Archives for April 2016

$4.8 Million Gift to John Steinbeck Center Reported By San Jose Mercury News

Image of the Martha Heasley Cox Center for John Steinbeck Studies

The April 20, 2016 San Jose Mercury News reports a record-breaking gift to San Jose State University by Martha Heasley Cox, a retired English professor with a love for John Steinbeck. In 1955—the year East of Eden became a movie—Cox arrived in San Jose from Arkansas with a new PhD to work at San Jose State, where she taught courses and organized conferences devoted to Steinbeck, wrote best-selling college textbooks, and invested the proceeds to support her passion for Steinbeck and her university. Her collection of books by and about Steinbeck became the core of the school’s Steinbeck Studies Center, the oldest academic enterprise devoted to the author in America, and she provided start-up funding for the organization, which was named in her honor. According to the San Jose Mercury News story, $3.1 million of Cox’s posthumous gift will fund the center’s Steinbeck Fellows program for young writers, and $1 million will augment the endowment of a lecture series, also bearing her name, that brings major authors—including Norman Mailer, Toni Morrison, and Andre Dubus III—to the San Jose State University campus each year. The balance of Cox’s bequest will support an online database of Steinbeck materials. As noted by the Mercury News, her gift is the largest made by a faculty member in the school’s history.

Steven Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis Grapes of Wrath Motion Picture Off or On?

Cover image of The Hollywood Reporter with Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis

Steven Spielberg’s motion picture remake of The Grapes of Wrath with Daniel Day-Lewis may finally happen if a suit by Waverly Scott Kaffaga, the daughter of John Steinbeck’s widow Elaine, is successful. The legal filing against Steinbeck’s son Thom and others—the latest in a war of litigation among Steinbeck’s various heirs—was reported on April 4, 2016 by the motion-picture news magazine The Hollywood Reporter. According to the report, Universal Studios abandoned plans in 2014 for a motion picture remake of East of Eden because of alleged interference by quarreling heirs, but Steven Spielberg’s interest in remaking The Grapes of Wrath, with Daniel Day-Lewis in a starring role, appears to be the cause of the latest filing by Kaffaga and Steinbeck’s literary agents, MacIntosh and Otis. (James Franco’s interest in making a motion picture adaptation of Tortilla Flat was also mentioned in the piece.) Read The Hollywood Reporter for details, and stay tuned for the next chapter in the ongoing Steinbeck family saga.


Sea of Cortez at 75: Salinas, California Celebrates John Steinbeck on Land and Sea

Cover image from 1941 Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts

The annual Steinbeck Festival held in John Steinbeck’s hometown of Salinas, California is back. In celebration of Steinbeck’s enduring legacy as a writer-activist-ecologist, and the land-and-sea ethic exemplified in his 1941 work Sea of Cortez, the May 6-8, 2016 festival—“Steinbeck on Land and Sea”—features activities designed for a variety of tastes, including informal “JON talks,” documentary films, and tours of the Red Pony Ranch, Ed Ricketts’s lab, and Steinbeck’s Salinas. Whale-watching off the Monterey coast is also part of the mix.

Image of the 2016 John Steinbeck Festival in Salinas, California

Image of the 2016 John Steinbeck Festival in Salinas, California

Guest speakers exemplify the festival’s land-and-sea theme from a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives. They include the distinguished Steinbeck scholar Robert DeMott talking about a favorite subject, Steinbeck and fishing; William Souder, the critically acclaimed biographer of Rachel Carson and John James Audubon, introducing his biography-in-progress of John Steinbeck; Katie Rodger, an expert on Ed Ricketts, discussing a newly published essay by Steinbeck’s close friend and collaborator; Kyle Van Houtan, Director of Science at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, on the land-and-sea-and-culture link found in studying sea turtle populations in Hawaii; Gavin Jones, chair of the English department at Stanford University, on Steinbeck, land, drought, and race; and the writer Mary Ellen Hannibal talking about her new book on citizen science and its connections to Steinbeck, Ricketts, and their acquaintance Joseph Campbell.

Image of John Steinbeck's Sea of Cortez collaborator Ed Ricketts

The multicultural character of this year’s festival line-up matches the population of Salinas, California—and a pattern in John Steinbeck’s life and work, including Sea of Cortez. The author Sergio Chavez, the photographer Daniel Ruanova, and the documentary filmmaker Ignacio Rodriguez will discuss the cultural impact of braceros in the Salinas Valley, Jean Vengua will talk about Fillipino newspapers, and Eric Palmer will show a “teaser” of his new documentary film about Japanese flower growers in the area. John Gregg, owner of the boat Steinbeck and Ricketts sailed to the Sea of Cortez in 1940, will update festival-goers about restoration work on The Western Flyer. Harold Augenbraum, former Director of the National Book Award, will discuss Steinbeck’s frequently-taught novel The Pearl in English and Spanish. Stanford biology professor William Gilly will recount his 2004 trip retracing Steinbeck and Ricketts’s expedition to Baja, and how the Sea of Cortez has changed since Steinbeck and Ricketts made their voyage and wrote their book.

Image of The Western Flyer

Beer was consumed on The Western Flyer, and Steinbeck once appeared in a magazine ad for Ballantine Ale. This connection to Steinbeck’s life on land and sea will be celebrated in Steinbeck Home Brew Fest, staged in the National Steinbeck Center’s beer garden in collaboration with the Steinbeck Rotary Club, and in “Craft Beer 101,” one of several half-hour “JON talks” planned for this year’s festival. In a related tribute to California’s land-and-sea culture, David Dennis of Ventana Surfboards will show how he makes surfboards from Steinbeck-themed wood.

One-day and three-day tickets can be purchased online at the National Steinbeck Center website or by calling 831-775-4721.

Life Poems by Roy Bentley

 Image of scene from the 1969 movie Easy Rider

Poem for Charlie Potter

If you can believe in reincarnation of the soul,
this time around you’re a man who drinks whisky.
You’re homeless and walking by a river in Ohio.
After weeks—many years, really—of drinking.
All you want is to rest out of the wind and finger
the black-stamped exacta ticket from a lost race
on a morning like any other, an odor of fish-rot

coming off the Olentangy River. You’re there,
and minding your own business, pulling together
your coat as you sit on a bench. This time around,
in this body, you are someone’s uncle brother son.
You don’t note the approaching man until too late
to put up much of a fight. He’s stabbed you so fast
that you don’t so much see a blade as feel it go in.

Nothing noble in your unchoreographed falling.
There’s breathing then much less of it as he goes
through your pockets, his cold hands turning them
out, the pockets. Maybe he kicks you on principle.
Maybe you’re remembered for more than the hour
it takes to slice you, a medical examiner narrating
the elegy of undefended flesh into a microphone.

Venutians Made Me Do It

“Venutians have contacted people in all walks of life—all walks of life.”
—George Hanson, Easy Rider

The L & K isn’t Madame Tinkertoy’s House of Blue Lights,
but it’s where you go to drink coffee until midnight in ‘69.
Maybe you had to be there back in the day, in Ohio, talk
turning from the war in Vietnam and the whole Getting
the Weak to Have a Go at the Slightly Weaker blather.
Which, come to think of it, is the definition of power:
describing our one-big-black-and-white-movie America
as having the right to reach into the flowering madnesses
at the heart of the whole world. Now the subject switches
to Easy Rider: George Hanson/Jack Nicholson getting high
for the first time on pot. He pronounces the word marijuana
with a Southern accented drawl. Starts talking cosmic crapola.
It’s cause for smiling, George saying it’s common knowledge
that the Venutians are among us. If we’re the slightly weaker,
and the Venutians the weak—like the Vietnamese, maybe—
then, it’s no joke. Maybe why no one laughs about Vietnam.
Now, in unison, two announce, The Venutians made me do it!
and enact some superstitious ritual against bad luck and evil.
No one thinks about evil and good half as much as Ohioans.
Ohioans know about hell but want to be talked into heaven.
Whatever the case, in our booth at our restaurant in Ohio,
we’re asking whether John Lennon might be calling for
open insurrection and bloodletting on the White Album
including an “in” after “Don’t you know that you can
count me out”—we’re reaching for rationality where
there is no rationality. We’re talking about the War
when someone spins a stool en route to a jukebox,
every stride premised on false hope that finishes
as the stars-and-stripes-painted Harley chopper
crashed and on fire by a roadside in the South.

Whatever Small Form of Joy Likeness Equals

Sometimes a thing can seem star-like
when it’s just a star, stripped of whatever small form of joy
likeness equals.
—Carl Phillips, “Stray”

If displays of affection could light up lives,
a bioluminescence, then what I witnessed as
tenderness in the aisles at a Kroger this evening

should have lit up sizable portions of central Ohio
if not the whole of the Northern Hemisphere—
the couple with garrulous offspring brushed

hands in Produce as something like sparks
flew for a sad 60-something pushed along
in her not-quite-handicapped shopping cart.

Not to mention, those separated by geography
or shared failure lingering in Pizza & Desserts
then by the cold light of the milk and butter aisle,

unsayable and indecent truths resplendent in carton
after carton of eggs that are not the estivation of hope.
Which is what I thought, buying tuna to feed my share

of the winter-exhausted feral cats in the neighborhood:
that kindness begets kindness. And hope. Instant karma.
I bought a case of small cans. Went home and forked

the piscine contents into plates at the western edge
of the unglaciated Appalachian Plateau. Not hope
or faith or love exactly but what I could manage.


Phoenix, Arizona Toasts Of Mice and Men with a Ward 8

Image of a Ward 8 cocktail paired with Of Mice and Men

The new production of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men by the Arizona Theatre Company got more than a 10-out-of-10 review from The State Press, the Tempe and Phoenix, Arizona newspaper published by students at Arizona State University. “Books & Booze: ‘Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck,” this week’s column by Carson Abernathy, pairs Steinbeck’s Depression-era work with a Gilded Age cocktail called Ward 8, composed of whiskey, lemon juice, orange juice, and grenadine. Abernathy’s novel concept for making modern fiction palatable to college readers is appealing: he ties the book in question to a drink from the past and rates the writing for style, characterization, cohesiveness, and relevance. (Lolita and The Sun Also Rises were similarly paired and reviewed in recent columns.) We think Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Nabokov would drink to Abernathy’s bright idea.

Photo for The State Press by Johanna Huckeba.