Saturday, October 19, 2002

Local celebration promotes ‘The Grapes of Wrath’

Book cover: Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Lake County Library system is participating in a statewide program encouraging Californians to read John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

A local celebration and discussion of the book takes place from 9 a.m. to about 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19 at Redbud Library, 14785 Burns Valley Road in Clearlake. Organized by Lake County Library Advisory Board member Harold Riley, the program is divided into two parts.

The morning session begins with a showcase of Woody Guthrie songs. At 10:30 a.m., participants will view a video of John Ford’s 1940 film adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath. Following a break for lunch, a discussion of the book will convene at about 12:30 p.m.

The Lake County Library is one of more than 140 libraries participating in the California Council for Humanities’ “California Stories: Reading ‘The Grapes of Wrath’” program. “While there have been several one city, one book programs, nothing of this scale or ambition has been attempted before,” said council Executive Director Jim Quay. “This program is the first ever to be statewide, to involve a book specifically relevant to California and to encourage participants to share their own stories.”

Throughout the summer, California residents have been encouraged to read The Grapes of Wrath, a story about the Joad family, tenant farmers in Oklahoma who migrate to California after losing their farm. The novel grew out of an assignment given to Steinbeck in 1936 by the editors of the San Francisco News, to write a series of articles on the condition of migrant farmers. In 1940, the same year that Ford directed the book’s film adaptation, Steinbeck received a Pulitzer Prize.

The statewide project culminates in October with a variety of observances designed to encourage people to explore the book and its relevance to contemporary California life. According to the California Council for Humanities, many of the book’s issues -- migration, poverty and the pursuit of the American dream -- are still of concern today.

Riley said that organizing a local celebration represented the closing of a circle for him. “I grew up as a migrant child in the San Joaquin Valley,” he explained. “I read the book when I was 17 or 18 years old, and it saved my life. Now I’m completing the circle, and at long last I can repay the compliment by introducing someone else to the book.”

“California Stories: Reading ‘The Grapes of Wrath’” coincides with the 100th anniversary of Steinbeck’s birth, on Feb. 27, 1902 in Salinas. It kicks off a three-year program to discover community and individual stories that will collectively tell the story of today’s California.

“The Golden State is uniquely diverse,” Quay said. “Half of us were born elsewhere, and that hasn’t changed in 150 years. Each Californian has a story to tell, but we have few opportunities to come together and find out about each other. This program gives Californians from every walk of life a chance to read and discuss the book together, consider the place of their own story in the story of California and discover the book’s relevance to current California issues.”

More information about “California Stories: Reading ‘The Grapes of Wrath’” can be found at the California Council for Humanities’ web site, For more information about the local observance, contact your local branch of the Lake County Library or call 995-3905.

Originally published in the Lake County Record-Bee.