Dust Bowl poet Wilma McDaniel dies

April 20, 2007 at 3:12 PM
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TULARE, Calif., April 20 (UPI) -- Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel, a prolific poet who wrote of central California during the Dust Bowl, died in a Tulare, Calif., care facility at the age of 88.

"She was the California Walt Whitman -- she took plain language and turned it into something magical," author Gerald Haslam told the Los Angeles Times.

Her poem, "gravy says a lot," led to a Fresno (Calif.) Bee book editor -- paying homage to her ability to turn everyday experiences in to poetic wisdom -- to dub McDaniel "the biscuits and gravy poet," a nickname McDaniel reportedly never cared for.

In 1936, her sharecropper family was among the thousands seeking escape from the dust storms and accompanying hard times in Oklahoma, arriving at a relative's ranch in Livingston, Calif. The family stayed four years, then traveled the state, following the the crops.

McDaniel, who died April 13, was in her 50s before she was published, bringing a shoebox of her poems to the Tulare Advance-Register. Eventually, she produced more than 25 books of poetry, and "never lost touch with the blue-collar life of which she wrote," said Haslam, who taught writing at Sonoma State for 30 years.

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