Sanora Babb began writing Whose Names are Unknown in the 1930’s. She worked for the Farm Security Administration, and she based her novel on first-hand experience working with migrant farmers and their families. Whose Names are Unknown was slated for publication when John Steinbeck’s book hit the best-seller lists and eventually won the Pulitzer Prize. The publisher pulled Babb’s book saying that there was no room in the market for another book on the same subject.
Whose Names are Unknown was finally published in 2004 (only two years before Sanora Babb died at the age of 98) to much critical acclaim. The book is less a competitor to The Grapes of Wrath and more of a counterpart to it. Steinbeck created an epic fable-like masterpiece that is still one of my favorite books while Babb took a more journalistic approach. Her characters are not archetypes; they are people. The Booklist review put it this way: “A slightly less political, more female-oriented, companion piece to The Grapes of Wrath.”
Read more about Sanora Babb and her work in this online exhibit from the University of Texas at Austin.