History of the Award

The high point of 1985 for the library system was the initial Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award given in recognition of a “distinguished body of work written in the field of literature and letters.”  The award was named in honor of Mrs. Helmerich whose “personal belief in, and commitment to, the library has inspired many others and whose leadership has sparked a renewed spirit of pride and dedication among library staff and volunteers,” in the words of Trust president Robert LaFortune.  The award consisted of a medal and a $5,000 honorarium [the prize today consists of an engraved crystal book and a $40,000 honorarium].  The recipient was expected to give a formal address or reading at the award dinner, a black tie affair held on the second floor of the Central Library.  An informal address before a general audience was to be given on the following day. The recipient was to be chosen by a board of judges without applications from authors, publishers or outside nominators. 

Norman Cousins

Thomas Keneally

Co-sponsored by the Tulsa Library Trust and the library, the first award dinner was held December 6 [to this day it continues to be held on the first Friday in December].  The theme for the evening was “The Salutary Aspects of Laughter.” In keeping with the theme, guests were met with stand-up posters comedians and a photographic display “Laughter is All Around Us.” Former Library Commission chairman Claud Miller and Rosetta Mulmed, past president of the Friends of the Library were inducted into the Library’s Hall of Fame. Norman Cousins, professor of medical humanities at UCLA and author of Anatomy of an Illness was the honoree. As editor of the Saturday Review of Literature from 1942 to 1971 and again from 1975 to 1978, Cousins appealed to the literary imagination of his listeners as well as to those fascinated by the healing role of humor.  The sold-out dinner and standing-room-only appearance of Cousins the following morning in the Aaronson Auditorium launched the award events. 

--taken from the history book Tulsa City-County Library, 1912-1991