Oklahoma City University News
Dust Bowl Letters Topic of Book Discussion
The next “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma” book discussion Sept. 29 at Oklahoma City University will take a first-person look at the Dust Bowl era with Caroline Henderson’s “Letters from the Dust Bowl,” edited by Alvin O. Turner.
An educated homesteader committed to the Jefferson vision of the American dream, Henderson presents an unusual inside look at life during the Dust Bowl. Her articles and personal correspondence, dating from 1908 to 1966, give a glimpse of farm life on the plains.
The “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma” focuses on those who lived through the tumultuous decade of the 1930s—the “Dirty Thirties”— who experienced one of the greatest ecological and economic disasters ever to strike Oklahoma and most of the Southern Plains. Beginning in the summer of 1931, eight years of extreme weather conditions ruined farm communities across the plains.
Ill-suited farming techniques coupled with the lack of rain and high winds resulted in a relentless series of choking dust storms. The term “Dust Bowl” was coined to describe the parched, barren landscape, and the Oklahoma Panhandle in particular became No Man’s Land of despair—ground zero in this great American tragedy—as a way of life seemed to come to an end. From these hardships, stories emerged of courage and determination to survive.
Harbour Winn, director of OCU’s Center for Interpersonal Studies through Film and Literature, commented on the written history, novels, letters and poetry books being used for the discussions to show how ordinary people coped with extraordinary circumstances.
“The books in this series give voice to the sorrows, struggles and great endurances of these people,” Winn said. “As we confront another time of ecological and economic challenges now, can we learn from the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression?”
At each “Let’s Talk About It” session, a humanities scholar will make a 30-40 minute presentation on the book in the context of the theme. Small group discussions will follow. Participants will come together for a brief wrap-up at the end of each session.
The sessions are held in Walker Center room 151 from 7 to 9 p.m. on alternating Tuesdays beginning Sept. 15. Those interested in participating are encouraged to pre-register and borrow the reading selections and theme brochure by calling Winn at (405) 208-5472, e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org or coming to the Dulaney-Browne Library room 211. Information can also be found on the Web site of Center for Interpersonal Studies through Film & Literature: www.okcu.edu/film-lit/
Books, services and other materials for this series are provided by "Let's Talk About It, Oklahoma," a project of the Oklahoma Humanities Council with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Funding for this series was provided by a grant from the Inasmuch Foundation.
Other “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma” Fall 2009 readings and dates:
• Oct. 13 — Josephine W. Johnson’s “Now in November”
Winner of the 1935 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Johnson’s novel renders a vivid portrait of family life and the journey from girlhood to adulthood through the point of view of a daughter. The backdrop of labor unrest, strikes, racism and gender roles place the book in its historical time.
• Oct. 27 — Sanora Babb’s “Whose Names are Unknown”
Written in 1939 but not published until 2004 after John Steinbeck’s success, Babb’s long-hidden novel tells the story of farmers who fled the dust storms only to find the degrading conditions of work farms in California.
• Nov.10 — Karen Hesse’s “Out of the Dust”
Winner of the Newbury Medal, Hesse’s novel recounts the coming of age of her protagonist amidst the landscape of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. Written in memorable free verse, Hesse paints an eloquent closing view of the series theme.