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Whose Names Are Unknown

Babb wrote Whose Names are Unknown in the 1930s while working with refugee farmers in the Farm Security Administration (FSA) camps of California. Originally from the Oklahoma Panhandle area herself, Babb, who had first come to Los Angeles in 1929 as a journalist, joined FSA camp administrator Tom Collins to help set up the camps for the uprooted farmers. She submitted the manuscript for this book to Random House for consideration in 1939, and editor Bennett Cerf planned to publish this “exceptionally fine” novel. But, when John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath swept the nation, Cerf explained that the market could not support two books on the subject. It remained in a drawer for over 60 years until the University of Oklahoma Press published it in 2004.

In the fall of 2012, Ken Burns featured the novel in his Dust Bowl documentary and this has lead to the rediscovery of Sanora Babb’s work. She would certainly be pleased with readers’ praise for Whose Names Are Unknown:

“This is one of the great ‘lost’ books of the 1930s…It is a vivid, moving, inspirational story. The characters are so full of humanity and care in the face of great tragedy.”

“Babb’s writing is clean, she wastes no words and the narrative voice brings her fascinating characters to the pages in a way that will remain with the reader for some time. This is truly a novel to savor.”

“A masterpiece. The novel has trenchant social commentaries, a gripping plot and characters who are painfully believable.”

“More vivid, more real than Grapes of Wrath.”

“Finally, after all these years, Sanora Babb receives her due. A beautiful novel to rival The Grapes of Wrath. It is deep, compelling and deserving of praise and recognition for her, albeit posthumously.”

“It is so well written, thoughtful and relevant to today’s migrant workers. Beautiful book, even if you’ve read The Grapes of Wrath, don’t miss this one. Amazing, it will blow you away.”

“Babb’s writing is so passionate and insightful. This book gives insights into the Dust Bowl and the great westward migration that greatly exceeds even Grapes of Wrath.”


Pen USA 2005 Literary Award (finalist)

ForeWord Reviews 2004 Book of the Year – Literary Fiction (finalist)

2004 Spur Award—Best Western Novel—Western Writers of America (finalist)