The Central Valley has a mighty secret: There is a wealth of culture among the residents of this region that only a select few truly appreciate.
But founding faculty member Jan Goggans and Deputy University Librarian Donald Barclay aim to change that. The two have partnered to organize and host “Celebrating the Central Valley,” a series of special events that highlight the rich history of the region, particularly during the dust bowl era.
“It was the most dramatic time in Central Valley history; we have never gone back to what we were before,” Goggans pointed out.
A treasured component of the event is “Okie Poet Laureate: Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel,” which features artifacts donated to the UC Merced Library by her literary estate last year.
“If John Steinbeck is the male voice of the dust bowl, then Wilma McDaniel is the female voice, telling the stories of women in the dust bowl. I think everyone can appreciate and recognize her characters and what she writes about,” Goggans said.
McDaniel wrote prolifically, with an honest, open, poignant and entertaining hand. Her notes, diaries, and drawings reveal much about her life, her perspective, and her thoughts about the struggles and triumphs of the everyday, working class people around her. They award the reader an intelligent, contemporary and witty insight into the unique culture of the Central Valley.
Class of 2009 alumna Kacy Marume carefully selected each of the pieces shared in the exhibit, which is displayed on the second floor of the library through Dec. 19. As the former student curator of the McDaniel literary estate, Marume wrote her thesis on McDaniel and spent her senior year organizing, categorizing and taking inventory of the extensive collection.
“I was reading her diaries and her unpublished works, and really got to know Wilma on a different level – even from a lot of people who knew her when she was alive,” Marume said. “I felt like my connection with the Valley grew, and my understanding of the Okie culture in particular, and how that legacy is still very apparent in the Central Valley. She saw herself as the representative of this culture, this group of people. She reclaimed the word ‘Okie’ and wanted it used.”
Marume will open for acclaimed writer Gerald Haslam, who many call “Mr. Central Valley,” when he shares his extensive knowledge and appreciation for McDaniel in Room 355 of the UC Merced Library at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16. Attendees are invited to stick around for a reception afterward, when they can speak with both Haslam and Marume about McDaniel and the exhibit.
To further celebrate the region, “Okie Poet Laureate” is joined by an art exhibit that includes visual depictions of poverty and homelessness in the valley. “From Hobos to Street People: Artists Responses to Homelessness from the New Deal to Present” provides a wider backdrop for McDaniel’s poetry, notes and drawings, and lends a broader understanding of the context of her work.
“An Artist and the Land: Stephen Johnson and the Great Central Valley” features the photographer himself conducting a walking tour of the exhibits that include his own works from “The Great Central Valley” by Gerald Haslam at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17. As an additional treat, he’ll make himself available to speak with attendees at a reception after the tour and talk.
Goggans and Barclay have also planned six informal “brown bag” talks on campus this fall with dates and topics to be announced.