Reaching 75 years is a momentous accomplishment and has to celebrated in a grand manner-- even if the thing being celebrated is a novel.
John Steinbeck's classic Pulitzer-Prize winning 1939 American novel The Grapes of Wrath is reaching it's diamond anniversary in 2014, and to ring in the milestone of the book that has become a staple in most high schools and universities in the United States, The National Steinbeck Center is recreating the journey of the Joads -- literally.
Well, not down to the exact details, but the center has enlisted the help of three artists in conjunction with other cultural and educational organizations to follow the Route 66 path of the fictional Joad family through real American towns in the Southwest beginning in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, and continuing through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and finishing in Bakersfield, Calif.
Along the way, three principal figures will spear head the endeavor for this road trip: a writer, a filmmaker, and a woodblock print artist; in order to document the current conditions and stories from people living in those towns and cities today.
San Francisco-based author, Octavio Solis, will be the official writer for the project and says that even after 75 years since its first printing, Steinbeck's work still resonates with the American public.
"The Okies, a pejorative term given to people that came from the Midwest, whether they came from Oklahoma or not, were looked down upon and were considered outsiders, dirty, carriers of disease, and accused of stealing jobs," Solis says. "I guess that sounds remarkably like the attitudes a lot of people have toward migrant farm workers today. So for me, as a Latino, I read the novel and it resonates with me very deeply because the same things are still happening today."
Set during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl era, The Grapes of Wrath narrates the struggle of the Joads, tenant farmers that are driven out of their homes by drought, economic ruin, and little to no demand for agricultural workers. Led by Tom Joad, the family of 12 pile into a truck with all their belonging and head to California, the modern promised land of the U.S. When they get to the Central Valley, their problems aren't remedied but only plunge deeper into a miserable abyss.
The novel is a realist depiction of thousands of Midwesterners and the social backlash they received by the powers at hand in 1930s America.
Solis says that what Steinbeck did well in the novel was listen to the stories of other people. He was an advocate of voices and that is what Solis, along with filmmaker PJ Palmer and artist Patricia Wakida plan to achieve. They don't want to turn the trip into a search for Steinbeck's America or to prove that his themes apply toward the current state of affairs in the country.
"We can't come with that predisposition or else we are not really honest about our journey. We have to go with our minds and ears wide open and pointing toward the people," Solis says. "We want to know their stories. We want to know what they are experiencing. We might even say that Steinbeck got it wrong and that is okay too."
A vital point that Solis addresses is that this trip isn't done out of whimsy or for experience only. Everyone participating will produce something in their craft to present at the 2014 Steinbeck festival in Salinas, Calif.
"So the trip itself has a purpose: it's to document the journey that the Joads' took from Oklahoma and to check the journey and hear people's stories today to find out from them what their relationship to the novel is and to the town that it was written about in The Grapes of Wrath," Solis says. "To hear those personal accounts and produce something that responds to what we experienced on the road."
The artists will blog throughout the journey, and invite public collaboration and feedback through multiple social media channels like Facebook and Youtube. The journey will be October 4 through 14. Below you can see the trailer for road trip: