahoma-born and bred novelist Rilla Askew, an American Book Award winner and recipient of the Oklahoma Book Awards’ lifetime achievement award, will signcopies of her new novel “Kind of Kin” from 6:30 to 8 tonight at Full Circle Bookstore in 50 Penn Place, 1900 Northwest Expressway
The timely novel is based on Oklahoma’s newly passed law that makes it a felony to harbor illegal immigrants.
In a recent interview with my excellent colleague George Lang, Askew said “Kind of Kin” is not about House Bill 1804. The author said she did not want to saddle the story with the specifics of real politics and its players, and ultimately, “Kind of Kin” is about fictional people experiencing the fallout from a hot-button law.
“I didn’t set out, from my own perspective, to write a novel about it — I had no intention of writing a novel about the law,” Askew told George. “I was concerned on a personal level, always paying a great deal attention to who we are as Oklahomans and what we do as Oklahomans. And, consequently, what our laws are: how we present ourselves to the nation and to ourselves.”
In the book, Robert John Brown is arrested for harboring migrant workers shortly after passage of fictional HB 1830. The churchgoing grandfather is hardly the picture of criminality, and his incarceration becomes a case study in modern civil disobedience with an eye toward Christian good will and charity.
The situation is further complicated by the disappearance of Brown’s 10-year-old grandson Dustin; the plight of Dustin’s half-sister, Misty Dawn, who is married to an illegal worker who was caught up in the sweep of Bob Brown’s property; and the many spiraling problems of Sweet Kirkendall, Bob’s daughter, who is trying to hold the family together as the new law impacts them on multiple fronts.
Askew, who was born in the Sans Bois Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma and grew up in Bartlesville, splits her time between the Sooner State and New York and recently completed a semester as an artist-in-residence at the University of Central Oklahoma. She frequently incorporates Oklahoma’s history into her fiction. Her 2001 novel “Fire in Beulah” was set during the Tulsa race riots, and “Harpsong” depicted the plight of people who stayed behind when thousands moved westward during the Dust Bowl era.
For “Kind of Kin,” Askew set most of the novel in the area around Wilburton, specifically in the fictional small town of Cedar. Some action is based on real events that touched her own family, and the residents of Cedar — the Brown family, the church parishioners and the people of different ethnicities and backgrounds at the center of the novel — are based generally on people Askew said she has known throughout her life.
“What matters to me as a writer is I’m always writing to Oklahoma. Our purpose is to write with as much authenticity as possible. The specific is the universal. The more specific it is and the more authentic it is, people who are not familiar with our place and culture will believe it,” she told George.
To read more of George’s insightful interview with Askew, click here.
For more information on tonight’s signing, go to www.fullcirclebooks.com.