Books That Inspire 2008

Letters from the Dust Bowl
Caroline Henderson, edited by Alvin O. Turner

I am fascinated by the Oklahoma Panhandle. I would live on the high plains except I couldn’t, hundreds of miles from hospitals, libraries, and yes—I am ashamed to admit it—a decent mall. I don’t have what it takes to live in No Man’s Land, so I will always be the tourist from other parts, photographing abandoned barns and houses with a stranger’s eyes. But I admire the people who made a life in a region famous for breaking the hearts of so many. Take, for example, the case of homesteader Caroline Henderson. After graduating from Mount Holyoke College in 1907, Henderson went to the Panhandle of Oklahoma and struck out on her own. Facing drought, grasshopper plagues, and dust storms, Henderson began to supplement her meager farm livelihood from her writing. This is one account of the nearly ten years’ worth of dust storms Henderson and her family experience in the Oklahoma panhandle: . . . At the little country store of our neighborhood after one of the worst of these storms, the candies in the show case all look alike and equally brown . . . “Dust to eat,” and dust to breathe and dust to drink. Dust in the beds and in the flour bin, on dishes and walls and windows, in hair and eyes and ears and teeth and throats, to say nothing of the heaped up accumulation on floors and window sills... (141). Henderson’s refusal to leave her home, like countless others who remained in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl is intriguing. It is the story that most people did not consider after The Grapes of Wrath made the theme of migration the major Oklahoma story of the century.

Susan L Kates
Associate Professor