Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

RIGGS, ROLLIE LYNN (1899-1954)

"A scene from The Cherokee Night by Lynn Riggs as presented at the Provincetown Playhouse by the Community Theatre Division of the Federal Theatre Project, July 1936"

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One of Oklahoma's finest playwrights and poets, confidant to Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, and critically acclaimed contemporary of Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams, Rollie Lynn Riggs was an enigma to most who knew him during his short life. He spent his professional career exploring the unique character and spirit of Oklahoma and its precursor, Indian Territory, while shrouding his personal life from public scrutiny. As an acculturated allotment-era Cherokee and a closeted gay man in the first part of the twentieth century, Riggs traveled across the country and the world in search of both artistic acclaim and security. The latter eluded him to the end of his life.

Born in Indian Territory on August 31, 1899, near present-day Claremore, Oklahoma, Riggs was educated briefly at the University of Oklahoma in Norman and lived at various times in Santa Fe, Paris, Chicago, New York, and Hollywood. His poetry and plays focus almost exclusively on the land and people of rural Oklahoma, and he wrote with a dedication to respectfully and accurately representing the speech, philosophies, and cultures of his youth. His poetry follows in much the same fashion but also includes deeply reflective and melancholy elegies and poems of alienation and solitude. His most famous play, Green Grow the Lilacs (1929), became the model in 1943 for the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! His only play to focus on Indian issues was also his favorite: The Cherokee Night (1930). Lynn Riggs died in New York City on June 29, 1954, of cancer.

See also FILM: Oklahoma!

Daniel Heath Justice University of Toronto

Braunlich, Phyllis Cole. Haunted by Home: The Life and Letters of Lynn Riggs. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988.

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