Susan Shillinglaw

About Susan Shillinglaw

Susan Shillinglaw is an internationally recognized John Steinbeck scholar with numerous books, articles, John Steinbeck editions, and conferences to her credit. A graduate of Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, where she majored in English and art, she received her MA and PhD in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She served as director of the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies at San Jose State University from 1987 to 2005 and is now the director of the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California. A 2012-13 President’s Scholar at San Jose University, where she is Professor of English, she lives in Pacific Grove with her husband William Gilly, a marine biologist at Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University.

Remembering Carol Robles, “Great Heart,” 1937-2016

Image of Peter Hoss and Carol Robles at Steinbeck House

Carol Robles died at the Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital just before 7:00 AM on October 28, 2016. Her great heart failed.

Carol called herself “just an Idaho farm girl,” and that’s what she was.

Carol Joyce Hansen was born in Emmett, Idaho on December 24, 1937. She attended Boise State University for a year, married, and then moved to San Jose. In 1978, she moved to Salinas and worked at the Sears store on South Main and served as Human Resources manager until 1992. After leaving Sears, she decided to complete her B.A. degree, and went to Hartnell College and then to Golden Gate University, graduating in 1994 summa cum laude with a degree in human relations. She later helped set up the Golden Gate University extension in Monterey.

She spent the past two decades traveling the world. And she also devoted herself to the Salinas community, particularly John Steinbeck’s legacy. She was deeply involved in the National Steinbeck Center from its inception, really “part of the heart and soul of the Center,” as her friend and traveling companion, Peter Hoss, noted. “She was the world’s expert on John Steinbeck’s life,” he continued. And that was so. Carol spent hours tracing details of the Steinbeck and Hamilton family history, and many consulted her about his life. She also trained NSC docents and volunteers and gave many, many tours of Steinbeck County-land that she loved. Carol’s bus tours were unforgettable; she sat in the front and regaled people with in-depth stories about Steinbeck’s life and career. Her tours of the Steinbeck House in Salinas were equally detailed and lively. Those who were fortunate enough to hear Carol talk about Steinbeck will never forget her passion.

Carol was also active in the Salinas Chamber of Commerce, Dixieland Monterey, and Mensa.

She is survived by her stepson, Robert Robles and wife Bertha, as well as six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

A memorial will be held at the National Steinbeck Center, Sunday, November 13 at 1:00 pm.

Donations can be made in Carol’s name to the National Steinbeck Center (1 Main Street, Salinas, 93901) or to the Valley Guild for the Steinbeck House (132 Central Ave. Salinas, California 93901).

Peter Hoss contributed to this post. Photograph of Peter Hoss and Carol Robles at the Steinbeck House by Susan Shillinglaw.

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.