“Highway 66 is the main migrant road,” wrote John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath, his migrant worker social commentary. It is “the path of people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land . . . 66 is the mother road.” How prophetic Steinbeck’s words of six decades ago now seem. Migrants from points north, south and west flocked to the Inland Empire in search of broken dreams and affordable housing, taming a desert wasteland that Joan Didion once described as “a harsher California.”
Today, our arid metropolis east of Los Angeles is a microcosm rife with the racial, socioeconomic and ideological problems of its migrant population, a land familiar to stereotype-prone TV viewers through its meth labs and gang violence. Emerging from the ruins of torn-down citrus groves and dairy farms, brutality and despair is a growing literary heritage yearning for recognition.
This Saturday, the Riverside Main Library is hosting the Inlandia Festival to celebrate the release of the anthology Inlandia, spanning 200 years of the Inland Empire’s literary history. Inlandia’s selections meld the nostalgic visions of the past with the reality of the future through voices both familiar —writers like Norman Mailer, Didion, Raymond Chandler and Helen Hunt Jackson—and already established or emerging, like Susan Straight, Mike Davis and Juan Delgado, who represent the IE’s current divisive economic, social and geographic landscape.
Fourteen authors will be on hand to read, discuss and sign their books, with live entertainment provided by the Morongo Bird Singers, taiko drummers and Mexican guitar corridos (there’ll also be ethnic food booths). The library will also play host to a month-long exhibit of historic photos drawn from the Shades of Riverside and Avery Fields Collections.
The Inlandia Festival is an absolute must for IE residents, if not for the cultural know, then as a way to re-discover the passions that ignited the easterly migration to the land of smog, heat and dust clouds. (Nancy Powell)
The Inlandia Festival at the Riverside Main Library, 3581 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside, (951) 826-5201; http://www.riversideca.gov/library/. Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Free.