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Retracing Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes of Wrath’ Journey to Record Today’s Hard Times

| September 27, 2013
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The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas. (Stephen Gough/Flickr Commons)

The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas. (Stephen Gough/Flickr Commons)

By Kristi Eaton, Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — A trio of artists soon will travel from Oklahoma to California, retracing the steps taken by the Joad family from “The Grapes of Wrath” as part of the upcoming 75th anniversary of John Steinbeck’s novel-turned-film.

The artists — along with representatives from the National Steinbeck Center – will travel along Route 66 gathering oral histories of people and asking what helps them get through hard times. The group will start in Oklahoma on Oct. 4 and make stops in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas. The trip will conclude in California 10 days later.

“John Steinbeck was very interested in going out and listening to the people and the stories of the people. He got his greatest inspiration for his best work really when he did that,” said Colleen Bailey, executive director of the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas.

‘John Steinbeck was very interested in going out and listening to the people and the stories of the people. He got his greatest inspiration for his best work really when he did that.’

The three artists — San Francisco playwright Octavio Solis, writer Patricia Wakida and filmmaker P.J. Palmer — will then use the information and stories to create new work.

The artists will be documenting the journey through social media, blogging and other channels, and it will be shared during the 75th anniversary celebration of “The Grapes of Wrath” next year.

“There are so many similarities to what people were facing back in the `30s and what they’re facing today,” Bailey said, noting environmental challenges and the economy. “We’ve just been through the Great Recession and I’m not sure we’re really all the way through it, so really to hear what people have suffered and what inspires them to keep them moving forward in these times of challenges.”

The group is looking for stories from a diverse cross section of people — young and old, rich and poor. In Oklahoma, stories from Native America will be important, Bailey said.

Different organizations and groups will be holding events in conjunction with the journey. A vintage car show will take place on Oct. 5 in Oklahoma City, while live music will be a part of the journey when the group stops in Albuquerque, N.M., on Oct. 9.

Wakida, the writer and historian, will be teaching linoleum-carving and printing during the journey, as well as conducting oral histories with people she encounters. As a fourth-generation Japanese-American who grew up in California’s Central Valley, Wakida said the Joad family’s forced migration mirror her family’s experience.

During World War II, both her mother and father were forced into American internment camps.

“Those unseen circumstances that can change your destiny are seen throughout American history and are reminders to us all that the cycles of economics, prejudice and the need to participate in a democratic society are always with us,” she said.

Wakida said she hopes to provide people with a chance to share their history and how they overcome obstacles like high unemployment, droughts and floods, health care woes and more.

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Category: Arts and Entertainment, Education, Poverty Issues

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