Lynn Riggs (1899-1954)

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Lynn Riggs, born in the Cherokee Nation of Indian Territory (later a part of the state of Oklahoma) to a part-Cherokee mother, was part of a new wave of American playwriting that included Eugene O'Neill, Clifford Odets, and Tennessee Williams. By the early 1920s, O'Neill (1888-1953) was hailed as a great new American playwright, inspiring a new generation of young writers who abandoned older British models of playwriting with the goal of exploring specifically American cultures, Gclub customs, dialects, and characters. Frederick Koch, who organized the Carolina Playmakers in 1918, encouraged writers like Riggs and Paul Green (author of The Lost Colony) to write "folk drama" about their own communities.

Riggs' first produced play was a one-act called Knives from Syria (1925), which features some of the characters of Green Grow the Lilacs and Oklahoma! in embryonic form. He received a Guggenheim fellowship to work in Paris, and there he wrote the first draft of Green Grow the Lilacs, his most celebrated play. Green Grow the Lilacs (1931) takes place in 1901, in the Oklahoma of Riggs's youth. The play was produced by the Theatre Guild in New York in 1931, where it ran for 64 performances.

His other plays include Big Lake (1925), Russet Mantle (1934-35), and Sump'n Like Wings (1925-31). Rigg's The Cherokee Night (1930) contains the most reference to his Native American heritage. The play uses seven vignettes to trace changes in a group of Cherokee characters from 1895-1931.

The Theatre Guild gave Green Grow the Lilacs to Rodgers and Hammerstein and in 1943, Oklahoma! premiered on Broadway for an astonishingly successful run of 2,212 performances.

After serving in WWII, Riggs continued to write plays, poetry, and fiction; he spent the last years of his life in New York City, and died in 1954 of stomach cancer. Claremore, OK is the home of the Lynn Riggs Memorial. Over the past few decades, Riggs's work has been recognized as belonging to the canon of Native American literature, and scholars have analyzed the impact of his Cherokee heritage on Royal1688 this work. Riggs was also a closeted gay writer in a place and time where homosexuals experienced much discrimination (Womack). -LO


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