Writing from the fields: Dust Bowl Okie literature
This dissertation focuses on the literature by and about Dust Bowl migrants in the harvest fields of California, Oregon, and Washington from 1935 to the present. Chapter one, “Middle Class Art and Working Class Subjectivity: The Creation of Dust Bowl Okie Identities,” argues that the Okie subject was in large part created by non-Okie documentarians of the migration such as John Steinbeck, Dorothea Lange, Paul Taylor, and John Ford. The novel, The Grapes of Wrath (1939), had a profound effect in shaping not only the American public's idea of Okies, but significantly influenced how Okies came to understand their own experience. Building on this idea, chapter two, “Voice[s] of the Migrant [I]: Speaking and Writing in the Migrant Newspapers,” takes as its task what has yet to be discussed in the Dust Bowl migration scholarship: how Okie migrants chose to represent themselves and their experience in literature. The Farm Security Administration camp newspapers, written and produced by migrants, demonstrate the migrants' desire to resist Okie stereotypes and their frustration with the mainstream media's portrayal of Dust Bowl Okies. Chapter three, “Reapers of the Dust: Toward an Okie Literature,” introduces readers to the body of post-Civil Rights writings (short stories, novels, memoirs, and poetry) by four self-identified Okie writers: Gerald Haslam, Lois Phillips Hudson, Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel, and Dorothy Rose. This chapter discusses how Okie writers continue to disrupt mainstream stereotypes of their experience a generation after the migration. Second-generation Okie writers rely on explorations of home, nation, race, gender, tradition, class, and regional heritage to narrate their identity and experience. Chapter four, “Migration and Racialization: Growing up Okie in the West,” examines second-generation writers' specific attention to racialization experiences. I consider the history of Okie racialization in the West and explore how second-generation Okie writers choose to narrate this aspect of their identity. Ultimately, while the Okies encountered experiences similar to those of immigrant groups to the U.S., the study of the literature of the Dust Bowl migration allows for new interpretations of theories of migration, race, and nationality.
0323: American studies