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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

Collecting oral histories

“Up ahead they's a thousan' lives we might live, but when it comes it'll on'y be one.”

— John Steinbeck, “The Grapes of Wrath”

The trek continues at 7 p.m. Friday at the Oklahoma History Center, where Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society; Bob Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum; Oklahoma historian and author Michael Wallis; and a Steinbeck scholar Susan Schillinglaw will participate in a panel discussion called “Steinbeck and Oklahoma: 75 Years.”

The event and the first-floor exhibits will be free and open to the public, said Larry O'Dell, the Oklahoma Historical Society's director of special projects/development.

On Saturday, the Horseless Carriage Club of America will have a free show of 1930s-era cars from 1:30 to 4 p.m. in the history center parking lot. A free afternoon workshop that is also open to the public will offer tips on how to collect oral histories from parents, grandparents and other relatives.

The traveling artists will do oral history interviews about what it means to be an Okie with notable Sooner State denizens as well as everyday Oklahomans who lived through the Great Depression, O'Dell said.

The group also will tour Clinton's Route 66 Museum on Saturday before crossing into Texas.

Lasting impressions

“Man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, and emerges ahead of his accomplishments.”

— John Steinbeck, “The Grapes of Wrath”

Oklahomans' reactions to “The Grapes of Wrath” vary depending on whether they've actually read the book or just seen Ford's visually dramatic movie, Blackburn said.

In addition, older residents are more likely to view Steinbeck's depiction of Okies and Oklahoma in a negative light.

“The Greatest Generation still sees red, and ... the Baby Boomers, we're from that '50s subculture. And the Joads are rebels, they are survivors, they are getting back to basics, organic. To us, they are the heroes. To the Greatest Generation who lived through those times of the '30s and '40s, it's an embarrassment,” Blackburn said.

“John Steinbeck was a genius. We all know that. He created a great piece of art; too many people look at it as history.”

A prominent Mexican-American playwright, Solis sees striking parallels between the plight of Steinbeck's Joad family and the challenges his parents and millions of other Latino immigrants face today.

“I'm kind of intrigued about it, because I didn't know ... that there are still ill feelings toward it. Because to me, growing up where I was, it felt like he was trying to make a statement about the human condition based on something that was very real and historic and was happening at the time,” Solis said.

“I think there's some very, very strong veins of truth that he was mining.”

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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