Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Sanora Babb standing with man and child. Click to enlarge.

Sanora Babb with CIO organizer and child

James Wong Howe with movie camera. Click to enlarge.

James Wong Howe with movie camera     


Sanora Babb and J.W. Howe. Click to enlarge.

Babb with J.W. Howe in France     

 

Magazine cover. Click to enlarge.

California Quarterly, Winter 1952     


Returning from a trip to the Soviet Union to study theater and a year's stay in London in 1937, where she helped edit the English political magazine, The Week, Sanora joined the Farm Security Administration as assistant to manager Tom Collins, setting up tent camps for the dispossessed in California's agricultural valleys. Her FSA work furnished material for her first novel, Whose Names Are Unknown, which traces the lives of High Plains families uprooted from their dry land farms, forced to seek work as seasonal harvesters. Random House accepted Babb's novel for publication in 1939, then broke the contract when Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath appeared, contending that buyers would not welcome two novels treating the same subject. Bitterly disappointed Babb put the manuscript aside and began her second novel.

West Coast secretary of the League of American Writers, Babb edited The Clipper in the early 1940s, and its successor, The California Quarterly a decade later, introducing American readers to the work of B. Traven, author of The Treasure of Sierra Madre, the French colonial poets Aimé Césaire, Léon Damas, and Jean Joseph Rabéarivélo, and promising young writers like Ray Bradbury. Babb's connections with the cultural left threatened (by association) to jeopardize the career of the brilliant Chinese-American cinematographer, James Wong Howe, with whom she lived, flouting anti-miscegenation laws and hypocritical mores until California's ban on interracial marriages was overturned in 1948 and they were permitted to marry. Seeking to protect Howe from further harassment and possible blacklisting she moved to Mexico City during the early years of the HUAC witch-hunts. Babb wrote short stories about impoverished Mexican work-Next page

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