Category Archives: Rilla Askew

It’s Not OK

The Oklahoman commemorates the 70th anniversary of the publication of The Grapes of Wrath with a pair of stories, a slideshow, and a video, elegantly presented, about how frustrated some Oklahomans continue to be with the book. (For starters, it’s “Oklahomans,” not “Okies.”) The Joads, the lead story notes, lived near the town of Sallisaw, but at least one expert argues that the town had nothing to do with the migration to California during the Dust Bowl:

The only hard feelings about the book are related to this and other discrepancies over what is true, [Sequoyah County Librarian Bethia] Owens said. Although Steinbeck had his book’s characters traveling to California for work, Owens said many migrant workers actually moved to Sallisaw to work and live.

“If he wanted to talk about pain and agony during the Depression here, he could have,” Owens said. “But we were going through different things.”

A different version of the article, published in the Tulsa World, mentions Rilla Askew‘s Harpsong, a 2007 novel that was intended in part to correct the portrayal of Oklahoma in John Steinbeck‘s book. As she explained in an interview shortly before the book came out:

I have tried to capture a different aspect of the Oklahoma character, not because of others’ complaints but from my own desire. The new book is set in the 1930′s, and of course that’s a troubled, iconic era for Oklahoma. We’ve lived in the shadow of Grapes of Wrath these many decades, and I both wanted to demythologize the era and set a few things straight. Mr. Steinbeck just got a few things wrong, you know. But besides that, I wanted to try to capture some of the best parts of us, our essential decency, the fact that, among Oklahomans, there’s a sense that people will ultimately do the right thing.