Billie Letts dies at 76; author of bestseller ‘Where the Heart Is’


Best-selling author Billie Letts, whose 1995 novel “Where the Heart Is” was selected by Oprah Winfrey for her book club and then adapted into a movie, has died in Oklahoma. She was 76.

Letts died Saturday in Tulsa of acute myeloid leukemia. Her publicist, Arlene Johnson, confirmed her death.

While teaching English and creative writing at Southeastern Oklahoma State University for years, Letts wrote poetry and screenplays of her own. She found success after turning a short story about an unwed pregnant teenager who finds refuge in a Wal-Mart into the novel “Where the Heart Is.”


Published in 1995, when Letts was 57, the novel was chosen as an Oprah’s Book Club selection in 1998 and reached the top of the bestseller lists. In 2000 it became a film starring Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing and Joan Cusak.

Letts followed with three more novels — “The Honk and Holler Opening Soon” (1998), “Shoot the Moon” (2004) and “Made in the U.S.A.” (2008).

Born May 30, 1938, in Tulsa, Letts received a bachelor’s degree in English and education from Southeast Missouri State University and a master’s in behavioral studies from Southeastern Oklahoma State University.

She married Dennis Letts in 1958. The couple held teaching positions in the Midwest before settling in Durant, Okla., where they both taught English at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.

After the success of her first novel, Letts left teaching behind to write full time. Her husband also retired, and became an actor, playing a small part in the movie based on her bestseller. He died in 2008.

She is survived by three sons — Dana Letts, musician Shawn Letts and playwright and actor Tracy Letts. Tracy Letts won a Pulitzer Prize for his play “August: Osage County,” which was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.