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Sanora Babb Edit Profile

Writer ( art: literature)writer

Sanora Babb was an American novelist, poet and literary editor.


Sanora Babb was born in Otoe territory in what is now Oklahoma, though neither her mother nor father was Otoe. Her father, Walter, a professional gambler, moved Sanora and her sister Dorothy to a one room dugout on a broomcorn farm settled by her grandfather near Lamar, Colorado.


Student, Kansas University, 1924. Associate of Arts, Garden City Junior College, 1925.


She was also the wife of famed cinematographer James Wong Howe. Her experiences were fictionalized in her novels An Owl on Every Post and The Lost Traveler. Though she did not attend school until she was 11, she managed to graduate from high school as valedictorian.

She began studying at the University of Kansas but she could not afford to continue there and after one year transferred to the Junior College in Garden City, Kansas. Her first work in journalism was with the Garden City Herald, and several of her articles were reprinted by the Associated Press. She moved to Los Angeles in 1929 to work for the Los Angeles Times, but due to the U.S. stock market crash of 1929 the newspaper retracted its offer.

She was occasionally homeless through the Depression, sleeping in Lafayette Park. She eventually found secretarial work with Warner Brothers and wrote scripts for radio station KFWB. In 1938 she returned to California to work for the Farm Security Administration. While with FSA, she kept detailed notes on the tent camps of the Dust Bowl migrants to California, that were loaned to John Steinbeck by her supervisor Tom Collins.

She turned the stories she collected into her novel, Whose Names Are Unknown. Bennett Cerf planned to publish the novel with Random House, but the appearance of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath caused publication to be shelved in 1939. Her novel was not published until 2004.

She also had an affair with Ralph Ellison. They would not cohabit due to his traditional Chinese views, so they had separate apartments in the same building. When the state supreme court overturned California's anti-miscegenation law (which prohibited marriage between people of different races), it took them three days to find a judge who would agree to marry them.

Even then, the judge reportedly remarked, "She looks old enough. In the early 1940s Babb was West Coast secretary of the League of American Writers. She edited the literary magazine The Clipper and its successor The California Quarterly, helping to introduce the work of Ray Bradbury and B. Traven, as well as running a Chinese restaurant owned by Howe.

During the early years of the HUAC hearings, Babb was blacklisted, and moved to Mexico City to protect the "graylisted" Howe from further harassment.


  • book

  • Other Work

    • Editor: (book) The Clipper, 1940-1941, 1951-1952. Author: (novels) The Lost Traveler, (short stories) University of California at Los Angeles Extension, 1959. Editor: (book) memoir: An Owl On Every Post, 1970, The Dark Earth, 1987, Cry of the Tinamou.

      Author: (poetry book) Told in the Seed. Contributor poems to anthologies.


She joined the John Reed Club and was a member of the US Communist Party for 11 years, visiting the Soviet Union in 1936, but she dropped out of the party due to the authoritarian structure and in-fighting.


Married James Wong Howe Babb, September 18, 1949 (deceased 1976).

Walter Lacy Babb

Jennie Anna (Parks) Babb

James Wong Howe Babb