Friends of Libraries in Oklahoma dedicated a Literary Landmark Sunday, April 28, 2013 during National Poetry Month. The late poet Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel (1918- 2007) was honored at 2:30 p.m. at Stroud Public Schools, C. B. Wright Auditorium.  

Photo of Wilma McDaniel, courtesy Jim Chlebda, Back4C Publishing

The dedication featured award- winning author and Route 66 expert Michael Wallis as master of ceremonies; author and historian Roxanne Dunbar- Ortiz; film screening “Down an Old Road: The Poetic Life of Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel” by Chris Simon, Sageland Media; music by the Stroud High School Show Choir; remarks by family member Pattee Russell- Curry; and a reception by the Stroud Library Society. Awards were presented to twenty- three winning entries for the Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel Poetry Contest for rural high school students in Lincoln and Creek counties.

Born near Stroud in 1918, Wilma Elizabeth was the daughter of Benjamin and Anna McDaniel. Her father was a sharecropper and her mother was a homemaker. Her siblings were Verne, Roy, Allen, Keith, Harold, Opal, and Kenneth. Wilma lived in Lincoln and Creek counties until the effects of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl led her family to migrate to California in 1936. Her writing validated the migrant experience and she continues to influence many people to see the worth of their own stories and lives.

Wilma became known as the “Okie Poet” in the Central Valley of California and was named Tulare’s Bicentennial Poet and Poet Laureate. There are 29 collections consisting solely of Wilma's poetry; six more editions of poetry and prose, and an additional 16 editions of only prose. Her writing is frequently included in anthologies of literature of working- class people. Throughout her life her Oklahoma roots remained strong, and she has many poems about her early life in Lincoln and Creek counties and love for Oklahoma.

For researchers, the Oklahoma State University Library has a website that includes oral history interviews with people who knew Wilma http://digital.library.okstate.edu/mcdaniel and materials in special collections. Other Oklahoma archives are at the Stroud Public Library and the Lincoln County Museum of Pioneer History. In California archives are at the Livingston Historical Museum, Merced County Courthouse Museum, Tulare Historical Society Museum, and University of California, Merced. Karen Neurohr, OSU Librarian, Researcher, and Coordinator for the Dedication notes “A 28- page booklet about Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel featuring poetry, biographical information, timeline, bibliography, photos, and archive sites has been published and a PBS television news piece is planned.”

The Stroud Public Library co- sponsored the Literary Landmark Dedication and is the site for the bronze plaque. Additional sponsors include, Friends of Oklahoma State University Library; Back40 Publishing, Jim Chlebda; Friends of Oklahoma Center for the Book; Village Books Press, Dorothy Alexander; Tom and Leslie Hubbell; George and Karen Neurohr; Betty Blanks; and The Estate of Poet Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel. Partners include City of Stroud; Stroud Chamber of Commerce; Lincoln County Museum of Pioneer History, Oklahoma Department of Libraries; Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers; Oklahoma History Center and Oklahoma Library Association.


Changes of 1936

Poor girl
with Oklahoma straw
Braided in your hair
forget back there

The dark blue call
of whippoorwills
slow purpling skies
of warning

Here is here
California night falls
draws a black curtain
over vineyards

not a single firefly
will light your way home


“Changes of 1936” appeared in Man With a Star Quilt, Chiron Review Press, 1995. Printed with permission of the literary estate of Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel, ©Back40 Publishing/Stone Woman Press, Joshua Tree, CA.