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Mission Art by Nancy Hauk Mirrors Steinbeck’s History

Image of Mission San Juan Bautista painting by Nancy Hauk

An exhibition of art in the California mission town of San Juan Bautista by the late Nancy Hauk, whose home in Pacific Grove was once the residence of the man Steinbeck mythologized as “Doc,” will have special meaning for readers curious about the history behind Steinbeck’s California fiction. Thirty years before Steinbeck was born to the west, in Salinas, voters in eastern Monterey County, including the Mexican Californians of San Juan Bautista and Yankee settlers in Hollister, were promised their own county if Salinas became the seat of Monterey County instead of Monterey, the mission town that was California’s first capital. One outcome of this political decision was the emotional geography that came to define Steinbeck’s social sympathies and sense of place. Salinas boomed, Monterey languished, and in 1874 the County of San Benito was born, named for the river the Spanish called after St. Benedict when they built the mission they named for John the Baptist. Hollister, the nearby town where Steinbeck’s father’s family farmed and raised five sons, became San Benito’s county seat.

Image of Nancy HaukSteinbeck’s mother’s family lived in Salinas before the county split, and she returned to live there with her husband in 1900. He became Monterey County treasurer following a political scandal. She became the kind of local activist who took sides on civic issues like the vote of 1874. Their son’s feelings about Salinas ran in the opposite direction and eventually became material for his writing. The family’s cottage in Pacific Grove was a refuge from Salinas when Steinbeck needed one, and the Hauk house where “Doc” Ricketts once lived is nearby. So is the Monterey lab that attracted artists, misfits, and other characters celebrated by Steinbeck in his Cannery Row fiction. The conflict between Salinas and Monterey epitomized in the San Benito vote 50 years earlier was emblematic of a deeper division explored in East of Eden, the book Steinbeck wrote for his sons. Steinbeck’s art reflected his sympathies in this fight and caused controversy. Nancy Hauk’s art reminds us of the history behind the fiction.

“Paintings of the California Missions,” an exhibition of work by Nancy Hauk (in photo), includes the Mission San Juan Bautista image shown here. It opens in San Juan Bautista on Sunday, December 17 and runs through March 2018.

Women in John Steinbeck’s Life on Display in San Jose

Image of John Steinbeck quotation about women

Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. Cathy/Kate in East of Eden. Elisa Allen in “The Chrysanthemums.” Such women from John Steinbeck’s fiction are unforgettable. So, on examination, are the women in Steinbeck’s life, as this quotation suggests. Steinbeck’s mother Olive Hamilton and first wife, Carol Henning, were both from San Jose, California, and San Jose State University is celebrating each (and the two wives who followed) in a special exhibit of documents and photographs on the 5th floor of the MLK Library, located on the San Jose State University campus, through January 20, 2018.

Image of exhibit on John Steinbeck's women at San Jose State University

MLK Library Exhibit through January 20

To paraphrase the man who bragged about failing his way to success in marrying for the third time, the success of John Steinbeck’s marriage to Elaine Scott, from 1950 until his death in 1968, was possible only because the strong willed mother and wives who preceded her prepared him for their partnership. Some say he married his mother. Steinbeck doubted Freud and disliked psychoanalysis, but he’d be happy to see the women in his life get the credit they deserve for the roles of educator (Olive), editor (Carol), and manager (Elaine) without which his writing wouldn’t be so quotable.

The exhibition may move next to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, where the theme of the 2018 Steinbeck Festival (and the inspiration for the MLK Library show) is “The Women of Steinbeck’s World.” The May 4-6, 2018 festival will be held at the Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, where John Steinbeck and his sister Mary studied biology when they were students at Stanford University. Susan Shillinglaw, professor of English at San Jose State University and director of the National Steinbeck Center, is the author of Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage,

 

 

 

 

Canadian Of Mice and Men Clowns with John Steinbeck

Image of Morro and Jasp's Redo of Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men as feminist farce from a Canadian point of view? The November 10, 2017 Winnipeg, Canada Free Press review of Of Mice and Men and Morro and Jasp, the restaging of John Steinbeck’s novella-play by Canadian clown-duo Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee, says the idea started in 2012, when the Canadian government reduced cultural spending and the pair got busy. In the show-within-a-show, “the clown sisters are enduring hard times due to cutbacks in arts funding” and hit on Steinbeck’s story as a vehicle for self-survival and self-expression. Morro, the Lenny sister, “hasn’t read all the way to the end and gamely proceeds without a grasp of what’s in store for her character,” and Curly’s wife is represented as a sex doll, “[layering] a feminist sensibility on the masculine-centred story.” Would John Steinbeck appreciate the purposeful appropriation? It probably helps to be Canadian, though the Winnipeg, Canada review admits the acting and humor are “a hit-and-miss proposition.”

December 7 Event Features Steinbeck Program Fellows

Image of Martha Heasley Cox Center at San Jose State University

Three 2017-2018 fellows from the professional creative writing program funded by the founder of the John Steinbeck center at San Jose State University will read from their work and answer audience questions at 7:00 p.m. on December 7, 2017, in Room 590 of the MLK Library on the SJSU campus in downtown San Jose, California. Martha Heasley Cox, the professor-philanthropist who advanced the study and teaching of John Steinbeck by example and exhortation when she was alive, left a large estate gift ensuring the financial security of the program, which supports a select group of writers each year, when she died in 2015. Sunisa Manning will read from the novel she is writing about a group of radicalized students in Thailand during the turbulent 1970s. Dominica Phetteplace will also read from her recent writing, which includes literary and science fiction. C. Kevin Smith, the third fellow who will share insights into his work, is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the grandfather of graduate creative programs in America. The San Jose State University event is free and open to the public and includes a reception. For further information, contact Nick Taylor, the writer-professor who directs the Steinbeck studies center and the creative writing program that comprise Cox’s extraordinary legacy, at nicholas.taylor@sjsu.edu.

Like Life of John Steinbeck, Interest in Short Stories Is Both Global and Local

Cover image of Steinbeck: The Untold Stories

Steinbeck: The Untold Stories, a collection of short stories by the California writer and art expert Steve Hauk, continues to attract attention internationally and at home. Artnet, the influential art marketplace website headquartered in New York, focuses on “the gallery owner’s reimagining of John Steinbeck and the contemporary interest in early California art” in a November 8 interview with Hauk, who owns and operates the downtown Pacific Grove art gallery that has become a popular venue for area Steinbeck fans and visitors to the coastal community where the author lived and wrote in the 1930s. The local public library frequented by Steinbeck and his wife Carol is doing its part, too. On November 17, Friends of the Pacific Grove Library will present Hauk’s talk on writing the Steinbeck short stories at a 7:30 p.m. event that is free and open to the public. (Non-members: suggested donation is $10.)

New USA Network Drama Channels John Steinbeck

Image from Damnation, USA Network dramatic series

The principal writer and executive producer of Damnation, a new dramatic series premiering November 7 on USA Network, has cited John Steinbeck and Dashiell Hammett to describe the show’s depiction of rich vs. poor and brother against brother in rural Iowa during the Great Depression. In an interview with the Cleveland, Ohio Plain Dealer, Tony Tost, the show’s creator, explained that “the world of John Steinbeck as presented in The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men and Cannery Row was a big influence, as was Dashiell Hammett’s first novel, Red Harvest.” An award-winning poet, essayist, and screenwriter from Springfield, Missouri, Tost earned a PhD in English from Duke University and lives in Los Angeles, where he was a writer and producer for Longmire, a TV Western that ran for five seasons. The new show is “a little tricky to describe,” added Tost, the author of three volumes of poetry and a book of cultural criticism, Johnny Cash’s American Recordings (Continuum 2011). “It’s the Dust Bowl world. It has the feel of a Western. It has the strikebreaking. It has the religious themes. It has the pulp conspiratorial element. I’ve said it’s one part Clint Eastwood, one part John Steinbeck, one part James Ellroy.” The pilot episode will air tomorrow on USA Network at 10 p.m. EST. Damnation can also be viewed on Netflix, the entertainment giant headquartered in Los Gatos, where John Steinbeck wrote Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath.

The Forgotten Anti-Rebel Yell In Steinbeck’s Wayward Bus

Image of rednecks with Confederate flage

Monterey County’s move to rename Confederate Corners, the isolated intersection south of Salinas, California restyled as Rebel Corners in The Wayward Bus, has renewed interest in John Steinbeck’s 1947 re-imagining of Plato’s Ship of Fools allegory, from Book VI of The Republic. Located on Highway 68 in unincorporated Monterey County, Confederate Corners got its name during the Civil War, when a handful of Southern sympathizers proposed seceding from California as a mark of solidarity with the Confederate States of America. Except for informed readers of The Wayward Bus, the Monterey County ranchers’ mini-rebellion was largely forgotten until controversy over the removal of racist flags and statues in several states of the former Confederacy erupted, post-Charlottesville, into Trumpian rhetoric around issues of ethnicity, immigration, and loyalty to the flag. Like the Ship of Fools metaphor embedded in Steinbeck’s neglected novel—which few critics recognized, then or now—the recent news from Monterey County is replete with the kind of irony that appealed to the author, a big-tent American who began writing The Wayward Bus in and about Mexico.

New Yorker Says French Editor Uses American Literature, Travels with Charley to Explain America

Image of John Steinbeck with French poodle Charley

The October 16 issue of New Yorker magazine reminds Steinbeck fans of their favorite author’s continued usefulness in understanding America and Americans. In a Talk of the Town item titled “Paris Postcard: In Search of America,” Lauren Collins reports that Francois Busnel, the host of a popular French television show about literature, is the new editor-in-chief of America, a French magazine “conceived to help French readers make sense of its namesake in the age of Trump.” Not surprisingly, Busnel looks to American literature to help explain Trump to his fellow countrymen. “We’re living in a profoundly novelistic era,” Busnel says, adding that Travels with Charley remains his favorite book about America and Americans in any age.

John Steinbeck Talks about America & Americans Today

Image of Tom Lorentzen as John Steinbeck

Tom Lorentzen, a retired nonprofit executive in Castro Valley, California, brought John Steinbeck back to life literally on August 24 at a private event billed as “John Steinbeck—in Search of America” and attended by 175 members of a San Francisco Bay Area social club. Impersonating Steinbeck at the age when Travels with Charley and America and Americans were written about a nation rocked by scandal and strife, Lorentzen employed an original idea to dramatize the imaginary conversation of Steinbeck—back from the dead—with Rich, a young logger encountered by the author in an Oregon redwood grove during the fabled road trip across the country from which Steinbeck said he had begun to feel alienated. Now 80, Rich uses a search engine time-travel device to conjure Steinbeck and pose the question he failed to ask when they met in the woods in 1961. What’s so great about America? Lorentzen (in photo) is a former board member of the National Institute of Museum Services. Like Steinbeck, who served on the board that became the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, he remains bullish on America’s future, despite problems that Steinbeck would recognize and acknowledge if, age 115, he were alive today.

Book Signing: Short Stories Based on Steinbeck’s Life

Image of book of short stories on life of Steinbeck

The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, John Steinbeck’s home town, will host the first official book signing for Steinbeck: The Untold Stories, short stories based on Steinbeck’s life by the playwright and fiction writer Steve Hauk, 5:30-6:30 p.m. on Friday, September 1, in the center’s museum at One Main Street in downtown Salinas. Book news travels fast in Steinbeck country, and Hauk will answer fans’ questions about the origin and inspiration for the stories, which dramatize actual and imagined episodes from Steinbeck’s boyhood and years coping with fame, friends, and enemies in Salinas, Monterey, and New York. Published only one month ago, Steinbeck: The Untold Stories is already on display at the National Steinbeck Center and the Steinbeck House in Salinas, River House Books in Carmel, the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies in San Jose, the Monterey Public Library, and BookWorks in Pacific Grove, the setting for several of the short stories. Common Good Books, the “live local, read large” bookstore associated with Garrison Keillor in St. Paul, Minnesota, also stocks Steinbeck: The Untold Stories.

Photo courtesy of BookWorks.