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I Knew We Wuz Poor: Coming of Age on an Arkansas Farm in the Great Depression

With stories, original poetry, and vivid prose this book views the Great Depression through childhood memories. The work promises enjoyment for survivors, descendants, and heirs of that lodestar of the American experience. In a direct, accessible, colorful style it recalls the pain and joy, bitter failures and euphoric successes, life shaping loves and dark dreads, the painful goodbyes to brothers off to war and the euphoria of their homecoming. It highlights a childhood shared with a sister, and a lifetime of shared commitments. The concluding Quo Vadis sketches the story's outcome and a eulogy for sister Wanda. The appendix offers images of their storied world.

The book features farmwomen playing key roles. The dedication honors three -- immigrant Grandma Roetzel, widowed mother of four under ten, her daughter, author's Aunt Minnie, thoughtful and loving, and author's mother whose third grade education paired with an iron will shaped this story. It recognizes how her avid study of a dog-eared Bible sparked a resistance to a fundamentalist religion that treated human woes as divine punishment, and notes her prescience in pushing higher education as an escape from poverty.

The work recalls the sights, sounds, odors, tastes, sweat, tears, grandeur and misery of Great Depression farm life. It refuses to romanticize that experience, but recounts how the intelligence, character, imagination, grit and love of immigrant families led to fulfilling possibilities.

I'm hard put to convey just how moving a piece this is. It evokes so much in such a straight on way, but what really stands out most is the voicing--It hooked me from word one. It made the setting come alive with real world descriptions, references and emotions. The story line is so compelling because of this quality. The narrator is all but alive. I wonder what the author requires of himself as a writer to make this work so powerfully accessible. It beautifully evokes a world we've all but lost, and the people too. James Brewer Stewart: James Wallace Professor of History, Emeritus.

In this remarkable and generous-spirited memoir, Calvin Roetzel vividly evokes the loving family and community that shaped his boyhood in depression-era Arkansas. With little in the way of material goods, the love, kindness, and integrity that nurtured him were beyond price. These stories are Dr. Roetzel's tribute to his family, but they are also a reminder of what truly makes all our lives meaningful. They are, in his words, "guardians of a past, teachers of the present, and architects of an open future." A tonic of hope in these troubled times. Professor of History: Mary Wingerd, Emerita.

--Calvin J. Roetzel

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