cover image Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie

Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Author, Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, Author Verso $17 (224p) ISBN 978-1-85984-856-2

Growing up as ""poor white trash"" in post-Depression Oklahoma is a mixed legacy for California State professor of ethnic and women's studies Dunbar-Ortiz (The Great Sioux Nation). It is as much a source of pride as it is a source of shame. Even when she began work on these absorbing memoirs, her interest in rural Oklahoma was academic, not personal; but meeting up with displaced ""Okie bard"" Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel changed all that. Dunbar-Ortiz's account of her childhood, adolescence and early adulthood is infused with a hidden love for the very roots she disdains. ""Just below the skin that I show the world resides a peasant girl who absorbed ancient memories of the land."" The members of her sharecropper family are recognizable from The Grapes of Wrath, but Dunbar-Ortiz intends to correct Steinbeck's portrayal of Okies as ""preindustrial and deeply democratic."" Her Socialist-Wobbly grandfather, alcoholic mother, volatile father and assorted other characters are skillfully portrayed and are as colorful as the red Oklahoma dirt on which they lived. Dunbar-Ortiz's fight to escape the poverty, small-mindedness and abuse of her beginnings and overcome her asthma and insecurity along the way make for inspiring reading. She chronicles her political enlightenment as well, which enables her to conclude that these ""tough, land-poor losers,"" the ""dregs of colonialism,"" are in fact ""evidence of the lie of the American Dream."" With all its passion and pain, this is a fascinating, important--if unflattering--snapshot of rural American life. (Aug.)