California Sun

Happy Sunday.

Here are a few stories you missed in the California Sun over the last week.

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Sun sampler


San Francisco on Sept. 9, 2020, after massive wildfires turned the sky orange.

Brittany Hosea-Small/AFP via Getty Images

"I remember waking up that day being extremely confused."

"Just being afraid, collectively afraid with everyone else."

"It was like the end of the world."

A new short documentary by The New Yorker tells the story of Sept. 9, 2020, in San Francisco through the memories of its residents. The title: "When the Sky Turned Orange." YouTube (~5:30 mins)


The Los Angeles River has been bound in concrete since the 1930s.

“The river keeps me alive.”

A massive proposal to bring new life to the Los Angeles River would install pavilions, cultural centers and multimillion-dollar parks. But life already thrives along the 51-mile waterway: Nearly 9,000 homeless Angelenos dwell there. Many supplement their diets with the river's fish and crustaceans. Plans to relocate them threatens their ability to survive, homeless advocates say. High Country News

Photo project: Life along the L.A. River.


A Coachella Valley teenager has become the first person from her indigenous Mexican community to be accepted to Harvard — with a full scholarship. Elizabeth Esteban lives in a mobile home in the desert settlement of Mecca, where her Purepecha parents migrated from Michoacán in search of a better life. Esteban burst into tears when she got the news. Her next goal, she said: Congress. KABC | NBC Palm Springs


"Sasquatch" ventures into Northern California's cannabis country.

For a new docuseries, a gonzo journalist plunged into California's Emerald Triangle to investigate rumors that three cannabis-farm workers were killed by Sasquatch. He doesn't find the mythical forest monster, but he does encounter a genuinely frightening underworld, "peopled by both affable eccentrics and humorless lifers glaring with the capacity for violence." | The Guardian


Jake Larson, a 98-year-old man in the Bay Area, lost his wife to cancer in 1991. His granddaughter recently surprised him with an animated picture of his late wife when she was young. Posted on TikTok, the video of his reaction has been viewed millions of times. "Look at that smile," he says, tearing up. "I can't believe it. It's her. This past November 23 we would have been married 75 years. And I still love her." @storytimewithpapajake


Jesse Larios has been walking for 11 days, sleeping along the road.

Bearsun, the Forrest Gump of teddy bears with a relentlessly cheerful disposition, was spotted in San Jose Thursday, having walked all the way from Los Angeles on a quest to reach San Francisco. The man inside, 33-year-old Jesse Larios, set off on a lark on April 12, documenting his journey on Instagram. The stunt has grown into something bigger, inspiring fans who have come out to cheer him on. Mercury News | @iambearsun


Oklahomans in a potato pickers' camp near Shafter in 1937.

In 1938, Sanora Babb, a struggling journalist from Oklahoma, found a job with the Farm Security Administration helping Dust Bowl migrants in California’s Central Valley.

She traveled with her supervisor, Tom Collins, from camp to camp, checking in on migrants and taking detailed notes about their lives. She was amazed by their resilience: “How brave they all are,” she wrote in a letter to her sister. “I have not heard one complaint!”

Babb, who was born this week in 1907, realized she had fodder for a great novel on her hands, and set about writing. She sent a few chapters to Random House in New York, which responded to the first-time author with enthusiasm, flying her out to complete the work.

What Babb didn’t know was that Collins had given her notes to another author who was working feverishly on his own Dust Bowl novel. His name: John Steinbeck.

The Salinas newsman had struck up a relationship with Collins while reporting articles for the San Francisco News. He talked Collins into sharing government reports that included Babb’s meticulous first-hand accounts of life in the camps.

Sanora Babb in 1925.

Henry Ransom Center/University of Texas at Austin

As Babb was adding finishing touches to her novel, “The Grapes of Wrath” was released in April of 1939. It was a sensation, dominating best-seller lists and ultimately catapulting Steinbeck to literary greatness.

The Random House publisher Bennett Cerf tore up Babb’s contract. “What rotten luck," he wrote to her in August. "Obviously, another book at this time about exactly the same subject would be a sad anticlimax!"

Bitterly dismayed, Babb shoved her manuscript in a drawer, where it languished for decades. Then in 2004, the University of Oklahoma Press rescued the work, titled "Whose Names Are Unknown."

Noting its lean prose and rich detail, reviewers called the novel a “work of art” and "an American classic both literary and historical.” Some said it was better than Steinbeck’s book. Babb, then 97 and bedridden in her Hollywood Hills home, was thrilled by the belated attention, calling the novel “the most meaningful book I've written.” A little more than a year later, she died.


Thanks for reading!

The California Sun is written by Mike McPhate, a former California correspondent for the New York Times.

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