Marking the 70th anniversary of the publication of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, today The Oklahoman had a story — front page — about the evolution of the term “Okie” from slur (intentional or perceived) to proud label of strength against adversity. A sidebar story looked at reactions to the book through history.
Quoted in the article (and this really impressed me, so credit where it’s due), was Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, a native “Okie” who now lives in San Francisco. They mentioned her book, Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie, which is certainly appropriate for the topic at hand, but she’s a radical lefty (the subtitle of her site is “feminist, revolutionary, historian”), so getting a plug in The Oklahoman was unexpected (by me, anyway).
OPUBCO also produced a video about the how residents of Sallisaw, Oklahoma — where Steinbeck’s fictional Joad family was from — feel about the use of their town in the book (see below). The Dust Bowl didn’t hit Sallisaw much, and I suspect the town was used because of the emotional resonance of its name. Anyway, many of them are still miffed about it, and profess not to like the book or film, though it’s doubtful they’ve read it since a teacher in the video seems to indicate that they are not made to read the iconic novel, and can substitute another Steinbeck work. That way it’s much easier to continue to perpetrate the myth that Steinbeck was maligning poor folk from Oklahoma.
Anyway, it’s worth a look at the graphically enhanced online feature that expands the sidebar story from the dead tree edition into somewhat broader overview of the book’s history of controversy and acclaim.