Path Home Shows 2011 Show Archive May 2011 Show 1121 Literary Landmark - Where the Red Fern Grows

Literary Landmark - Where the Red Fern Grows

We attend a festival in Tahlequah that honors the author of the book "Where the Red Fern Grows" and the dogs he loved.
Literary Landmark - Where the Red Fern Grows

Hunting dogs

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Oklahoma Literary Landmarks

Show Dates

Show 1121: Literary Landmark - Where the Red Fern Grows

Air date: May 22, 2011

 

Transcript

ROB MCCLENDON:  WELL FOR SHEER VOLUME OF PAGES, NO ANIMAL HAS GENERATED AS MANY NOVELS AS DOGS.  AND YET, FOR ALL THEIR NUMBERS, ONLY A HANDFUL OF DOG STORIES REACH THE ICONIC STATE OF A CLASSIC, THAT WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS HAS BECOME.  JOINING ME NOW WITH MORE ON THIS BOOK AND ITS OKLAHOMA AUTHOR IS OUR ANDY BARTH.

ANDY BARTH:  WELL ROB, MANY BELIEVE THE POPULARITY OF WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS CAN BE ATTRIBUTED TO SOMETHING THE BOOK AUTHOR CALLS, THE DOG WANTING DISEASE; AN AFFLICTION MOST PARENTS KNOW ALL TO WELL.  AND, IT WAS FULLY EVIDENT AT A FESTIVAL IN TALEQUAH, OKLAHOMA, HONORING THE AUTHOR AND THE DOGS HE LOVED.

[COON DOGS BARKING]

IT’S THE SOUND OF SOUTHERN TRADITION…

[COON DOGS BARKING]

COON HUNTING…

[COON DOGS BARKING]

AND IT TOOK CENTER STAGE AT THE 2011 RED FERN FESTIVAL IN TAHLEQUAH.

[COON DOGS BARKING]

THE COON DOG TRIALS ARE A BELOVED TRADITION THAT ATTRACKS DOGS OF ALL AGES, AND SIZES.

MALE VOICE:  BUT HE RUN SO MANY COONS HIS LEGS GOT SHORTER.

ANDY:  BUT THE TWO THINGS THEY ALL HAVE IN COMMON IS THEIR KEEN NOSE AND THAT DISTINCTIVE BARK.

COLBY:  THIS RED FERN, THIS IS MY FIRST TIME.

ANDY:  FOR COLBY AND HIS 3-MONTH OLD DOG BOONE, TODAY WAS A LEARNING POINT.

[MUSIC]

THE COON DOG TRIALS AREN’T THE ONLY THING HOWLING AROUND TAHLEQUAH, THE FESTIVAL OFFERS LIVE MUSIC, AND REMINDS PEOPLE OF THE MAN WHO STARTED IT ALL…WILSON RAWLS.  DURING THE FESTIVAL, PEOPLE GATHER IN THE MIDDLE OF TOWN TO WATCH THE FILM INSPIRED BY A BOY, AND HIS DOGS.

[CLIP FROM MOVIE]

I DON’T WANT NO OLD COLLIE DOG, I WANT HUNTIN’ DOGS.  I KNOW WHAT YOU WANT SON, BUT HUNTIN’ DOGS COST MONEY AND SOMETHIN’ WE DON’T HAVE VERY MUCH OF.

WELL, THERE THEY ARE, WHAT DO YOU THINK OF ‘EM?

[PUPPIES WHINING]

ANDY:  BORN IN 1913, RAWLS KNEW THE TOUGH TIMES OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION.  RIDING THE RAILS AS A TEENAGER, HE WROTE HIS TALES ON ANY SCRAP HE COULD FIND.

WILSON RAWLS:  DURING THOSE THREE YEARS THAT I BUMMED AROUND ALL OVER THE COUNTRY I KEPT WRITING, I COULDN’T QUIT.  EVERY CHANCE I GOT, I’D WRITE ON SOMETHING.  AND I’D TAKE THE BROWN PAPER SACKS AND I’D CUT THE BOTTOM OF ‘EM OUT, SPLIT ‘EM OPEN, AND I HAD A BIG SHEET OF PAPER.

ANDY:  MAKING HIS LIVING AS A HANDYMAN, RAWLS ALWAYS KEPT A PEN IN HIS HAND; SPINNING TALES OF HIS LIFE BACK IN THE OKLAHOMA HILLS.

[COON DOGS BARKING]

[MOVIE CLIP]

WE DID IT; WE DID IT.

[MUSIC]

ANDY:  THE BOOK AND MOVIE WRITTEN BY WILSON RAWLS TOUCHED THE LIVES OF CHILDREN ALL ACROSS AMERICA.  THE MAN RESPONSIBLE FOR TRACKING EVERY FAN LETTER AND PUBLICATION IS ARCHIVIST, TOM MOONEY.

TOM MOONEY:  I JUST THINK THIS IS EVIDENCE HE REALLY AND TRULY LIKED THE KIDS AND THEY ENJOYED MAKING THESE SCHOOL VISITS.

ANDY:  CAREFULLY ARCHIVING EVERY FAN LETTER FROM ALL 50 STATES, MOONEY SAYS RAWLS KEPT EVERY ONE AND CHERISHED THOSE WHO WROTE THEM.

MOONEY:  IT’S JUST A GOOD STORY FOR KIDS.

ANDY:  IN HIS FINAL LETTERS TO SOME OF HIS FRIENDS, MR. RAWLS SPOKE OF HIS DESIRE TO RETURN TO TAHLEQUAH; AND TODAY, HE FINALLY MADE IT BACK.

[WELCOME BY ANNOUNCER]

ANDY:  DURING THE FESTIVAL, THE FRIENDS OF LIBRARIES IN OKLHAOMA HONORED WILSON RAWLS BY DESIGNATING THE TAHLEQUAH PUBLIC LIBRARY IN OKLAHOMA, A NATIONAL LITERARY LANDMARK.

ROB:  YOU KNOW THAT WILSON RAWS WAS A GREAT STORYTELLER.

ANDY:  OUR ROB MCCLENDON WAS THE MASTER OF CEREMONIES OF THE EVENT WHICH SHOWCASED THE CHEROKEE GOSPEL CHOIR…

[CHOIR SINGING]

ANDY:  ALONG WITH SOME OF WILSON RAWLS’ BIGGEST FANS AND FAMILY.

BILL CORBETT:  I THINK ONE OF MOST IMPORTANT THINGS ABOUT THESE LITERARY GIANTS IS THAT THEY PROVIDE ANOTHER IMPORTANT DIMENSION TO OUR HISTORY.

ANDY:  DR. BILL CORBETT IS A PROFESSOR OF HISTORY AT NORTHEASTERN STATE UNIVERSITY.

CORBETT:  WILSON RAWLS WAS ONE OF THOSE KIND OF PEOPLE WHO NEVER FORGOT HIS ROOTS.  HE WAS THE KIND OF PERSON WHO ALWAYS REMEMBERED ABOUT HIS LIFE HERE.

ANDY:  NOT MARRYING UNTIL LATE IN LIFE, RAWLS BECAME PUBLISHED ONLY AT THE URGING OF A DEVOTED WIFE.

RAWLS:  YOU KNOW, I WAS SO HAPPY THAT SOMEBODY BELIEVED I COULD WRITE; AND I SAID, “WELL, WHERE YOU GONNA SEND IT?”  AND SHE SAID, “THE SATURDAY EVENING POST.”  AND I SAID, “OH FOR HEAVEN SAKES, NOBODY WRITES FOR THE POST BUT SOME OF THE BIGGEST NAMES IN THE LITERARY WORLD.”  BUT SHE SAID, “I’VE READ STORIES IN THE POST NOT NEAR AS GOOD AS THIS ONE.”

ANDY:  BUT SURPRISINGLY, HIS BOOK WASN’T ORIGINALLY GREETED WITH ENTHUSIASM.  IT WAS ONLY WHEN SCHOOL LIBRARIANS DISCOVERED IT, IT BECAME AN INSTANT CHILDREN’S CLASSIC.

RAWLS:  THEY GOT ME A SPEAKING ENGAGEMENT AT THE INTERMOUNTAIN CONFERENCE OF CHILDREN’S LITERATURE.  I HAD OVER 5,000 READING TEACHERS THERE FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD.

ANDY:  HE NOT ONLY WROTE OF IT IN HIS BOOKS LIKE “WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS” AND “THE SUMMER OF MONKEYS,” BUT HE TRAVELED THE NATION AND SHARED HIS STORIES IN SCHOOLS ACROSS THE COUNTRY.

RAWLS:  WHEN WE DROVE UP IN FRONT OF THAT LITTLE SCHOOL, HERE THEY COME; AND THEY PAWED ON ME ALL THE WAY INTO THE SCHOOL.

ANDY:  WILSON RAWLS NEVER HAD ANY CHILDREN OF HIS OWN; UNLESS YOU COUNT HIS READERS, THEN YOU COULD SAY HE HAD MILLIONS OF CHILDREN.

[LANDMARK UNVEILING]

ANDY:  KAREN NEUROHR HELPED ORGANIZE THE EVENT AND SAYS THIS CLASSIC BOY-DOG STORY IS SOMETHING EVERYONE CAN RELATE TO.

KAREN NEUROHR:  THE STORY RESONATES WITH PEOPLE; I MEAN, DOGS ARE WONDERFUL, EVERYBODY LOVES DOGS.  AND, HIS STORY HAD SUCH AN IMPACT ON EVERYONE WHO READS IT; AND, IT’S JUST A TIMELESS PIECE OF LITERATURE, IT’S TRULY A CHILDREN’S CLASSIC.

[MUSIC]

ANDY:  A CLASSIC STORY INSPIRED BY SOUTHERN TRADITION, CELEBRATED EVERY YEAR, IN HONOR OF A MAN WHO LOVED HIS DOGS AND THE LAND HE GREW UP IN.

WELL, WILSON RAWLS WROTE THE SAME WAY HE SPOKE, PLAIN AND SIMPLE.  BUT, IN A WAY THAT STILL ATTRACTS YOUNG READERS WHO CAN ONLY IMAGINE RUNNING THROUGH THE BACKWOODS OF OKLAHOMA WITH THEIR FAVORITE COON DOGS.

ROB:  NOW YOU SAID THAT HE WROTE PLAIN AND SIMPLE, AND I KNOW SOME ENGLISH SCHOLARS MAY QUIBBLE WHETHER HE WAS A GREAT WRITER OR NOT.  BUT, YOU KNOW, YOU WALK INTO ANY FIFTH OR SIXTH GRADE CLASSROOM AND YOU SEE THOSE PREPUBESCENT BOYS READING THE BOOK, AND YOU SEE THEIR EYES START TO WATER AND THEIR LIPS QUIVER AS THE BOOK GETS REALLY SAD, AND NOONE CAN DOUBT THAT HE’S A FANTASTIC STORYTELLER.

ANDY:  THAT’S ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.

ROB:  A QUICK QUESTION FOR YOU BEFORE YOU GO, WHY DID IT TAKE MR. RAWLS SO LONG TO GET THIS BOOK PUBLISHED?

ANDY:  WELL ROB, IN ALL ACTUALITY, HE ACTUALLY WROTE THIS BOOK WHEN HE WAS A YOUNG TEENAGER IN THE FOOTHILLS OF THE OZARKS.  BUT, HE WAS SO ASHAMED WITH HOW HE WROTE THAT HE BURNED THESE, ALL OF HIS MANUSCRIPTS, RIGHT BEFORE HE GOT MARRIED LATE IN LIFE; AND, WHEN HE TOLD HIS WIFE ABOUT ‘EM SHE WAS SO DISTRAUGHT ABOUT IT, SHE WANTED HIM, AND URGED HIM, TO WRITE THESE BOOKS AGAIN.  AND, HE REWROTE “WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS” AND IT ONLY TOOK HIM SIX WEEKS TO REWRITE THE STORY AND SHE PUBLISHED, OR, HAD IT PUBLISHED AND IT WAS RECEPTED RIGHT AWAY.

ROB:  WELL CERTAINLY A GREAT NOVEL AND A FANTASTIC LIFE STORY; GOOD STORY ANDY, I APPRECIATE IT SO MUCH.