Local author, Ella Thorp Ellis, read from her fascinating memoir, Dune Child. It’s a tale of growing up as one of two children in a bohemian beach community during the Great Depression. The social upheaval and economic hardships called for new efforts at collaboration. Ella’s father and mother were part of a commune that featured other rich and poor adults seeking to rekindle the flames of mutual support and artistic self-expression that form the basis of “society.” Some residents were down and out after the Wall Street crash. Other members of this socialist haven had felt the impoverishment at the heart of wealth and power and wanted to live life with feeling and purpose. Ella’s father, Dunham Thorp, plunged into the sands and surf of the American West, editing the Dune Forum to express a new vision of labor, life and solidarity. The venture received the financial support of Chester Alan Arthur’s grandson, and others looking for transformation.
The author has written many books for young adults. She told us about the process of writing and the reason she chose this audience. In her wise and humble way, she said that teens were often forced to show one exterior to the world which often hid a very caring and emotional inner being. This led to a quest for authenticity and self-expression which fascinated her and was part of her own journey into adulthood. Fellow Children’s Author, Beverly Cleary advised Ella to move into the novel form and, no doubt, enjoyed her delightful storytelling, as they walked to pick their children up from school! It was an added treat to have a local author’s local husband in the audience! People on the library staff also know the couple’s three sons and their families.
Turns out, Ella knew everyone. She met the Hindu mystic, Meher Baba, when she was a child at Moy Mell. John Steinbeck stopped by this upbeat bohemia to cheer himself up, trying out his stories on a willing (and empathetic) audience. Photographer, Edward Weston, inspired and educated her to take time and develop concentration on the subject(s) she selected for her art. She helped him carry photographic plates and equipment out into the Sand dunes (near San Luis Obispo) where he took many of his famous shots. Ella was less friendly toward author and socialist politician, Upton Sinclair, who channeled her father’s attentions away from her and didn’t seem to recognize a child’s serious contribution to “changing the world.” Her book reminds us that a child’s garden of voices is the community we all remember and the utopia many of us seek.
The year of my Indian prince
Swimming with the whales
Hugo and the Princess Nena
Where the road ends
Celebrate the morning.
Roam the wild country.