Despite Cost of Other Literary Journals, Literary Criticism Survives at Steinbeck Review

Cover image and contents page of scholarly journal on SteinbeckAs scholarly journals become too expensive for non-commercial publishers and too costly for non-institutional subscribers, Steinbeck Review survives, a fortunate exception to the unfortunate fact that many academic journals devoted to literary criticism are no longer economically sustainable. The latest issue, published in December, features literary criticism, history, and news of interest to individual Steinbeck readers. Best of all, an individual subscription remains more affordable than scholarly journals priced for institutional libraries.

As Scholarly Journals Inflate, Literary Criticism Suffers

Like other literary journals coping with changing market conditions, Steinbeck Review has altered its name, look, and frequency since its founding in 1988 at San Jose State University. Started as one of several literary journals devoted to Steinbeck in the heyday of general scholarly journals and books, it first appeared in newsletter format as Steinbeck Studies, a publication of San Jose State University’s Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies.

By 2004 it had become the most respected academic journal in its field of focus, changing its name to Steinbeck Review and its format to book size and length. The first edition published under the literary journal’s new name and management—outsourced to Scarecrow Press, a respected publisher of scholarly journals and books—contained 170 pages and a call for papers to be read at an international Steinbeck conference in Japan. Literary criticism and history about Steinbeck had become a global growth industry, and Japan was a world leader.

Today international conference costs are beyond reach for some institutions and most individuals, and literary journals specializing in an author not named Shakespeare have become a dying breed. Costs of production have hit scholarly publications in non-scientific fields particularly hard almost everywhere, and new books of literary criticism devoted to Steinbeck are now scarcer than crows in Kyoto. The current issue of Steinbeck Review lists only three books of Steinbeck literary criticism published in the last 12 months. We wrote about two of them at The third, A Political Companion to John Steinbeck, isn’t literary criticism.

Literary Criticism, Literary Journals, and Steinbeck Lovers

Fortunately for Steinbeck lovers, Steinbeck Review survives by maintaining its ties to its home at San Jose State and its appeal to the international Steinbeck community. Its latest issue compares favorably with similar literary journals in length and scope but, as Steinbeck wished for his own books during his lifetime, remains both readable and affordable for regular fans. The scholarly journal’s professional editorial team—Barbara Heavilin, Mary Brown, and Paul Douglass—respond personally to questions about submitting articles. Under the expert management of Pennsylvania State University Press, the online submission process is easy to navigate and efficient to operate.

Despite the continuing decline in printed literary criticism about Steinbeck, Steinbeck Review shows every sign of long-term survival. Articles cover a range of topics, from formal literary criticism to personal essays and thoughtful book reviews. Contributors include passionate amateurs like the late Roy Simmonds, as well as academic superstars like Susan Shillinglaw, a living legend and the author of the best book of Steinbeck literary criticism published in 2013. A year’s subscription costs only $35—a fraction of the price of academic books—and includes membership in the John Steinbeck Society of America. Join and subscribe. It’s a two-for-one deal, and Steinbeck—who disliked cost inflation in books written for common readers  and disparaged literary criticism produced by the few for the few—would certainly approve.

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  1. Yes, there’s good stuff in the Steinbeck Review, even for a Johnny-Steinbeck-come-lately journalist like me who never did get that masters.


    In the most recent edition, back in the back where the SR lists the “Major Steinbeck Publications of 2012–2013,” the SR’s Steinbeck scholarship slipped.

    Maybe they ran out of space, but I wish the compilers had mentioned my 2013 e-book “Dogging Steinbeck” — or just one of several newspaper and magazine articles I wrote in 2012 about the fictional (and deceptive) nature of Steinbeck’s classic “Travels With Charley.”

    My book doesn’t have footnotes. It’s not an academic work. It wasn’t peer-reviewed (unless the great Brian Lamb of CSPAN counts). Steinbeck scholars dismiss it for various reasons. And it didn’t have a big publisher — Steinbeck and road books by unknown newspapermen don’t sell, my Madison Avenue agent was told in 2011.

    But “Dogging Steinbeck” is a serious work of journalism that should interest all Steinbeck lovers/scholars, pro and amateur.

    I discovered a lot of interesting, new (and previously unpublicized) information about Steinbeck, his real 1960 “Charley” trip, the editing of “Charley” and the devious lengths to which Viking Press editors went to shape Steinbeck’s original draft into what I call the “Travels With Charley” Myth.

    It also changed the way “Travels With Charley” will be read for the rest of eternity.

    Hint: Not as a work of nonfiction.

    As Jay Parini wrote when he discreetly added his disclaimers to the introduction in the 50th anniversary edition last fall, “Charley” is a work of fiction by a great novelist.

    As they say, it’s all in my book. I encourage all Steinbeck lovers — and the SR — to read it and critique it or trash it. But please don’t ignore it.

    For readers of SteinbeckNow, here is what else the SR forgot to include in its list of 2012-2013 publications:

    Reason magazine, July 25, 2012: “Whitewashing John Steinbeck: Why partisan politics and virulent racism were cut from the celebrated ‘non-fiction’ road book Travels With Charley.” By Bill Steigerwald. This article was first time Steinbeck’s “Paragraph of Filth” — which was edited out of his first draft in 1961 because it was too vulgar to publish then or now — was seen by the public.

    Reizen zonder John: Op zoek naar Amerika (“Traveling Without John: In Search of America”), by Geer Mak, August, 2012: In his 573-page book famed Dutch journalist and author Geert Mak recounts his 2010 retracing of Steinbeck’s “Charley” trip, publicizes Bill Steigerwald’s discoveries about Steinbeck’s fictions and lies and praises his dogged journalism (in Dutch but coming soon in English — with footnotes).

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 14, 2012: “‘Travels With Charley’: Now officially mostly fiction.” By Bill Steigerwald. This article “breaks the news” to the literary world that because of my discoveries Penguin Group had quietly inserted disclaimers into the introduction of the latest edition of “Charley,” making it clear the book was so fictionalized it should not be believed as the true story of Steinbeck’s trip.

    C-SPAN, March 3, 2013: “Q&A” C-SPAN founding father Brian Lamb interviewed Bill Steigerwald for an hour about how he came to write “Dogging Steinbeck” and what he learned about Steinbeck, his trip, his book and his America.

    And, for the record, as we journalists like to say, here, starting in December of 2010, is a list of some of the other media mentions of me and what I learned about Steinbeck, his trip and his book:

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 5, 2010: “Sorry, Charley” Though “Travels With Charley” has been marketed, reviewed and taught as a work of nonfiction for half a century, Bill Steigerwald charges that it is mostly fiction and a dishonest account of his actual journey.

    NPR media watchdog show “On the Media” with Bob Garfield, Dec. 24, 2010: The first national media coverage of Bill Steigerwald’s literary “scoop.”

    Reason magazine, April, 2011: “Sorry, Charley: Was John Steinbeck’s ‘Travels With Charley’ a Fraud?” By Bill Steigerwald. A stronger indictment of Steinbeck’s “literary fraud.”

    New York Times, April 4, 2011: “A Reality Check for Steinbeck and Charley.” By Charles McGrath. Bill Steigerwald is interviewed. San Jose State English professor Susan Shillinglaw and Steinbeck biographer Jay Parini don’t think much of his 50-year-old literary “scoop.”

    New York Times editorial, April 10, 2011: In “The Truth About Charley.” The Paper of Record’s editorial page credits Bill Steigerwald with having made an “intriguing” and “disheartening” discovery about the high level of untruth and dishonesty in “Charley” and expresses irritation Steinbeck scholars were so blasé about the findings.

    Washington Post, April, 2011: In “Steinbeck’s true enough ‘Travels With Charley.’” Post editorial page staffer Rachel Dry describes her own Steinbeck road trip, her encounter with Bill Steigerwald in Chicago and why she thinks Steinbeck’s fictions and lies don’t matter.

  2. Steve Hauk says:

    Informative and interesting piece. It’s a pleasure reading and working with the Steinbeck Review. The editors are friendly and helpful, no elitism there, and adventurous in the material they consider for publication. I am surprised that “only” several new books of Steinbeck criticism currently is considered slim pickngs. Did it used to be a lot more annually? How do Steinbeck’s numbers compare with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Cather?

    • Mr. Hauk asks a great question that cannot be answered with certainty without concentrated research. For Steinbeck’s contemporaries there are individual websites that attempt to remain current, but no single compilation of everything printed in English. A very rough attempt to locate books (monographs) published in the last ten years about these figures (excluding reprints of their fiction) shows that Steinbeck is receiving attention similar to that given to Cather, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner (one could expand this list significantly–Dreiser, Dos Passos, etc.). These numbers are conservative, and do not include journal articles.:Since 2004:
      Fitzgerald: 22
      Faulkner: 25
      Cather 19
      Hemingway: 22
      Steinbeck: 28

      • Steve Hauk says:

        Paul, thanks for the enlightening research. I find it intriguing that Hemingway and Fitzgerald are tied! After all, it’s hard to think of one without the other. Be interesting to put some of the great playwrights in there – Miller, Williams, O’Neil – though maybe playwrights aren’t written about as much as novelists.

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