The Journey to Mother Road

The Journey to Mother Road

The Journey to Mother Road

Sometimes I want to be done with writing about prison. Sometimes I am too tired to take a stand. My children want it done. But I read the stories of the women inmates and see their faces and mannerisms. I can remember their smell. I made a promise. When I am stuck, I  take a walk and sit back down at the desk. My deep secret is, I will not get it right.  And so, my journey to Mother Road.

Help came in the form of a talk at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival: The Journey to Mother Road, Octavio Solis ( ). I had seen his play, Mother Road, the night before, and I was transfixed. The play recreated the journey backward from California to Oklahoma, following the path of the Dust Bowl migration in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. I felt a deep connection to his characters as they struggled for survival and acceptance. I recognized aspects of the women inmates in the characters: false bravado, rejection and crushing disappointment. If I could write like him, the women would be heard. I would do them justice.

So the next day I attended the talk like a pilgrim. I was not alone. People leaned forward, the woman next to me called out yes, over and over, like a gospel service. I caught myself sitting with hands clasped under my chin.

Solis described a journey along Route 66, interviewing the people connected to the history of the Dust Bowl. He was not sure if he would write a poem, a short story or a play. He met a Mexican-American man at a Migrant Center for Dust Bowl refugees who said, “I am Tom Joad. This story is about me. We, the people that live here, are the new Okies, and this novel is about my life.”

That’s it,” said Octavio Solis to the audience. “That was the play.” He was a keeper of the words, just like me.

Mother Road

At the end of the talk, Octavio Solis signed books and copies of plays. Theatre goers and  hungry actors sparkled around the table, praising his work. I hung back composing myself. This was my chance to ask for help from someone who understood.


Retablos, Stories from a Life Lived Along the Boarder

The Journey to Mother Road
Retablos, Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border

I bought his book Retablos, Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border, opened it to the title page and stepped forward. He greeted me warmly. I asked for him to sign the book to me. He looked up amused. “Make it to Karen,”  I said. “Please give me the advice to honor the voices I am writing for.” I explained it was the voices of incarcerated women. “I hold the pages of their stories. May I find the words.”

“Ah!” He shook his head yes, understanding. He paused and rubbed his chin. “I know just what to write.” He took his time, corrected letters, reread it and smiled. He looked up and stared at me. It would be a masterpiece, just for me. I thought I’d break into tears. I stammered a thank you and scuttled to the exit. I held the book to my chest and walked through the historical district and up the hill, I clutched the book all the way home. I placed the book on my desk and waited until my husband was home. These words would be from the depths and I did not want to be alone. My husband placed his sturdy paw around my shoulders, I cried a moment, then opened the book to the title page:

To Karen-

The secrets are rolled up and slipped into the flutes of your bones!


O.S. 7-19-19

The Best Stories are Already Written


“I think that the best stories are already written and are already inside of us, and we just have to listen to them,” Octavio Solis

So I sat back down at my desk and listened.

“I felt that I was onto something,” Solis said. “I felt that I was saying something in line with Mr. Steinbeck about my culture, about who I was and who I am, who we are and what we’re going through today. I felt that there was an utterly contemporary message that still resonated with the themes and ideas and story of ‘The Grapes of Wrath.

“More than ever I feel incumbent to take a stand,” Solis said. “I never thought of myself as a political writer. My intent is to tell a good story and present universal stories, but I guess politics are in there. This time I feel like I need to take a stand. These are times that you can’t be neutral, because we’re being nullified, demonized and treated like animals, and we have to take a stand. We have to say something about it.” Fowlkes, Caitlin, Mother Road, the road of flight, Ashland Tidings July 2, 2019




The Journey to Mother Road
Octavio Solis

The Journey to Mother Road

The Journey to Mother Road