Path Home Shows 2011 Show Archive July 2011 Show 1130 Timothy Egan Interview - The Worst Hard Times

Timothy Egan Interview - The Worst Hard Times

The dust storms that terrorized America's high plains in the darkest years of the depression were like nothing ever seen before. The story of the survivors is told in the book, "The Worst Hard Time" and we visit with the Pulitzer Prize winning author.
Timothy Egan Interview - The Worst Hard Times

Rob McClendon and Timothy Egan

Show Dates

Show 1130: Timothy Egan Interview - The Worst Hard Times

Air date: July 24, 2011

 

Transcript

ROB MCCLENDON:  WELL THE DUST STORMS THAT TERRORIZED AMERICA’S HIGH PLAINS IN THE DARKEST YEARS OF THE DEPRESSION WERE LIKE NOTHING EVER SEEN BEFORE.  THE STORY OF THE SURVIVORS IS TOLD IN THE AWARD WINNING BOOK, “THE WORST HARD TIMES.”  IN 2007, I WAS ABLE TO SIT DOWN WITH ITS PULITZER PRIZE WINNING AUTHOR, TIMOTHY EGAN.

AS A REPORTER FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES, YOU COVER A VARIETY OF ISSUES, WHAT FIRST ATTRACTED YOU TO THIS STORY?

TIMOTHY EGAN:  THAT’S A GREAT QUESTION BECAUSE THIS IS THE LAST STORY I EXPECTED TO WRITE.  I MEAN, YOU KNOW, I LIVE IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST; I WORK FOR A NEW YORK PAPER.  BUT WE WERE WORKING ON A SERIES ABOUT THE DEATH OF THE SMALL TOWNS IN THE, IN THE WESTERN SIDE OF THE GREAT PLAINS, ALL THESE LITTLE CITIES, THESE LITTLE TOWNS THAT USED TO SERVICE FARMERS.  NOW, REMEMBER, WE USED TO BE A NATION OF FARMERS AS LATE AS 1931AND 3 PEOPLE WORKED THE LAND; BUT NOW IT’S LESS THAN 1%.  SO ALL THESE LITTLE TOWNS ARE DYING, AND I WAS GOING THROUGH JUST ALL OVER THE PLAINS, WESTERN PART OF THE PLAINS, GOING TO LITTLE TOWNS WHERE THE SCHOOL WAS CLOSING, THE BANK WAS CLOSING, YET THERE WERE TOWNS FULL OF OLD PEOPLE LIVING ON SOCIAL SECURITY.  AND I WAS CHRONICLING THIS STORY, AND THEY WOULD SAY, YOU KNOW, THE, THE, THE BIGGER STORY IS WHAT HAPPENED IN THE 1930’S.  I’D SAY, WHAT DO YOU MEAN?  THEY’D SAY THE DUST BOWL.  I’D SAY, WELL THAT WAS STEINBECK; THAT WAS THE GRAPES OF WRATH, DIDN’T EVERYONE LEAVE?  NO.  IT TURNS OUT EVERYONE DID NOT LEAVE.  IT TURNS OUT TWO-THIRDS OF THE PEOPLE LIVING IN THE EPICENTER OF THE DUST BOWL STAYED BEHIND.  AND SO THAT WAS THE GENESIS, REALLY, OF THIS STORY, WAS THIS SORT OF HOLY COW MOMENT, LIKE, MY GOD, MAYBE THERE’S A BIG STORY HERE.  AND ALSO, THESE PEOPLE ARE DYING; THEY’RE IN THEIR 80’S AND THEIR 90’S, AND THEY HAVE AN AMAZING STORY TO TELL.  AND SO I FELT A SENSE OF URGENCY TOO, ONCE I REALIZED THERE WAS THIS STORY THERE; BUT THIS SENSE OF URGENCY TO GET THEIR STORY, TO BE SORT OF THE BRIDGE FROM THEM TO OTHER GENERATIONS.

ROB:   NOW, WHILE STEINBECK DID TELL THE STORY OF THE PEOPLE THAT DID LEAVE, WHY DO YOU BELIEVE, THAT TWO-THIRDS, WHY DO YOU BELIEVE THEY STAYED ON THE LAND?

EGAN:  YOU KNOW A LOT OF PEOPLE SAID AT THE TIME THAT THEY WERE STUPID, THEY WERE IGNORANT, THEY BLASTED THEM, THEY CRITICIZED THEM, THEY MADE FUN OF THEIR ANCESTRY.  I THINK IT WAS A COUPLE OF THINGS; THEY REALLY, THEY’D HEARD FROM OTHER PEOPLE THAT DIASPORA WASN’T WORKING, THAT LEAVING AND GOING TO CALIFORNIA, YOU COULDN’T DO WELL.  ALSO, THEY HAD SOMETHING, ROB.  THEY HAD SOMETHING.  THEY HAD A PIECE OF DIRT, WHICH THEY’D NEVER HAD BEFORE.  AND SO, ALSO, THEY THOUGHT IT WAS GOING TO END; THEY THOUGHT, THIS CAN’T POSSIBLY GO ON.  AND SO, THEY THOUGHT, YOU KNOW, WHEN YOU’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF A DISASTER LIKE THIS, YOU DON’T THINK IT’S GOING TO LAST 10 YEARS.  YOU THINK, YOU KNOW, THIS IS IT, THIS IS GOING TO BE THE END OF IT.  SO, THEY THOUGHT IF WE JUST HOLD ON, THIS THING WILL PHASE OUT.

ROB:  IF YOU’D LIKE TO HEAR AUTHOR TIMOTHY EGAN READ AN EXCERPT FROM HIS AWARD WINNING BOOK, JUST HEAD TO OKHORIZON.COM AND CLICK ON THIS WEEK’S VALUE ADDED.