Author expounds on much-read “The Worst Hard Time”

Egan delivers speech at Lied Center

In at least some respects, Timothy Egan, author of “The Worst Hard Time,” appears to have it right when he says the history of those who stayed and endured the Dust Bowl “almost escaped us.”

Joe and Rita Spradlin were young children living near Bloom, Kan., during the severe April 1935 Black Sunday dust storm. They remember the day vividly. But at the Lied Center Thursday night, as Egan talked about his book, which tells the stories of those who lived through the storms, Joe and Rita realized even they had forgotten details from those hard times so long ago.

“It brought back memories,” Joe said of the speech. And it “brought up issues I don’t even remember.”

Egan appeared in front of more than 600 people on the Kansas University campus to discuss his National Book Award-winning work, which was the subject of the KU Common Book program and the Lawrence Public Library’s Read Across Lawrence, both of which encourage people to read the same book and engage in literary events.

Egan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter who lives in Seattle, said he chose his subject in part because he learned that two-thirds of those living in the Dust Bowl’s main path toughed it out. He said the Dust Bowl’s history is not taught enough and that a common reference point — John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath” — was about the people who fled west.

Egan told a story about how he once peeked into his son’s textbook from an advanced placement high school history course and there was only one paragraph devoted to the Dust Bowl. The audience responded with an audible groan.

He recapped the causes and effects of the dust storms and shared anecdotes from his interviews with living Dust Bowl survivors. In one, he said that after the book was published in 2006, one of his more prominently featured sources received many requests from kids to recount her experience to them.

“She got to have her story told,” Egan said.