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John Steinbeck: The Voice of a Region, a Voice for America

A National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute exploring Steinbeck's sense of place; his California fiction and prose; and his environmental, scientific and political sensibilities.

Held at Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University, Pacific Grove, CA, July 14-August 2, 2013

Dear Colleague,

John Steinbeck remains a seminal American writer, a voice of the marginalized American. It is not incidental that Bruce Springsteen produced a 1995 album entitled The Ghost of Tom Joad. Nor that Oprah chose East of Eden to launch her new book group in 2004. Nor that the centennial celebration of Steinbeck's birth in 2002, underwritten by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, occasioned an astounding 400 nationwide events dedicated to him. Nor that articles on Steinbeck's work remain a regular feature in the press ("Split by Race and Wealth, But discovering Similarities as they Study Steinbeck," New York Times, 1/16/12). This institute, offered in 2007, 2009, and 2011, focuses on reasons why John Steinbeck (1902-1968), author of more than thirty books and winner of the Pulitzer Prize (1940, for The Grapes of Wrath), the Nobel Prize for Literature (1962) and the United States Medal of Freedom (1964) remains a significant cultural voice--as novelist, dramatist, visionary ecologist and enduring commentator on twentieth-century American values and ideals.

He is also a regional writer in the best sense, for his passionate attachment to place and to California's history and diverse peoples informs much of his finest work, from early short stories to the compelling East of Eden (1952) through his final novel set in California, Sweet Thursday (1954). John Steinbeck's sense of place and history was enriched by his interest in science. His friendship with marine biologist Edward F. Ricketts from 1930-1948 had a deep and lasting impact on his work, evident in the book that was his own favorite, Sea of Cortez. But Steinbeck's ecological and scientific sensibilities inform many other of his works, both fiction and nonfiction.

This National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute is about those diverse and intersecting visions—about the writer who delineated with great clarity the contours of his region, and who also spoke forcefully and clearly for American values.

Steinbeck remains a beloved American author because he connects with readers, a stance he cultivated. He wanted readers to "participate" in each book and to "understand"; both are words he used again and again. His clear prose and empathetic vision continue to inspire readers at all levels. But he has also been dismissed by some academics and critics who find his prose sentimental or over simplified, or criticize what they see as his spongy politics or seeming lack of ethnic and gender awareness. The seminar will explore why Steinbeck deserves complex consideration through discussions focused on his regional ties as well as his ecological, political, and social visions.

During this three-week institute based on the Monterey Peninsula, teachers and scholars will reconsider this iconic American writer.Days will be filled with study, exploration of the area, discussion and reflection. The first part of the Institute focuses on Steinbeck and the land, while the second examines Steinbeck and the sea, with particular emphasis on his interest in marine ecology. During the three weeks, participants will have ample opportunity to appreciate "Steinbeck Country" through our holistic exploration of Steinbeck's literature.


The Steinbeck Institute will begin late afternoon on Sunday, July 14, and end at 5:00 PM on August 2. Throughout the institute, NEH Summer Scholars will be immersed in the social history and ecological awareness that inform Steinbeck's California fiction: local agricultural and fishing industries, the California mission legacy, migrant histories that shaped regional diversity, and the interest in marine studies that he and Ricketts shared. Steinbeck scholars as well as local historians and biologists will lead workshops that focus on the regional influences and historical and ecological contexts for several of his major novels. Central to a full appreciation of his work will be on-site visits to Steinbeck locales: Salinas and the Salinas Valley, the Monterey coast, the environs of Pacific Grove, Carmel and Carmel Valley. Site visits and field work will make use of local resources, including the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Ed Ricketts's lab on Cannery Row, Mission San Antonio, and Hopkins Marine Station for tide pooling (where Steinbeck himself took classes in marine biology in 1923). During an on-site agricultural tour, NEH Summer Scholars will learn about crop diversity, water use, and labor and housing issues. NEH Summer Scholars will also spend one day on a research vessel on Monterey Bay with local area experts on hand to discuss marine life and local history.
The first week examines Steinbeck as a short story writer and social historian, focusing on short stories in The Long Valley, as well as his novels Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. At the beginning of the second week, the group turns to Steinbeck's epic treatment of the Salinas Valley, East of Eden. Midway through that week the focus shifts to Steinbeck and the sea and consideration of Cannery Row and Sea of Cortez. An important goal is to integrate Steinbeck's environmental vision with his novels, and we will therefore consider his work in light of representative classic selections from Aldo Leopold, Gary Snyder, and Rachel Carson. (Steinbeck told his wife Elaine that Silent Spring was the one book he wished he had written.) In these discussions we will move beyond a reading of Steinbeck as social historian of the 1930s to consider how his work resonates with contemporary issues and environmental ethics.

Throughout this three-week institute, the NEH Summer Scholars will thus consider how Steinbeck's literature speaks across disciplines—historical, political, and scientific.

A variety of approaches to teaching will be modeled during the institute. Utilizing performance pedagogy as a method for interactive interpretation of texts, two sessions will be devoted to integrating performance and performance theory in the classroom. One session will be given by a professor of creative writing, who will examine the structure of Steinbeck's short stories and how they reveal the author's approach to writing fiction. Small groups will discuss pedagogy with a professor of education as well as with secondary school teachers. Workshops will consider the importance of voice and ethnicity—exploring both the varied regional voices that Steinbeck sought to include in his novels (ethnic and southwestern migrants) as well as analyzing how these voices continue to speak to larger issues in American society. In the second part of the institute, we will examine ways in which field studies can enrich the reading of environmental texts.

Program Directors and teacher facilitators will alsomeet in curriculum planning workshops designed to help NEH Summer Scholars adapt institute materials and approaches for their classroom needs. Participants will contribute their resulting lessons or other curricular materials to a national project website housing scholarly resources, an image gallery, and curriculum materials developed by the institute: See the results of previous Steinbeck Institutes (and additional information on the 2013 program) at

Core Faculty

Dr. Susan Shillinglaw is a Professor of English at San Jose State University and Scholar-in-Residence at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas. She had been a co-Director of each Steinbeck Institute. Dr. William Gilly is a Professor of Biology at Stanford University, and he has been involved in each previous institute and was co-Director in 2011. Both co-teach a course at Stanford University, Holistic Biology, that is designed to bridge humanities and science, and they frequently lecture together on Steinbeck, Ricketts, and the Sea of Cortez.

Susan Shillinglaw will give presentations on Steinbeck as well as conduct site visits to important regional locales. A noted Steinbeck scholar, she has published several articles on the author and has edited Steinbeck's journalism (America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction) and collections of essays. She has also written introductions to Penguin editions of Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men, A Russian Journal, The Winter of Our Discontent and most recently The Portable Steinbeck, reissued for the 50th anniversary of Steinbeck's Nobel Prize.She is the author of A Journey Into Steinbeck's California (2006; 2nd edition 2011), a copy of which will be sent to all participants, and has recently completed a biography of Steinbeck's California marriage to Carol Henning, forthcoming in 2013 from University of Nevada Press. Her current project is to co-edit a Steinbeck encyclopedia of cultural contexts, All Things Steinbeck.h
William Gilly is a marine biologist based at Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove. He was Director and Chief Scientist for the 2004 retracing of Steinbeck and Ricketts's Sea of Cortez trip. In addition to an accomplished scientific career in which he has published over 90 peer-reviewed publications, he has engaged in numerous outreach projects involving print, television, radio and web media. Gilly has taught literature and interdisciplinary studies in his Holistic Biology course at Stanford since 2005 and is working with educational programs at all levels through his outreach program, Squids-4-Kids. He is one of the "Nifty Fifty" scientists who spoke to high school classrooms in the Washington D.C. area in 2010 and 2012 in conjunction with the USA Science and Engineering Festival. His current research focuses on the ecology and physiology of the Humboldt squid and on impacts of decreasing oxygen in marine systems, including Monterey Bay. He will lead discussions and workshops on Steinbeck's relationship with science, field work in the rocky intertidal and the exploratory day at sea.

In addition to the directors, guest faculty include Dr. Robert DeMott, a Professor of English at Ohio University, author of Steinbeck's Typewriter: Essays on His Art and editor of Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath as well as the Steinbeck titles for the Library of America; Dr. Chris Fink, creative writer and Associate Professor of English at Beloit College, who has been a contributing editor for Steinbeck Studies; Dr. Matthew Spangler, an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at San Jose State University and author and director of over thirty adaptations of literature for the stage; Dr. Scot Guenter, Professor of Humanities at San Jose State University teaches American Studies and will discuss East of Eden, film and text, in cultural context; Dr. Persis Karim, who will discuss working class voices in The Grapes of Wrath; Dr. Mary Adler, Associate Professor of English at California State University, Channel Islands, specializes in secondary education will discuss pedagogy; and Dr. Craig Strang, , ecologist at the Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California, Berkeley, is involved with their Ocean Literacy project, an "ocean-oriented approach to teaching science standards." Additional diverse authors and teachers in the fields of California history, marine biology, and Steinbeck studies will lead workshops and discussions.

Expectations of NEH Summer Scholars

NEH Summer Scholars should expect an intensive but rewarding experience during this three-week institute. Workshops are scheduled Monday through Friday, with weekends free until Sunday evenings, when we gather for group discussions. Several weekday evenings are set aside for viewing pertinent films, sharing informal meals and other gatherings. Institute sessions will include lectures, discussions, small group workshops, writing, field study and participatory performance—each providing a different methodology for understanding and interacting with the institute readings.

Since the weeks at the institute are filled with discussion and activities, all NEH summer scholars are expected to have read all assigned Steinbeck texts before arrival. In addition, there will be short readings assigned during the three-week institute. NEH Summer Scholars are expected to attend all scheduled events.
Throughout, NEH Summer Scholars will be supported in translating ideas, content, and approaches from workshops into an appropriate format to engage students. Interdisciplinary approaches, performance-based pedagogy, and place-based observation will be emphasized. Each NEH Summer Scholar will develop a lesson plan, present it in outline at the closing session and submit it in final form for the website ( by a date to be agreed upon.

A letter will be sent to all NEH Summer Scholars after acceptance detailing specific readings as well as a calendar of presentation topics. Texts to be considered during the institute will include: Of Mice and Men, The Long Valley, The Grapes of Wrath, Log from the Sea of Cortez, Cannery Row and East of Eden

Applicants' Qualifications

Applicants to NEH Summer Institutes must be practicing full-time (or the equivalent) teachers or full-time graduate students intending to pursue a career in secondary education (three places are available for graduate students). We welcome applications from a variety of disciplines, including natural and social sciences. Previous experience teaching Steinbeck or American literature is not required, but applicants must wish to incorporate knowledge of Steinbeck into their professional lives in some meaningful way.

Academic resources

NEH Summer Scholars will be able to use the California Room at the Monterey Public Library and the Miller Library at Hopkins Marine Station, where Steinbeck texts will be housed. In addition, the Directors will provide key secondary texts.

The Victorian Inn has wireless internet in each room at no additional cost; participants are strongly encouraged to bring laptops.


NEH Summer Scholars will be housed at The Victorian Inn on Foam Street, two blocks from Cannery Row and Ed Ricketts's Lab, the meeting spot for Steinbeck and other local artists and writers throughout the 1930s, and about four blocks from Hopkins Marine Station, where sessions are held. Room rates are $143.00 + tax per night for a shared room with breakfast and afternoon snacks. Participants should expect to allocate approximately half their stipend for a shared room at this hotel. A few singles are available for the same rate.

The Victorian Inn affords NEH Summer Scholars the unparalleled opportunity to be within walking distance of numerous Steinbeck sites and points of interest on a daily basis. Its location and accommodations are superb. The hotel offers hot breakfast, free internet in rooms, as well as easy access to the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail.


NEH Summer Scholars participating in a three-week institute are awarded a $2700 stipend, which is meant to help cover travel, housing, and food costs during the institute. Half of the stipend will be given to participants when they arrive (a portion of those funds must be used to cover the hotel on arrival) and the remaining amount will be provided near the end of the project. In order to be eligible for the full amount of the stipend, NEH Summer Scholars must attend all scheduled events and activities.

Continuing Education Credit (CEUs) for NEH Summer Scholars

Optional continuing education units (CEUs are not equivalent to college course credit, however) can be earned for 1-6 units at the nominal fee of $25 per unit. These units have been arranged at one of the host institutions, San Jose State University. Additional work beyond attendance and full participation at the institute is not required to earn this credit. 

Application Procedures and Deadlines

The application cover sheet is available on the NEH website.  Your completed application should be postmarked no later than March 4, 2013 and should be addressed to: Susan Shillinglaw, Department of English, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA  95192. Please send three copies of your complete application, including all letters of recommendation.

Applications should include the information required by the National Endowment for the Humanities (see the NEH website for application download): a.) An application cover sheet (completed and submitted online and printed to enclose with the application); b.) A resume of educational background, noting specific courses taken in American literature and related subjects; c.) A brief essay (no more than 4 double spaced pages) describing the applicant's reasons for applying--both academic and personal; d.) Two letters of recommendation that speak to your teaching experience and intellectual interests and strengths. The essay is an important part of the application and should address qualifications, reasons for attending the institute, and how you hope to integrate the material into your teaching and your school's curriculum.

Three reviewers will evaluate the applications for the institute: These include both program directors and someone with high school teaching experience.

We look forward to a series of productive discussions together, stimulated and enriched by the historic, ecological and cultural backdrop of the Monterey Peninsula and the Salinas Valley. Our goal is to invite NEH Summer Scholars into a conversation that examines connections, the ways in which literature, history, geography, science, and social awareness intersect. This is the broad vision that Steinbeck embraced. We hope each NEH Summer Scholar will come away with a richer appreciation of the ways that Steinbeck's sense of place—both local and national--informs his social, historical and ecological vision of America. We trust that each NEH Summer Scholar will take ideas and knowledge back to students for further discussion and exploration. Please join us!

Sincerely yours,


Dr. Susan Shillinglaw and Dr. William Gilly
Co-Directors, Steinbeck Institute





Stanford University


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