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Book discussion looks at Dust Bowl camp life

Oklahoman Modified: October 19, 2009 at 10:59 am •  Published: October 15, 2009
The next “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma” book discussion Oct. 27 at Oklahoma City University will look at Dust Bowl reflections through 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.

The “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma” discussion series focuses on the stories of those who lived through the tumultuous decade of the 1930s—the “Dirty Thirties”— and 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.

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