Thanks in part to the Ken Burns documentary The Dust Bowl, Sanora Babb is perhaps best known today for her novel Whose Names Are Unknown (2004), which might have been published in 1939 had her publisher not thought the market too small for two Dust Bowl novels, hers and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Into the twenty-first century, Babb wrote and published lyrical prose and poetry that revealed her prescient ideas about gender, race, and the environment. The essays collected in Unknown No More recover and analyze her previously unrecognized contributions to American letters.
Editors Joanne Dearcopp and Christine Hill Smith have assembled a group of distinguished scholars who, for the first time in book-length form, explore the life and work of Sanora Babb. This collection of pathbreaking essays addresses Babb’s position within the literature of the Great Plains and American West, her leftist political odyssey as a card-carrying Communist who ultimately broke with the Party, and her ecofeminist leanings as reflected in the environmental themes she explored in her fiction and nonfiction.
With literary sensibilities reminiscent of Willa Cather, Ralph Ellison, and Meridel LeSueur, Babb’s work revealed gender-based, environmental, and working-class injustices from the Depression era to the late twentieth century. No longer unknown, Sanora Babb’s life and work form a prism through which the peril and promise of twentieth-century America may be seen.
“In the 1930s Sanora Babb created an American literary masterpiece with her Dust Bowl novel, Whose Names Are Unknown. But by a cruel twist of fate, it was not published for more than sixty years. We believe it to be a much fuller account of the terrible conditions and the resilient people living through those toughest of times. This collection of essays explores Babb’s eloquent writing in this novel and in all her other work and helps set the record straight on an important American author.”—Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, producers of The Dust Bowl
“These thirteen new essays on Sanora Babb are a great development in the rescue from obscurity of her marvelous literary work. With an engaging style, scholars, researchers, academics, and a friend of thirty years offer new perspectives on her fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and her unusual early life in the Dust Bowl area, then in Los Angeles among the literati, filmmakers, and progressives of the 1930s and ’40s. Unknown No More is a valuable contribution to the ongoing campaign to rediscover the beautiful Sanora, a forgotten writer and a vital, brilliant woman, and include her in the American literary canon, where she belongs.”—William Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Ironweed, Quinn’s Book, and Roscoe
“These timely and engaging essays about the immensely talented author Sanora Babb finally restore the writer to her due place in American literary history. Offering insights about a politically engaged figure who was of her era yet also ahead of her time, the contributors make a convincing case for positioning Babb at the center of our conversations about ecology, labor, race, gender, and regional belonging.”—Susan Kollin, editor of A History of Western American Literature
“Unknown No More represents a heartfelt and compelling tribute to a writer and activist whose work deserves to be read and studied today. Building on but working to avoid the blunders of previous scholarship that often paid insufficient attention to gender, class, and region, the essays in this volume explore the emotions and experience of overlooked and often misunderstood individuals and communities. The book revives a crucial yet nearly lost component of literary history in a way that seems destined for a readership inside and outside the academy.”—Julia L. Mickenberg, Professor of American Studies, University of Texas at Austin
“Unknown No More is the book that devoted readers of Sanora Babb have been waiting for and new readers will greet as an invitation to join her fan club—a wide-ranging set of essays that examine her life and work in their fullest dimensions. Whether addressing Babb the poet and storyteller of the West, the labor activist, the environmentalist, or the champion of feminism and equality, the essays together record the full dimension of Babb’s pivotal contributions to twentieth-century American life and letters."—Lawrence Rodgers, coeditor of America’s Folklorist: B. A. Botkin and American Culture
“Unknown No More is the first collected volume focused entirely on this important author and covering all of her work—her wide-ranging poetry, short fiction, novels, memoir, journalism, field notes, reviews, and letters. The authors whose essays are gathered here advance Babb scholarship and revive her literary and political reputation while also promoting a broader understanding of the history of left-wing protest, the roots of ecofeminism, and the sweep of Great Plains environmental history. These powerfully written, pathbreaking contributions argue convincingly that Sanora Babb was an immensely gifted, deeply committed writer and activist whose time has come and whose courageous life and vivid art can inspire a wide range of present-day general readers, scholars, and activists.”—Michael C. Steiner editor of Regionalists on the Left: Radical Voices from the American West