Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Timothy Egan writes about dust and fire: Worst comes to worst

Why are the choices for the ninth One Book, One Denver so much better than the previous eight rounds? That's the question I asked Kristin Rust, spokeswoman for Denver Arts & Venues. She pointed to the commitment of Mayor Michael Hancock, as well as a hard-working committee that came up with the three One Book, One Denver finalists.

I'm rooting for The Worst Hard Time.

Timothy Egan, the New York Times reporter who wrote the The Worst Hard Time, created a stunning chronicle of the Dust Bowl, which focuses on the southeast corner of this state. He was able to interview many of the people who lived through the '30s in that area, who still live in that area -- a largely forgotten part of Colorado.

As Egan says in the reader's guide to The Worst Hard Time, "We know a lot about the Dust Bowl refugees, the so-called Okies and Arkies who migrated west to California and into the Pacific Northwest in the 1930s. Much of this we know from John Steinbeck's masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath, and from the government photographers and writers who did a terrific job of recording this migration. But very little is known about the people who did not leave the Dust Bowl. And as it turns out, most people never moved away. Nearly two-thirds of the Dust Bowl inhabitants hunkered down and lived through the Dirty Thirties."

In this dry, dry summer, The Worst Hard Time is a grim reminder of when worst came to worst. But don't stop your reading there. Egan followed that book up with The Big Burn, which tells the true story of a the fire that raged through Idaho a century ago, inspiring the start of the U.S. Forest Service.

That book, too, has particular relevance right now, with a blaze raging to the west of Fort Collins, and the tinge of smoke in the air.

You can vote until June 22 for the next One Book, One Denver here.

See also: "High Park fire update: 41,000 acres, still growing, Linda Steadman's death confirmed."

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun