Our Daily Dead

Doing some research on RSS readers — applications that let you compile feeds from blogs and news sites and any other online source that cares to one up — I came across a site I had long ago noted and then forgotten about: Our Daily Dead. Wow. It’s a sort of super-blog that traffics in notable obituaries and sometimes the miscellaneous arcana of death.

In looking at the site just now, I came across the following literary obit, published last week in the Los Angeles Times:

Sanora Babb, 98; Writer Whose Masterpiece Rivaled Steinbeck’s

If there were lessons to be learned from Sanora Babb’s hardscrabble years as a child on the Colorado frontier, one of them must have been perseverance.

Babb waited 65 years in the shadow of a literary giant for her first completed novel to be published. Upstaged in 1939 by John Steinbeck’s bestselling “The Grapes of Wrath,” Babb’s tale about the travails of a Depression-era farm family was shelved by the venerable Random House, which feared that the market would not support two novels on the same theme. Bitterly disappointed, Babb stuck her manuscript in a drawer, and there it remained until 2004, when it was rescued by the University of Oklahoma Press.

At 97, Babb earned long-overdue praise for the novel, “Whose Names Are Unknown,” an acutely observed chronicle of one family’s flight from the drought and dust storms of the high plains to the migrant camps of California during the 1930s.

Reviewers called it a “long-forgotten masterpiece” and “an American classic both literary and historical,” as compelling as Steinbeck’s epic work and in some ways more authentic.

The widow of Oscar-winning cinematographer James Wong Howe, whom she dated in the 1940s in defiance of California’s anti-miscegenation laws, Babb died of natural causes Dec. 31 at her Hollywood Hills home, said Joanne Dearcopp, her longtime agent and literary executor. She was 98.

The obit goes on to note that Babb’s editor at Random House, the legendary Bennett Cerf, both praised “Whose Names Are Unknown” to the heavens and declared it couldn’t be published. “What rotten luck,” the obit quotes him as writing to Babb in reference to “The Grapes of Wrath.” “Obviously, another book at this time about exactly the same subject would be a sad anticlimax!”

The obit is a wonderful read. I want the book in my hands right now.

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