Native son speaks on writing career

Judge Parrish shares experience

By Katrina Goforth -

Three-time published author and Altus native Kim Parrish spoke about his experiences as a writer and researcher at the Altus Public Library Wednesday.

Parrish began his writing career as a law student at Harvard University’s Kennedy School where he developed a fascination with the books that people read, especially those that influence their formative years.

“If you ask people about their favorite books — the ones they grew up reading — it’s almost like grandparents talking about their grandchildren,” Parrish said. “They hold a special place in their lives.”

With a couple of his friends, Parrish interviewed about 50 tenured professors at Harvard about the books that have shaped their thinking. What resulted was a small, self-published book that was sold to his Harvard classmates as a memento.

By chance, a Harper Row publisher picked up a copy and “The Harvard Guide to Reading for the Future,” expanded to a professionally-published book featuring 113 eminent Harvard professors and the books that shaped their lives in “The Harvard Guide to Influential Books.”

The expanded version gave Parrish a deeper look at the professors he interacted with and the understanding that books are more than printed words bound in leather, but become more like family members.

Parrish remembers the psychologist, B.F. Skinner, rebuffing his interview questions for the book stating that he does not read books, but writes book that other people read.

While there were those who resisted, Parrish recalls that the Bible was mentioned as an influential text about 14 times. The book enjoyed modest success, never receiving royalty payments beyond the initial royalty paid by Harper Row to publish the book.

“Your list is also very important,” Parrish said. “I encourage you to go back and look at those that influenced your life and discuss them with your friends.”

Parrish spent his childhood building his own list. As a child growing up in Altus, his father’s office was near the public library where he spent many hours. His brother’s bed-ridden state also offered him a chance to spend an afternoon with his brother pouring over the volumes that his family kept.

“It became a comfort and a passion to enter these different worlds and places through a book,” Parrish said.

After graduating from Harvard Kennedy School, Parrish spent part of his life working in Washington D.C., the Oklahoma County’s District Attorney’s office and former Oklahoma Attorney General Larry Derryberry’s law firm.

His second book, “Cowboy Up,” was inspired by his experiences as a wrestler in high school and college at Oklahoma State University and John Feinstein’s “A Season on the Brink.”

Parrish spent six months conducting primary research with Oklahoma State University’s Olympic gold medalist wrestling coach, John Smith, and his national title-winning team.

“I knew if I was going to write this I was going to get nose-to-nose with my subject,” Parrish said. “That meant I rode on the bus with the team, went to practices and experienced it all with the team.”

Parrish decided he wouldn’t interview the wrestlers. Instead, he watched and listened as they practiced and performed.

“That’s how you really get to know their dreams and understand their lives,” Parrish said. “It was a culture of very high expectations, and none of them greater than the anxiety that came from within.”

That year, Oklahoma State University produced five national champion wrestlers — an unheard of number for a college wrestling team, according to Parrish.

His third book, “Making Things Better,” a biography of Oklahoma’s former House Representative Wes Watkins, took Parrish back to the researching and interviewing process with 250 interviews and thousands of pages of data kept by Watkins.

“He kept his election returns and knew each county down to the street and the individual,” Parrish said. “Anyone who met Wes knows he had a way of connecting personally with everyone and that’s what set him apart.”

Currently, Parrish serves a judge at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review in Oklahoma City. He still enters a library or a bookstore in eager anticipation of what he might find.

“You never know when you will find a book that will change your life,” he said.

Reach Katrina Goforth at 580-482-1221, ext. 2077.

Judge Parrish shares experience

By Katrina Goforth

Reach Katrina Goforth at 580-482-1221, ext. 2077.

Reach Katrina Goforth at 580-482-1221, ext. 2077.

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