Share “Artists to retrace the Joads’ journey to...”

BAM's Blog!

NewsOK | BLOGS

Artists to retrace the Joads’ journey to mark 75th anniversary of The Grapes of Wrath" starting Friday in Sallisaw and Oklahoma City

by Brandy McDonnell Modified: September 29, 2013 at 8:20 am •  Published: September 29, 2013

A version of this story appears in the Sunday Life section of The Oklahoman.

Artists to retrace the Joads’ journey to mark 75th anniversary of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’
The trek on Route 66 begins in Sallisaw Friday and continues along Route 66 through Oklahoma City; Amarillo, Texas; Albuquerque, N.M.; Flagstaff, Ariz.; and Bakersfield, Calif., with various workshops, panels and events along the way.

“Muscles aching to work, minds aching to create beyond 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/director, along with filmmaker P.J. Palmer and visual artist Patricia Wakida, will fly from California to Oklahoma City 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 commissioned 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.

“Every day is packed and over those 10 days we drive to Bakersfield with numerous little pit stops. It’ll take about as long as the Joad family did. I think in their little jalopy they made even more stops,” he said with a laugh. “It feels like an epic journey … and in those days, especially with a car laden the way it was, it was moving something like 30 miles per hour, and there wasn’t even freeway either.”

“I think we get to experience a little bit of what they did in terms of seeing the country … that none of them had ever seen before and feeling like strangers in their own land. I think we’re gonna be feeling a little bit like fish out of water and I think that’s intentional. I think it’s OK to feel that but also to come, like the Joad family, with humility to those places and then get the people’s stories, get their impression of what the novel has meant to them,” he added.

Beginning Friday, three award-winning artists - playwright Octavio Solis, visual artist Patricia Wakida and filmmaker P.J. Palmer - will join the National Steinbeck Center to retrace the journey that "The Grapes of Wrath's" fictional Joad family took from Sallisaw to Bakersfield, Calif., along Route 66.
Beginning Friday, three award-winning artists - playwright Octavio Solis, visual artist Patricia Wakida and filmmaker P.J. Palmer - will join the National Steinbeck Center to retrace the journey that "The Grapes of Wrath's" fictional Joad family took from Sallisaw to Bakersfield, Calif., along Route 66.

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.

“Sallisaw was never a Dust Bowl. Sequoyah County suffered the Depression and they had two floods (in the late 1920s and ‘30s) that wiped out the crops. They had all those kinds of things happening, but it wasn’t a lack of water,” Owens said. “He didn’t get that part right, but how hard people worked to survive and how families worked together, that’s all part of the book. And I think that’s still true for lots of people today.”

Representatives from 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.”

This 1965 file photo shows author John Steinbeck winner of the 1962 Nobel Prize for literature. (AP)
This 1965 file photo shows author John Steinbeck winner of the 1962 Nobel Prize for literature. (AP)

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 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 10 a.m. to 2 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 their 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.

“There’s a few generations … that hate Steinbeck and hate the word Okie, and it’s kind of come full swing where it’s kind of cool to be an Okie. I think it’s an interesting dynamic, and Steinbeck’s the one that put it out to the world,” O’Dell said.

Playwright Octavio Solis will be one of three artists who retrace the route the fictional Joad family took from Oklahoma to California in "The Grapes of Wrath."
Playwright Octavio Solis will be one of three artists who retrace the route the fictional Joad family took from Oklahoma to California in "The Grapes of Wrath."

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, Stolis sees striking parallels between 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,” said Solis, adding the group also will tour Clinton’s Route 66 Museum Saturday before crossing into Texas.

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

GOING ON

Oklahoma events on “The Grapes of Wrath” journey

SALLISAW

Kickoff luncheon.

When: Noon Friday.

Where: Stanley Tubbs Memorial Library, 101 E Cherokee, Sallisaw.

Admission: Free and open to the public; reservations required.

Information: (918) 775-4481.

OKLAHOMA CITY

Panel discussion “Steinbeck and Oklahoma: 75 Years.”

When: 7 p.m. Friday.

Where: Oklahoma History Center, 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive.

Admission: Free and open to the public.

Horseless Carriage Club of America vintage car show.

When: 1:30 to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Outside Oklahoma History Center.

Admission: Free.

Oral History Collection Workshop

When: 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Oklahoma History Center.

Admission: Free and open to the public.

Information: 522-5248 or www.grapesofwrath75.org.

-BAM

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...
+ show more


Trending Now


AROUND THE WEB

  1. 1
    Carmelo Anthony likely will miss Friday's game against Thunder
  2. 2
    Marcus Smart could play this weekend for Boston Celtics
  3. 3
    Creed's Scott Stapp Reveals He's Homeless in Jarring New Video
  4. 4
    Injury could mean Xavier Henry gets cut from Lakers
  5. 5
    Couple suing famous Little League team over bad throw
+ show more