New Lynn Riggs Exhibit Showcases Famous Oklahoma Playwright

Learn more about the author of “Green Grow the Lilacs” at the Claremore Museum of History.

By: Liz Vierheller | Category: In Our Communities | Issue: May 2014

The new Lynn Riggs exhibit at Claremore Museum of History is a must-see.

The new Lynn Riggs exhibit at Claremore Museum of History is a must-see.

Decades before anyone had heard of writer-actor Tracy Letts or his award-winning play-turned-movie “August: Osage County,” a talented Cherokee playwright from Claremore propelled Oklahoma into the national spotlight. The playwright was Lynn Riggs, and a new exhibit at the Claremore Museum of History showcases the life and achievements of our state’s first famous playwright.

Although Lynn Riggs may not be a household name outside of our community, the legacy he left with his play “Green Grow the Lilacs” reaches far and wide. “Visitors to Claremore frequently ask ‘Who is Lynn Riggs?’ when they see the street signs bearing his name,” said museum docent Barbra Pool, “but once you explain his best-known play became the musical ‘Oklahoma!’ they are intrigued.”     

Whether you are a student of Oklahoma or Native American history, a theater buff or a fan of classic movies, the professionally designed exhibit, sponsored by RCB Bank, offers something for all, including a completely restored “surrey with fringe on top.”

“People tend to be very familiar with ‘Oklahoma!’ and rightly so,” said Pool. “When the musical opened on Broadway in 1943, it was a box office smash, running for 2,212 performances.” The American songwriting duo of Rodgers and Hammerstein won numerous awards for the production, including a special Pulitzer Prize in 1944. In 1955, the movie version won two Academy Awards and produced a soundtrack album that sold more than two million copies. In 1953, the signature song “Oklahoma!” became our official state song.

Lynn Riggs’s talent was not limited to playwriting. He was also a poet, journalist, artist and Hollywood screenwriter. “He had immense talent,” explained Pool. “And the exhibit captures all of it.”

After high school, Riggs embarked on an adventure that took him to Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles. He worked a variety of jobs. Some involved writing, which remained his passion. Eventually, he returned to his home state to attend the University of Oklahoma, where he majored in English and immersed himself in music, writing and drama. He also produced his first play and published his first poem. Although he left OU after his junior year due to health reasons, he was already attracting attention as a playwright.

One of his first plays earned Riggs a Guggenheim Fellowship, affording him the opportunity to spend a year in France, where he wrote “Green Grow the Lilacs.” Not unlike other influential southern playwrights, Riggs incorporated the themes, people, and places that he knew growing up. “Lynn Riggs’s Cherokee heritage, his childhood experiences and his family life greatly influenced his writing,” said Pool. “Even in Paris, he was writing about the land and people of rural Oklahoma.”

The Claremore Museum of History is located at Gazebo Park at the junction of Will Rogers Boulevard (Main Street) and Weenonah. The museum is open each Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Special viewing times may be arranged for groups. Museum admission is free but a $2 donation per person is appreciated.

For more information, contact

Claremore Museum of History

(918) 341-5630

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Claremore Museum of History

For more information, contact:

Claremore Museum of History

(918) 923-6490
121 N. Weenonah Ave. | Claremore, OK

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