Referring to The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dustbowl, as a modern parable, author Timothy Egan challenged his Oswego audiences to look to the Dust Bowl era as an example of a time when humankind created an environment that changed the climate. The 2006 book documents, often from primary sources such as diaries and first-person interviews, the trials of individuals, families and communities through nearly a decade of devastation.
Winner of the National Book Award, The Worst Hard Time is the Oswego Reading Initiative selection for the academic year, read widely by students and used as a textbook in several classes, including Professor Donna Steiner’s “Living Writers” class. Egan spoke to students there Sept. 25, revealing some of the research and writing techniques he used to tell the stories of families who stayed behind when one-third of the population headed west to California. He spoke again that evening, when local residents were invited to join the campus community for his presentation and book signing.
Egan, a Seattle-based, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, journalist and columnist, is a commentary writer for the New York Times.
“I was working on a series that investigated the decline of the American farm,” he said. “People would explain the challenges facing farmers today, and then they’d tell me that it was nothing compared to ‘the worst hard time.’ I thought Steinbeck had already told the definitive story of those years. But I learned he had written about those who left. The trials of the ones who stayed on the land were waiting to be told.”
—Linda Loomis ’90 M ’99
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