History came alive in the Hewitt Union Ballroom on Wednesday night when Pulitzer Prize winner Timothy Egan came to speak to the Oswego State community about recent book, “The Worst Hard Time,” published in 2006. Not only was this book chosen for The Oswego Reading Initiative for incoming freshman this semester, it was also included in many other course curriculums, including English, creative writing, and sustainability. Oswego State’s President Deborah Stanley welcomed the guest onto the stage.
Egan instantly gained the attention of the audience with stories of his experiences.
“I couldn’t really get into the book at first, but hearing him speak to us made me excited to finish the book” said sophomore Joanna Bajor.
He did a great deal of research to create his masterpiece about the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. Most people are familiar with “The Grapes of Wrath,” John Steinbeck’s book written in 1939 about the people of the Great Plains fleeing from their homes, attracted to the prospect of jobs in California. In contrast, Egan developed his story about the people who did not flee because they couldn’t find it in their hearts to uproot themselves from their homes.
Many people have never considered that there were people who didn’t head to California like the Joads in “The Grapes of Wrath.” However, Egan’s book made readers aware of the reality of the plains people he interviewed. Hearing Egan speak further intensified the impact that the book had on the audience, a majority of whom had already read the book. He spoke about his information gathering process as if he were just doing it yesterday, when in reality many years have passed since he began research for the book.
Egan asked, “What was it like to live when Earth itself turned on you?”
He asked this question just in time, since the survivors of the Dust Bowl were reaching the end of their days at the time of Egan’s research.
When he was driving from town to town, people would tell him that he should talk to so-and-so in the next town over and hear their stories. Often, by the time he got to the town that person would have died. This realization gave Egan a sense of urgency to get this incredible story told before this history was lost.
He was touched tremendously by his encounters with the people of the story.
“I got to look into their eyes. I wouldn’t see a 92-year-old, I’d see a 17-year-old girl who was having fun with boyfriends, excited to start her life,” he said.
Egan spoke about the land, and the people who lived on it. He spoke of the hardships they endured, and the research he did to write “The Worst Hard Times.”
One thing Egan focused on was the harm that humans can do to the earth. The Dust Bowl would not have happened if humans had not over-plowed the land without rotating their crops. All the dirt was turned to dust, and was easily picked up into the air with the wind, causing the famous Black Blizzards.
“What did we learn from this? I wish we could say we learned something.” Egan said.
He related this past environmental catastrophe to the way humans continue to treat the world today, evidently causing global warming. This shows that people have not learned how they need to treat the world. People during the 1930’s denied that the Dust Bowl was caused from human error. They believed it was a temporary phase, and the area would go back to normal after the storms passed. People have the same reaction towards global warming today.
Egan wrote a great book about real American history. He told it not like a traditional history but presented the character’s stories in a way that had never been told before and left a lasting impression on the readers. Being able to have him come and speak to students and faculty made the experience even better.
He left the stage on a very powerful note when he said, “There is no boring history, only boringly told history.”