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Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Publisher: The University of Oklahoma Press
Available: February 2006
Format: Paper
Pages: 248
ISBN: 0-8061-3775-4
Price: $14.95


New edition February 2006
With a new Foreword by Mike Davis and a new Afterword by the author

From the publisher's catalog:
A bittersweet memoir of growing up poor and white in America's rural heartland A classic in contemporary Oklahoma literature, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's Red Dirt unearths the joys and ordeals of growing up poor during the 1940s and 1950s. In this exquisite rendering of her childhood in rural Oklahoma, from the Dust Bowl days to the end of the Eisenhower era, the author bears witness to a family and community that still cling to the dream of America as a republic of landowners.

From the Foreword by Mike Davis:
Red Dirt simply blew my socks off. This tough-minded, wonderfully evocative autobiography from the other end of Route 66 is nothing less than the secret history of poor white people in America.

Dunbar-Ortiz's most important achievement is to put class back on the rural map where it belongs. Los Angeles Times

At once sweetly nostalgic and inexorably grim, a true study of light and dark. Village Voice

When the peasants are deprived of fields to work, so goes the chorus of an old Irish ballad, all that is left is the love of the land. In this exquisite rendering of her childhood in rural Oklahoma, from the Dust Bowl days to the end of the Eisenhower era, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz bears witness to a family and community which still clings to the dream of America as a republic of landowners.

I read this book in unbelief. The author has written with remarkable courage and candor about a particular area in America and the people it produced. In telling her story she has put me squarely back in the wagon ruts of my own early life. I find myself sitting at a familiar table listening to voices I have heard all my life understanding every word. ' Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel, California Okie poet laureate, author of A Primer for Buford.

The sorrows and the courage of rich white Americans are nothing like the sorrows and the courage of poor white Americans,"white trash", who must daily struggle against the rule that shame is their duty. Nowhere has this struggle been harder than in Roxie Amanda Dunbar's state and mine, Oklahoma. Over the last 100-odd years of settlement inIndian country, the Okie rich and their political stooges have made the misery of the poor there a popular cult. That some of the Okie poor have defied their doom as "the foot-soldiers of empire", told the truth to vicious power and the foulest condescension and bigotry, and felt the dignity of brown and black neighbours, is strong testimony to some fundamental good in humanity. Roxie's story of growing up poor and Okie is painfully faithful, brave, loving and plainly beautiful. It would make her Wobbly grandpa very proud of her. It makes me proud to come from near where she came from. I recommend her book enthusiastically to anyone who wonders how poor provincials anywhere have learned to stand up for liberty and justice for all' John Womack, Jr., author of Zapata, Harvard University.

The best of autobiographical works are those that convey, in the telling of one life story, larger truths than those we experience as individuals. To accomplish this feat with seeming effortlessness, as Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has done with Red Dirt, is to create not only a valuable historical record, but a literary work that is a pleasure to read. Employing the finest storytelling skills, Dunbar-Ortiz lovingly recollects her youth in Oklahoma and the family dynamics she experienced "growing up Okie" during the mid-20th-century. In the process, she touches upon a host of social issues--among them racism, sexism, and economic disparity--that have plagued the U.S. since its earliest days. Perhaps most importantly, she offers one resounding voice from among a vast population--namely, the white underclass--that consistently has been underrepresented in historical texts, and misrepresented in popular culture. Exploding the notion of "poor white trash"Dunbar-Ortiz offers a three-dimensional alternative as she reconstructs through her personal memoir the history and struggles of the frontier settler class and its descendants. As we move into the next century, Red Dirt is a text of vital significance to our collective humanity.' Angela Y. Davis, teacher, activist, author, University of California, Santa Cruz

I think of myself as an Okie. Let me tell you what that means: Being an Okie means being the first of your whole family to finish high school let alone go on to college. Being an Okie means getting rooted out of an area and having to hustle for a toehold in some new area. Being an Okie means running the risk of striving out from under a layer of heartless sonsabitches only to discover you have become a redneck of bitterness worse than those you strove against. Being an Okie is a low rent, aggravating drag, but it does learn you some essentials like it isn't a new car that pulls over to help you when you are broke down with the senile carburetor, it is somebody who knows what it is to be broke down with a hurt machine.' Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion.


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