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Artists to retrace family's journey to mark 75th anniversary of 'Grapes of Wrath'

A journey along Route 66 to mark the 75th anniversary of “The Grapes of Wrath” begins Friday in Sallisaw. It continues along Route 66 through Oklahoma City; Amarillo, Texas; Albuquerque, N.M.; Flagstaff, Ariz.; and Bakersfield, Calif., with workshops, panels and events along the way.
by Brandy McDonnell Published: September 29, 2013

“Muscles aching to work, minds aching to createbeyond the single need — this is man.”

— John Steinbeck, “The Grapes of Wrath”

Octavio Solis considers Tom Joad “our American Everyman.”

And the renowned playwright is looking forward to retracing the journey the fictional hero of “The Grapes of Wrath” took in John Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

“We're not going to experience any of the pangs of hunger or pain that the Joad family or any of the real true migrants that left Oklahoma for California underwent,” Solis said. “But I think we want to get a sense of the American character today by going on this trip and seeing people of all walks of life on this journey.”

The San Francisco writer and director, along with filmmaker P.J. Palmer and visual artist Patricia Wakida, will fly from California to Oklahoma City on Thursday and then drive to Sallisaw to begin their 10-day trek to Bakersfield, Calif.

Sojourning in a rented RV instead of an old Hudson truck, the artists and a film crew will travel along Route 66 through Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Texas, Albuquerque, N.M., and Flagstaff, Ariz., participating in various workshops, panels and events along the way.

The journey leads up to the National Steinbeck Center's “Grapes of Wrath” 75th anniversary celebration next year. The artists will use their experiences to create new works to be presented at the 2014 Steinbeck Festival May 2-4 at the center, located in the late author's hometown of Salinas, Calif.

An El Paso, Texas, native, Solis, 55, said he is eager to begin the trip in Oklahoma, where people still have mixed feelings about how Steinbeck's book and Tom Ford's Oscar-winning 1940 film version depicted the Sooner State and its people during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression.

Starting in Sallisaw

“How can we live without our lives? How will we know it's us without our past?”

— John Steinbeck, “The Grapes of Wrath”

The journey will start Friday with a luncheon featuring a 1930s farm menu and photo display at the Stanley Tubbs Memorial Library in Sallisaw, where the fictional Joads lived and worked as tenant farmers at the outset of Steinbeck's National Book Award winner. The event is free and open to the public, but reservations are required.

Branch manager Bethia Owens said she leads seasonal twice-monthly luncheons focusing on Oklahoma books, and the discussions typically attract retirees who have fascinating stories to share.

Representatives from the Oklahoma Oral History Research Program at Oklahoma State University will conduct group interviews about the book at Friday's event.

“Any number of things went on in ‘Grapes of Wrath' that we still have all those same issues today,” Owens said. “Unemployment was very high during that time period when he wrote the novel. The climate affected it. The government affected it. The bank foreclosures. ... It's about how to survive hard times.”

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by Brandy McDonnell
Entertainment Reporter
Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1...
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