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Ken Light : Valley of Shadows and Dreams


Ken Light and I have been really happy to see our latest book, Valley of Shadows and Dreams, find its way onto the pages of the NY Times Sunday Review, reviewed by Newsweek’s Daily Beast and shown at the Oakland Museum this fall. But, five years ago I would never have imagined this story would grow as it did. I had been one of those Californians that just drives through the hot, empty Central Valley, which is about the size of Ireland, in order to get to our beautiful mountains. Then, I did research there for another piece of writing about pioneering photojournalist Hansel Mieth for an exhibiton catalogue which required sifting through birth and death records at a county records department deep in this God forsaken, but amazingly productive land. After handling the giant ledgers filled with loopy fountain pen handwriting from the early 20th century, I saw how people had come from all over the world to be a part of the California Dream. I looked through the library’s old newspapers to find information and ended up following the story of the cotton strike near Corcoran in 1933. The fight was bitter, violent and both the growers and pickers went at it in full. When I started my drive back home, I started to really look at what was around me. What I saw were a great number of brand new housing developments going into prime agricultural land. I didn’t know that moment was the peak of a housing boom that would bust within a year and create the worst conditions since that cotton strike in 1933, and for the same reasons. All I knew is that it seemed very strange and that no one seemed to be in charge of managing the need for agricultural land against the need for housing stock right where so much of the country’s food is grown.

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