The Oklahoma Experience: The Thirties

Winter 2007

One of the most controversial periods of Oklahoma history is the 1930’s, the decade of the Dust Bowl, the Depression, and the depiction of people fleeing hard times as Okies. Long neglected by historians on the grounds that nobody cares to be reminded of these years, this decade remains the most misunderstood in Oklahoma history. It is popularly believed to have been only a time of dust and depression, when Oklahomans—or worse, Okies—were objects of national scorn, derision, or pity. As we experience our state’s Centennial, shouldn’t we as Oklahomans reexamine this period and confront its events unequivocally? The biography, two memoirs, and two novels of this series suggest that while economic problems strained the social fabric of life, a vigorous cultural climate emerged. Does adversity once again make for triumph, and do hardships strengthen both resolve and character? If you want the stimulation of being exposed to the minds of five provocative and entertaining writers, please join us for this “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma” reading and discussion series. Some of our region’s finest writers will challenge us to explore from the perspective of the present the relationships among the varied people whom Woody Guthrie described as the “Dust Bowl Refugees.”

Oklahoma City University invites participants to make this theme come “alive” in the readings of this five-part series. At each session, a Humanities scholar will make a 30-40 minute presentation on the book in the context of the theme. Small group discussion will follow with experienced discussion leaders. At the end, everyone will come together for a brief wrap-up. Anyone interested in participating is encouraged to preregister and borrow the reading selections and theme brochure by calling Harbour Winn at 208-5472, emailing him at or dropping by OCU’s Walker Center 171 (southwest corner of the building just south of NW 26th and Florida). Information can also be found on the web site of the Center for Interpersonal Studies through Film & Literature:

The series will be held in Walker Center, Room 151, on the Oklahoma City University campus from 7:00 to 9:00 PM on Tuesdays, beginning January 9 and continuing on alternate Tuesdays through February 20. The final session will then be one week later on February 27. Books, theme materials, and services for this series are provided by “Let’s Talk About It, Oklahoma,” a cooperative project of the Oklahoma Library Association and the Oklahoma Humanities Council. Funding for this series is provided by a grant from the Oklahoma Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.


1/9/2007 Betty Roger’s Will Rogers: His Wife’s Story

America’s foremost humorist preferred to think of himself as a journalist. Betty Rogers captures the common sense and wit that her husband made famous in his role as one of our finest political commentators. This “Cowboy Philosopher” did rope tricks and yet also on his weekly radio programs helped talk us through the difficult early days of Roosevelt’s New Deal.

1/23/2007 John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath

Did Steinbeck get some of his facts wrong? Should we dismiss one of the great works of American literature? What is it about the Joads that could shame or embarrass us? Actually, this classic has provoked latter day Oklahomans much more than it ever did in the 1930’s when it could not be kept in stock at libraries and bookstores. Can this classic novel tell us more about Oklahomans now than Steinbeck ever hoped to tell us about Oklahomans then?

2/6/2007 Jim Thompson’s Roughneck

While Steinbeck depicts one family’s odyssey from Oklahoma to California, Thompson describes his own journey to get through the days of the 1930’s and simply survive. Pulling no punches, he describes working at nearly every job known to the times. In addition, the book reflects his curious education as a writer who would emerge along with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler as one of the progenitors of hard boiled American fiction.

2/20/2007 Patty Lou Floyd’s The Silver DeSoto

Spending the Depression in Duncan, Oklahoma, DeSoto describes the myriad problems of adolescence through her main character Betty Jane Bledsoe, who grows up in Dixter wondering about the world beyond the horizon. This fictive meditation cast as stories reminds us that life went on as usual for many in the 1930’s and offers another perspective on survival and the strength of community life. Teenagers still wrestle with finding an identity amidst the chaos.

2/27/2007 Woody Guthrie’s Bound for Glory

This 1943 publication brought critical acclaim to the Oklahoman who fancied himself the poet of the people. Although now over sixty years old, Bound for Glory chronicles the uprooting of thousands and the hardships of the road; it remains the book that best recreates the story of the dispossessed. In this social document, Guthrie sings of people looking for home in times when a home was a hard thing to find. Don’t miss this cumulative read and discussion!