Oklahoma Voices
11:00 am
Mon March 24, 2014

Immigration Inspiration: Oklahoma Novel Framed By Controversial 2007 Law

In 2007, Gov. Brad Henry signed some of the country’s strictest anti-immigration legislation into law.

House Bill 1804 by state Rep. Randy Terrill (R-Moore) made it a felony for the state to provide education and health care services to illegal immigrants, and requires police to investigate the immigration status of anyone “suspected” of being in this country illegally.

Seven years later, the controversial law and its effect on people form the basis for Oklahoma native Rilla Askew’s fourth novel Kind of Kin, now out in paperback.

“I'm always writing about the coming together and the clash between cultures and races in Oklahoma,” Askew says. “I was disturbed by the notion of a bill like that.”

Three months after the bill went into effect Askew woke up one morning with a voice in her head.

“It was a child's voice, and he was quoting his aunt," Askew says. “He said, 'Your granddaddy's a felon. He's a felon and a Christian. He says he's a felon because he's a Christian.' [And the novel] unfolded. It was if the voices started talking in my head and I followed them."

The book is based on true events, and Askew spent considerable time at the state Capitol researching the legislative process. But neither Terrill nor state Rep. Brian Renegar (D-McAlester), who introduced the two, appear in the book.

"I made clear that I was making the state lawmaker a female, and from an entirely different part of the state," Askew says. "And she has her own agenda, fictionally, in the novel that's nothing like any actual person I spoke with."

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