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Rollie Lynn Riggs was born on August 31, 1899 in the Verdigris Valley south of Claremore, Indian Territory. He was the son of William Grant Riggs, and Rose Ella Duncan Gillis Riggs, who was 1/8 Cherokee. Before his mother died when he was two she secured a Cherokee Allotment for him which helped support him later.
In 1912, Riggs entered Eastern University Preparatory School. After graduating from high school in 1917, he traveled to Chicago and New York. He returned home and entered the University of Oklahoma in 1920 where he became an English instructor after his first year. He began writing poems and plays.
During his senior year at OU, he was stricken with tuberculosis and went to Santa Fe to recuperate. The environment encouraged his writing. He left in 1925 to go to Chicago and New York to continue writing plays and poetry.
In 1928, Riggs sailed to France supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship. While in Cannes-Sur-Mer, he wrote his best-known play, "Green Grow the Lilacs," a glowing tribute to his Indian Territory birth-place. It included favorite old cowboy songs. The Theater Guild opened "Green Grow the Lilacs" on Broadway on January 26, 1931. It ran for 64 performances, toured the Midwest , and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
In 1943, Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted this play into "Oklahoma!" Their music replaced the old folk songs, but the script closely follows Riggs play.
With a steady income from "Oklahoma!" Riggs moved to Shelter Island , New York and continued to write. Before he died in 1954, Lynn Riggs wrote 21 full-length plays, numerous short stories, poems, and even a television script.
The first two Oklahoma Literary Landmarks, - Okemah honoring Woody Guthrie and Oklahoma City honoring Ralph Ellison - have been placed on the National Register of FOLUSA. This program is an official Oklahoma Centennial Project. One landmark will be named each year honoring note-worthy, Oklahoma,literary figures.
United for Libraries’ Literary Landmark for Lynn Riggs was re-dedicated in partnership with Friends of Libraries in Oklahoma (FOLIO) on September. 5, 2014 in Claremore, Oklahoma.
Originally dedicated in 2003 and placed at the Claremore Public Library, the Literary Landmark plaque was relocated to the newly renovated Claremore Museum of History/Lynn Riggs Memorial Museum. The museum has a permanent exhibit honoring Riggs, a mixed-blood Cherokee, who was born and raised near Claremore in Territorial Oklahoma.
A poet, screenwriter and playwright, Lynn Riggs (1899-1954) is best-known as the author of “Green Grow the Lilacs,” a play that became one of the most popular musicals of all time: “Oklahoma!” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s production of “Oklahoma!” opened in 1943 and was revolutionary for musical drama. In 1955 the musical became the Academy Award-winning film starring Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae.