Levan Center hosts Wartzman

Amber Hayden

Elias C. Ahumada, Reporter

On Feb. 27, the Norman Levan Center for Humanities hosted Rick Wartzman, an author and former journalist for The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times. Those in attendance included more than 30 Bakersfield natives and approximately12 students.
Wartzman discussed his book, “Obscene in the Extreme,” during the second part of a series in honor of the 75th anniversary of “The Grapes of Wrath.”
Wartzman, a native of Baltimore, Md., attended North Western University. Wartzman seemed very knowledgeable about Kern County and even said, “This county is full of so many stories and so much history.”
When asked why he decided to write the book, “Obscene to the Extreme,” Wartzman said, “This book grew out of the first book that I had written, a book called “The King of California,” and Bill Camp, who is a major character in “Obscene to the Extreme,” was kind of a minor character in the first book.”
Wartzman also said that seeing a picture of the book “The Grapes of Wrath” being burned was one reason why he wrote “Obscene to the Extreme.”
During a reading of his first book at Russo’s, Wartzman said a friend of his asked him if he had seen the photograph of Camp burning “The Grapes of Wrath,” which he said was a photograph that always stayed with him. His friend also brought his attention to a female librarian who was considered “a great freedom fighter.” The librarian fought against censorship, which captured Wartzman’s attention, and four years later his book came out.
Wartzman reflected on how censorship in literature has changed over time.
“Places do change, obviously the book was restored two years later, and now there’s reading of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ among people, and institutions like [Bakersfield College] can celebrate John Steinbeck and his contributions in a way that never would have happened before.”
According to Wartzman, Steinbeck couldn’t live in Salinas for a while after “The Grapes of Wrath” was published because he was so reviled in his hometown.
Wartzman’s final thoughts on his project were, “These are all great journeys, writing a book. Every one is a different journey. This one was a great one to do. I learned a lot and I always have fun writing them. Then you put it away, and I’m on to the next one.”