Author Sam Anderson Discusses His Book About Oklahoma City
Sam Anderson, a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine, describes his debut book as "a love letter to Oklahoma City, which is the most secretly interesting place in America."
The book is Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its Apocalyptic Weather, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-Class Metropolis.
KGOU's Claire Donnelly sat down with Anderson.
FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT:
Claire Donnelly: Not being from Oklahoma City, why did you write a book about Oklahoma City?
Sam Anderson: So I've always had an eye out for a subject that would force me to write a book about it. And I didn't want to jump into something lightly. I didn't want to toss off a first book. I wanted my first book to be something that I connected with on a really deep, spiritual level. So I was just waiting and waiting and waiting. And when I came out here to write about the Thunder in 2012 I just had that feeling right away.
Donnelly: So what was your first visit to Oklahoma City like?
Anderson: Yeah, so the Thunder--I admit, I was mildly annoyed at the time--I came out to write about the Thunder. And they were very resistant to being written about. And one of the things they insisted on was on my first trip, I wasn't meeting any basketball players. I was meeting people from the city. I was getting and driving tour from Bill Citty, the police chief.
Bill Citty drove me around for...It must have been three hours. He said "Anything else you want to do?" And I said "Well, the state fair is going on. I was kind of curious about that." He said, "All right, let's go see the State Fair." Bill Citty drives me to the state fair and just grabs a golf cart. And he drives me all over the state fair on a golf cart. And we're, you know, looking at all the different fried foods for sale and we're talking about LeBron James and this and that. And it was just such a perfect first experience in Oklahoma City.
Donnelly: So the structure of your book connects a lot of threads together. You know, you touch on basketball a lot. You touch on Wayne Coyne, The Flaming Lips...the history of the city, the founding of the city, the Land Run, the Pei plan-- I mean, it's all in there.
Donnelly: Tornadoes, weather, Gary England. If you had to describe your back in like, a couple of sentences…
Anderson: Then I wouldn't have written a 400 page book, I guess. But if I had to describe it, I would say it is a love letter to Oklahoma City, which is the most secretly interesting place in America.
Donnelly: That's very poetic.
Anderson: Thank you. I think it's true.
Donnelly: One of the passages that really stuck with me from the book is when you are...you and Wayne Coyne are going to go paint, paint the Plaza District. And I'll have you read from it in second, but what I like is that it starts with this sort of madcap adventure with the lead singer of The Flaming Lips, and then you get very reflective about the three different Oklahoma cities. If you can just give a little background...?
Anderson: So Wayne Coyne is really fun to hang around. And he will rope you into these crazy schemes because that's what he's up to and you're around and so why don't you join him? And one of those schemes when I was in town one time was to paint a rainbow on the pavement all around his neighborhood in the Plaza District. It happened at 4:00 a.m. And he had already bought the paint-- just six cans of house paint in rainbow colors. We punched holes in the bottom and we just walked in a line all around the neighborhood, dribbling this paint behind us.
"Everyone in town existed in some combination of these three worlds simultaneously. The city of Oklahoma City, OKC, Oklahoma City. Law, fantasy, history. Process, boom and a synthesis of the two. We were pouring our rainbow onto all three of these places at once. And in each of them it meant something different."
There you go, gets pretty deep.
Donnelly: Very philosophical, yeah. But I want--I'm curious about those three--if you feel like those all three still exist?
Anderson: Yeah, I definitely do. I feel like we're all kind of weaving between those three all the time. I mean, there's, you know, excitement in downtown. You know, the opening new restaurants and that's kind of this this OKC, glitzy push. That's what the Thunder is kind of a part of. But then, of course, you have to have this whole infrastructure that supports that, that makes all that possible. And that's all the boring bureaucratic stuff that's going on.
And then you've got this larger envelope that holds all of that, which is just the historical reality of this place that we're all in right now. Which is so deep and so vast and goes all the way back to deep time. And like, my book starts with an account of Pangaea, you know, what Oklahoma City would have been like in Pangaea, when it would have been covered by a salty ocean full of weird sharks and clams and things. And that's what I feel when I walk around this place. I feel like I exist in these different time signatures, in these different places all at the same time.