Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbecks the Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath
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Steinbeck received death threats and the FBI put him under surveillance.

The book was banned in many libraries and copies were symbolically burned in towns across America. When WB Camp, one of the most successful cotton producers in California, presided over its burning in Bakersfield, he said: ''We are angry, not because we were attacked but because we were attacked by a book obscene in the extreme sense of the word.

The book was published on Friday April 14, , on the same day that the film Wuthering Heights, starring Laurence Olivier, had its premiere in New York. It was also the day that President Roosevelt wrote to Hitler to say: "Are you willing to give assurance that your armed forces will not attack or invade the territory or possessions of the following independent nations? He was writing shortly after the death of his brother-in-law and it was a time in his life when he was plagued by doubts about the prospect of war and worries over the sale of his house in California.

My nerves are going fast.

Obscene in the Extreme by Rick Wartzman

I wish I could just disappear for a while. So many things to drive me nuts. If it does, I do too.

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It's just a run-of-the-mill book. Obscene in the Extreme tells the remarkable story behind that fit of censorship, a moment when several lives collided as part of a larger class struggle roiling the nation.

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It is a superb historical narrative that serves as an engaging window into an extraordinary time of upheaval in America, when as Steinbeck put it, A revolution is going on. The King Of California: J.

Evelyn Waugh: A Life Revisited. The Hairy Dieters: Fast Food. My Life with Wagner. Guide To Better Acol Bridge. Rick Wartzman, author of the new book Obscene In The Extreme, says what happened in Kern County illustrates the deep divide between left and right in California in the s.

Obscene in the Extreme by Rick Wartzman | PublicAffairs

One powerful local player who pushed for the ban was Bill Camp, head of the local Associated Farmers, a group of big landowners who were avid opponents of organized labor. Camp and his colleagues knew how to get a bill passed in the state Legislature — and they also knew how to be physical. Camp wanted to publicize the county's opposition to The Grapes Of Wrath.

Convinced that many migrants were also offended by their depiction in the novel, he recruited one of his workers, Clell Pruett, to burn the book. Pruett had never read the novel, but he had heard a radio program about it that made him angry, and so he readily agreed to take part in what Wartzman describes as a "photo op.

Meanwhile, local librarian Gretchen Knief was working quietly to get the ban overturned.

Banning books is a vicious and dangerous thing, and utterly hopeless and futile.

At the risk of losing her job, she stood up to the county supervisors and wrote a letter asking them to reverse their decision. Ideas don't die because a book is forbidden reading. Knief's argument may have been eloquent, but it didn't work. The supervisors upheld the ban, and it remained in effect for a year and a half. Still, says Krug, the censorship of The Grapes Of Wrath was a key event in the creation of the Library Bill of Rights, the statement Krug describes as ensuring that "as American citizens we have the right to access whatever information we wish without anyone looking over our shoulders.

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Here's something that J. Rowling, Mark Twain, Maya Angelou and Philip Pullman have in common - they've all written some of the books that community members try most often to remove from public libraries and schools.

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But in the end, Krug says, there's really only one thing that would-be censors want to stop. And the thing that's so interesting is that the materials that are challenged and banned are the books that say something about the human condition. And I can't think of a better example of that than "The Grapes of Wrath.

Obscene in the extreme: the burning and banning of John Steinbeck's The grapes of wrath

One powerful local player who pushed for the ban was Bill Camp, head of the local Associated Farmers, a group of big landowners who were avid opponents of organized labor. Weapons of mass destruction WMD are the greatest threat to national security in the twenty-first century. We are left to fend for ourselves. University of California Press, Lemon Grove. Jim Rearden. Walter Harper, Alaska Native Son.

But nowhere was opposition to the book so close to the bone as in Kern County, California, where John Steinbeck's fictional Joad family landed after their escape from the dust bowl. Three years before the book was published, President Franklin Roosevelt gave this speech after touring nine states that had been devastated by drought.

ROOSEVELT United States : No cracked earth, no blistering sun, no burning wind, no grasshoppers are a permanent match for the indomitable American farmers and stockmen, and their wives and children who have carried on through desperate days and inspire us with their self-reliance, their tenacity, and their courage.

NEARY: But even if the hour's optimism could not hold back the tide of humanity that poured out of the dust bowl states desperate for work.

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This young migrant story recorded for the Library of Congress was typical of those who made their way west. Unidentified Man: Then we'd come on over in California in '