“This is the beginning—from ‘I’ to ‘we’” is how Steinbeck describes the Joad’s family journey along route 66 to California, that “western land nervous under the beginning change,” in The Grapes of Wrath. In a similar shift from the individual to the collective, California Humanities presented California Reads The Grapes of Wrath in 2002 bringing Californians across the state together around this single text.
Using the occasion of Steinbeck’s 100th birthday, the initiative presented 800 events around the state, from book discussions and film series to live performances and poetry slams. Book discussions took place in six languages other than English, including Arabic, Vietnamese, and Korean.
In Los Angeles, L.A. Theatre Works produced a weeklong run of Frank Galati’s Tony Award-winning play The Grapes of Wrath. In Fresno, people turned out at a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop to participate in a 24-hour read-a-thon of the novel, and in San Francisco, Studs Terkel appeared in a special California Humanities-sponsored evening of conversation with writer Calvin Trillin. For the first time since it was published in 1939 The Grapes of Wrath reached the bestseller list in California and led to the first Spanish-language edition of the novel for the U.S. market.
California Reads The Grapes of Wrath offered an opportunity for Californians to explore the book’s enduring themes in relation to their contemporary experiences of migration, food security, and income inequality.