Babb, Sanora 1907–2005

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Babb, Sanora 1907–2005

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born April 21, 1907, in OK; died December 31, 2005, in Hollywood Hills, CA. Author. Babb was a critically praised novelist, short-story writer, and poet whose first acclaimed novel, Whose Names Are Unknown, had the misfortune of being overshadowed by John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Unlike the Pulitzer-winning Steinbeck, Babb had an intimate knowledge of what it was like being a Dust Bowl farmer, and her novel, which was not released until 2004, has been deemed more realistic than Steinbeck's by reviewers. Born in an Otoe Indian reserve in Oklahoma, she came from an impoverished family of farmers who later moved to Colorado. Though her family taught her to read, Babb did not go to school until she was eleven years old. Fortunately, she was very bright, and graduated valedictorian of her high school. She went on to study at Kansas University and then earned an associate's degree from Garden City Junior College in 1925. Interested in journalism and influenced by her father's fascination with newspaper stories, she moved to Los Angeles to work for the Associated Press. When the Great Depression hit the nation in 1929, Babb lost her job at the Los Angeles Times and ended up homeless. To survive, she found work writing radio scripts and contributing stories to such literary magazines as the Southwest Review and Prairie Schooner. By the late 1930s, her life began to improve somewhat, and she was able to travel abroad as a reporter, covering, for example, the Spanish Civil War. In 1938 she returned to California to work for the U.S. Farm Security Administration. While there, Babb kept a record of what she was learning about the destitute farmers whom the government agency was trying to help. It was later rumored that her boss loaned her notes to Steinbeck for his research on his novel, though Babb would later say she did not know whether this story was true or not. At the time, she was working on her own novel, Whose Names Are Unknown, featuring farmer characters based on her own family and others she had met. She sent her first chapters to an editor at Random House, who quickly recognized their merit. However, when Steinbeck published his acclaimed novel in 1939, the publisher decided that Babb's book was too similar and did not publish it. Naturally, this development depressed Babb, but she determined not to let it stop her from writing. Meanwhile, she worked as an editor for such magazines as Clipper and California Quarterly in the 1940s and 1950s, married cinematographer James Wong Howe in 1949, and from 1958 to 1959 taught short-story writing for the University of California Extension. Her first novel to be published, The Lost Traveler, came out in 1958. This was followed by the memoir An Owl on Every Post (1970), the story collection Cry of the Tinamour (1997), and the poetry collection Told in the Seed (1998). When her first fiction piece was finally released, it earned wide critical acclaim and the PEN Center USA Literary Award in 2005.



Chicago Tribune, January 10, 2006, section 2, p. 9.

Los Angeles Times, January 8, 2006, p. B12.

New York Times, January 10, 2006, p. A25.

Washington Post, January 9, 2006, p. B5.