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Lynn Riggs was born into an Oklahoma Cherokee family. His father was a cowboy, and young Lynn was at home with the open range. As a youth he drove a grocery wagon to make money and entertained himself with what he would later describe as “trashy lurid fiction.” In his late teens, Riggs traveled on both coasts earning money as an office and factory worker, book salesman, and singer in motion picture houses. Following these experiences, he attended the University of Oklahoma and, as a sophomore, taught freshman English classes.

Riggs’s first play was a farce, Cuckoo, written in 1921. Growing up, he was deeply influenced by the speech, music, and folklore of his neighbors. This play and subsequent works are deeply colored by Cherokee community observations. In 1923 he toured the west, singing tenor in a Chautauqua quartet, and ended up joining a Santa Fe artists’ colony. He published some poetry, and the colony produced his play Knives from Syria.

Riggs left the artists’ colony and settled in New York to write. He was given a Guggenheim fellowship in 1929 and spent a year in Paris writing the plays Roadside (later reworked as Borned in Texas) and Green Grow the Lilacs. Upon returning to New York, he experienced his first commercial success with a 1933 production of Green Grow the Lilacs. Later, Rodgers and Hammerstein acquired the play and transformed it into the Broadway production Oklahoma!

In later years, Riggs wrote several plays, but none achieved the artistic or commercial success of Green Grow the Lilacs. He lived for a time in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and associated with playwright Paul Green, another American playwright who used folklore provocatively in drama.


Braunlich, Phyllis. Haunted by Home: The Life and Letters of Lynn Riggs. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988. An important biography and critical analysis of Riggs’s works. Illustrations, complete listing of Riggs’s works, extensive bibliography, and index.

Braunlich, Phyllis Cole. “The Oklahoma Plays of R. Lynn Riggs.” World Literature Today 64 (Summer, 1990): 120-136.

Brenton, Joseph. “Some Personal Reminiscences About Lynn Riggs.” Chronicles of Oklahoma 34 (Autumn, 1956): 296-301. A warm remembrance of Riggs by Brenton, who knew him from his earliest college days in Oklahoma to his death in New York. Brenton places some of Riggs’s major decisions and accomplishments into biographical context.

Downer, Alan S. Fifty Years of American Drama. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1951. In the chapter entitled “Folk Drama,” Downer suggests that Green Grow the Lilacs, and more important, Roadside, epitomize the American folk drama. The plays are distinguished above other Western melodramas by their poetry of speech, warm humanity, and characters. Index.

Erhard, Thomas. Lynn Riggs: Southwest Playwright. Austin, Tex.: Steck-Vaughn, 1970. This forty-four-page monograph provides an excellent biography and critical introduction to Riggs’s plays. Erhard comments on the playwright’s use of the territorial Oklahoma dialect and settings to tell universal stories of human drama.

Wilk, M. OK! The Story of Oklahoma! 1993. Reprint. New York: Applause, 2002. Discusses Riggs’s contribution to the musical theater.

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Critical Essays