A lost gem of twentieth-century literature, Josephine Johnson’s 1934 Pulitzer Prize–winning “exquisite…heartbreakingly real” (The New York Times Book Review) novel follows a year in the life of a family struggling to survive the Dust Bowl.
Published when Josephine Johnson was only twenty-four years old, Now in November made Johnson the youngest ever winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1935. It is a beautifully told account of one farming family’s challenges to scrape by and earn a living from mortgaged land over the course of a single year, narrated by one of three sisters—the introspective and thoughtful Margaret. As the household is ravaged by Depression-era hardship and the environmental blights of the Dust Bowl, the family’s unique vulnerabilities are pushed to a breaking point.
In a style typical of Johnson’s body of work, Now in November is strikingly ahead of its time, grappling with questions of mental health, worker’s rights, as well as gender, race, and class and is ready to be rediscovered by a new generation of readers.
This lyrical Pulitzer-winning debut from Johnson (1910–1990), first published in 1935, takes an impressionistic look at the Dust Bowl. The white Haldmarne family's land is heavily mortgaged and barely arable. Reflecting on what they've endured over the past decade, oldest daughter Marget recalls the steadiness of their mother and the volatile moods of their father: "He wanted some safety for us, freedom from that fear and doubt he had always known himself." But the farm requires more labor than the family can do alone, so they take in a neighbor, Grant, who works for room and board. Marget falls in love with him, but he only has eyes for her younger sister Merle. Kerrin, the third daughter and outcast of the family, wants to leave and entertains herself with reading King Lear. As the Great Depression deepens and drought worsens, poverty magnifies the family's misfortunes, though they fare better than their Black neighbors, the Ramseys. Amid strife, Marget finds comfort in the gentle and predictable beauty of nature, though it does not remain the balm she had hoped. Along the way, Johnson offers many intelligent insights via Marget's narration, as well as an unflinching look at the family's desperation. This lost work is well worth rediscovering.