John Steinbeck: A Literary Life, Literary Criticism from Palgrave Macmillan

Cover image of John Steinbeck: A Literary Life

John Steinbeck: A Literary Life, a book of literary criticism and biography by Linda Wagner-Martin, winner of the Hubbell Medal for Lifetime Service to American Literature, has been released by Palgrave Macmillan, the international academic and trade publishing company. The work is the latest in Palgrave Macmillan’s Literary Lives series. Wagner-Martin, a professor of English and comparative literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, contributed earlier biographies of Emily Dickinson, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, and Toni Morrison to Literary Lives, described by Palgrave Macmillan as a “classic series, offering fascinating accounts of the literary careers of the most admired and influential English-language authors.” Chapters include “Steinbeck and the Short Story,” “Journalism v. Fiction,” and “The Ed Ricketts Narratives.” A hardback copy costs $109, the eBook version $85. Individual chapters can be purchased from Palgrave Macmillan in digital form for $29.95.

Steinbeck Now Publishes First Print Book and eBook

Cover image from Steinbeck: The Untold Stories

Steinbeck: The Untold Stories, a book of short stories about John Steinbeck’s life, family, and friends, has been published by SteinbeckNow.com in print and eBook format. Written by Steve Hauk, a playwright and fiction writer from Pacific Grove, California, the 16 short stories dramatize incidents in Steinbeck’s life—some real, some imagined—that take place over six decades, from the author’s childhood in Salinas, California to the years in New York, where his circle of family and friends included Burgess Meredith, Joan Crawford, and Elaine Steinbeck, the widow with whom Hauk had a memorable conversation 30 years after John Steinbeck’s death. Illustrated by Caroline Kline, an artist on California’s Monterey Peninsula, Steinbeck: The Untold Stories represents a milestone in the mission of SteinbeckNow.com to foster fresh thinking and new art inspired by Steinbeck’s life and work. If you are in a position to review or write about the book for publication in print or online, email williamray@steinbecknow.com for a review copy. Please identify the print publication or website, the date when your print piece or post will appear, and whether you prefer print or eBook format. Steinbeck: The Untold Stories is available through Amazon.com, in Monterey-area bookstores, and at Hauk Fine Arts in Pacific Grove and the National Steinbeck Center and Steinbeck House in Salinas, California.

Steve Hauk will autograph copies from 11:30 a.m. till 12:15 p.m. on Saturday, November 25, 2017, at the Pilgrim’s Way Community Bookstore on Dolores Street between 5th and 6th Streets in Carmel, California.

 

Critical Insights into John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men

Cover image of "Critical Insights: Of Mice and Men"

Critical Insights: Of Mice and Men, a collection of literary criticism devoted to John Steinbeck’s Great Depression novella, is now available at Amazon.com. Edited by Barbara A. Heavilin with an introduction by Robert DeMott, it includes essays by Nick Taylor, Brian Railsback, Kathleen Hicks, Laura Smith, Luchen Li, Mimi Gladstein, Tom Barden, Danika Čerče, Cecilia Donahue, and Richard E. Hart, along with a Steinbeck chronology and a bibliography of scholarly writing about Of Mice and Men, a work that re-entered political discourse when the so-called Lenny rule was cited by defenders of capital punishment in a Texas case that recently made its way to the United State Supreme Court. Barbara Heavilin, a professor emeritus at Taylor University and the executive editor of Steinbeck Review, said this about the book’s relevance and the significance of literary criticism devoted to its understanding and appreciation: “I particularly wanted Critical Insights: Of Mice and Men to provide fresh, new insights on this novella, with articles provided by reputable Steinbeck scholars writing on their specialties. Mimi Gladstein, for example, writes on feminism, and Robert DeMott provides an insightful overview, among other well-known experts in the field of Steinbeck studies.”

Steinbeck Review Features Literary Criticism, History, Bibliography, and News

Cover image of 2017, No. 1 Steinbeck Review

Penn State University Press recently released the first of two issues of the academic journal Steinbeck Review to be published in 2017. Along with news and reviews, it features essays in literary criticism by Gavin Jones, professor of English at Stanford University; Barbara A. Heavilin, editor of Critical Insights: Of Mice and Men; Harold Augenbraum, former executive director of the National Book Foundation, presenter of the National Book Award; Cecilia Donahue, a retired university teacher and a contributor to the Literary Encyclopedia database; Netta Bar Yosef-Paz, a literature teacher at Kibbutzim College, Israel’s largest college; Chaker Mohamed Ben Ali, a doctoral student at the University of Skikda, Algeria; and Hachemi Aboubou, assistant dean at Batna Benboulaid University, also in Algeria. The issue includes reviews of Citizen Steinbeck: Giving Voice to the People, a book of literary criticism by Robert McPartand, and Monterey Bay, a novel, as well bibliographies of recent books, articles, theses, and dissertations on John Steinbeck’s life and work. An annual subscription costs $35 and includes both print and digital editions of Steinbeck Review.

How John Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle Helps Us Navigate Social Discord

Image of scene from James Franco's film "In Dubious Battle"

Rarely since the Great Depression has our country been as polarized and angry as it is today. On television, in newspapers, on social media, around the office water cooler, in line at the supermarket, even at the family dinner table, there is constant clashing and creating of divisions. Warring political parties, “special interest” groups competing for social change, and an endless series of labels–liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat, libertarian or evangelical–work to separate us from one another. More and more, Americans are being asked to take sides in this battle of interests and ideas, magnified by social media and the 24-hour news cycle. Inserting sanity into the crock pot of conflicting ideologies can be challenging. Reading John Steinbeck, one of America’s greatest writers and keenest observers, offers a way out of the insanity.

Rarely since the Great Depression has our country been as polarized and angry as it is today.

Eighty years before it was made into a mixed-review movie by the mercurial actor-director James Franco, Steinbeck’s Great Depression labor novel In Dubious Battle explored the complex relationship between the individual and the group, sometimes referred to in Steinbeck’s writing by its more malevolent moniker, “the mob.” Using a strike-torn California apple orchard as his backdrop, Steinbeck deep-dives into phalanx or “group-man” theory, grittily exposing the causes and consequences of a volatile, violent labor struggle involving pickers and organizers, growers and landowners, vigilantes and victims, and outside agitators who are never called “communists” but clearly are.

Steinbeck’s Great Depression labor novel explored the complex relationship between the individual and the group, sometimes referred to in Steinbeck’s writing as ‘the mob.’

In his introduction to the 1995 Penguin Books edition of Steinbeck’s Log from the Sea of Cortez, Richard Astro, Provost Emeritus and Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University, writes that Steinbeck’s ideas on “group-man” thinking were influenced by the writing of the California biologist William Emerson Ritter (1856-1944). According to Astro, Ritter thought that “in all parts of nature and in nature itself as one gigantic whole, wholes are so related to their parts that not only does the existence of the whole depend upon their orderly co-operation and interdependence of the parts, but the whole exercises a measure of determinative control over its parts.” Ritter also believed that “man is capable of understanding the organismal unity of life and, as a result, can know himself more fully. This, says Ritter, is ‘man’s supreme glory’ – not only ‘that he can know the world, but he can know himself as a knower of the world.’”

Steinbeck’s ideas on ‘group-man’ thinking were influenced by the writing of the California biologist William Emerson Ritter.

Steinbeck illuminates “group-man” thinking in much of his Great Depression fiction, especially the idea that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. But this central tenet of Ritter’s theory is voiced most clearly by the character Doc Burton in the 1936 novel whose title—In Dubious Battle—Steinbeck took from John Milton’s 17th century poem Paradise Lost. Explaining his participation and fascination with the apple pickers’ strike, Burton says, “I want to watch these group-men, for they seem to be a new individual, not at all like single men. A man in a group isn’t himself at all, he’s a cell in an organism that isn’t like him anymore than the cells in your body are like you. I want to watch the group, and see what it’s like. People have said, ‘mobs are crazy, you can’t tell what they’ll do.’ Why don’t people look at mobs as men, but as mobs? A mob nearly always seems to act reasonably, for a mob.”

The central tenet of Ritter’s theory is voiced most clearly by the character Doc Burton in the 1936 novel whose title Steinbeck took from Milton.

As marches, movements, protests, and counter-protests increase in volume and virulence, Steinbeck’s insights into the behavior of “group-man,” through the words and actions of Doc Burton, can be viewed as prescient indeed, particularly by Americans who know their history. Midway through the book, in a passage worthy of one of history’s greatest thinkers–a passage I submit provides an outlook on life that, if adopted, could alleviate much of the rancor in America–Burton says this to the communist agent sent from San Francisco to organize the orchard strike: “That’s why I don’t like to talk very often. Listen to me, Mac. My senses aren’t above reproach, but they’re all I have. I want to see the whole picture–as nearly as I can. I don’t want to put on the blinders of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and limit my vision. If I use the term ‘good’ on a thing I’d lose my license to inspect it, because there might be bad in it. Don’t you see? I want to be able to look at the whole thing.”

Steinbeck’s insights into the behavior of ‘group-man’ can be viewed as prescient, particularly by Americans who know their history.

In “John Steinbeck, American Writer,” Susan Shillinglaw, Professor of English at San Jose State University, notes that “in most of his fiction Steinbeck includes a ‘Doc’ figure, a wise observer of life who epitomizes [Steinbeck’s] idealized stance of the non-teleological thinker.” Non-teleological thinking, she explains, is “‘is’ thinking” marked by “detached observation” and a “remarkable quality for acceptance.” Reinforcing Steinbeck’s obeisance to this philosophy–an open and tolerant approach to ideas and to the people who believe in them that is desperately needed today–Shillinglaw highlights a journal entry made by Steinbeck in 1938: “[T]here is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love.”

‘[T]here is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love.’

Eschewing the American impulse to classify, pigeonhole, prejudge, discount, and disparage opposing ideas and those who hold them, Doc Burton prescribes detached observation and personal experience as an alternative to blind theory and blind hatred. Looking back on the unbiased Doc-like worldview favored by his father, Thom Steinbeck told an interviewer in 2012 that Steinbeck always ended his beautifully written letters to his son with this bit of advice: “Good luck. Find out on your own.” Finding out on our own is a good way, perhaps the only way, to survive the dubious battle of ideologies raging within and around us in 2017.

How Steinbeck’s German Paperback Publisher Stayed Alive in Hitler’s Third Reich

Cover image from Strange Bird: The Albatross Press and the Third Reich

Like other Anglo-American writers of German descent in the 1930s, John Steinbeck regarded the rise of the Third Reich with an admixture of anger, resentment, and resignation. Strange Bird: The Albatross Press and the Third Reich, a bright new general-interest book from Yale University Press, reminds admirers of Steinbeck’s writing today that reading his books in Nazi-occupied territory—particularly the 1942 novelette The Moon Is Down—could be downright dangerous. As author Michele K. Troy, a professor of English at the University of Hartford points out, however, the plucky German paperback publisher of Steinbeck, Hemingway, and other left-leaning English-language writers managed to stay in business from 1933 to 1941, despite the Third Reich’s draconian policy toward domestic dissent. But as Douglas J. Johnston notes in a recent book review, Hamburg’s Albatross Press “kept Anglo-American literature—and thereby Anglo-American ideas and values—alive in the heart of the Third Reich” not by doing good but by being profitable, producing popular paperback editions for foreign distributors who paid Germany in badly needed dollars and pounds. The firm’s iconic albatross (a source of guilt as well as a harbinger of hope) also paved the way for Penguin Books, Steinbeck’s equally enterprising paperback publisher in the United States.

Coming in July: Short Stories From John Steinbeck’s Life

Image of John Steinbeck in Ballentine beer ad

Steinbeck: The Untold Stories, a book of short stories by Steve Hauk based on the life of John Steinbeck, will be published by SteinbeckNow.com on July 22. The first print project undertaken by the website, it is the product of a two-year collaboration between Hauk—a playwright in Pacific Grove, California—and Caroline Kline, a Monterey artist with a flair for illustration and a feel for John Steinbeck, whose affinity for art and artists began when he was growing up in the Salinas Valley and eventually extended to Europe. Earlier versions of four of the short stories have appeared online at SteinbeckNow.com. All sixteen feature original art work by Kline inspired by Hauk’s fictional rendering of dramatic episodes—some real, others imagined—from Steinbeck’s storied life in Salinas, Pacific Grove, New York, and beyond.

From Travels with Charley to 30 Days a Black Man: Review

Image of 30 Days a Black Man, by Bill Steigerwald

30 Days a Black Man: The Forgotten Story That Exposed the Jim Crow South, a new book by Bill Steigerwald about Ray Sprigle, the white Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter who investigated race in America by passing through the South as a black man, is now in bookstores, including the airport shop shown in this photo. Like Steinbeck’s social fiction from the 1930s, Sprigle’s syndicated series on segregation in the South increased understanding when it appeared in 1948, but also met resistance. Steigerwald’s account of the controversy will hold particular appeal for Steinbeck fans familiar with the back story of The Grapes of Wrath, and for sympathetic readers of Travels with Charley, the 1962 work in which Steinbeck touched on Sprigle’s theme. The connections are compelling. Steigerwald is a former reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who made the opposite transition from Steinbeck, from newspaper journalist to full-time book author, in his career as a writer. His first book, Dogging Steinbeck, exposed fictional elements in Steinbeck’s account of the picaresque journey that ends dramatically in New Orleans, where white mothers scream at black children and Steinbeck discusses desegregation with a trio of sample Southerners, real or imagined, who typify the racial divide exposed by Ray Sprigle more than a decade earlier.

Why Stanford University Delayed Ed Ricketts’s Book

Cover image from Between Pacific Tides, Ed Ricketts's marine biology text

Sea of Cortez, the record of John Steinbeck’s 1940 exploration of Baja California with Edward F. Ricketts, has become a familiar source for fans of both men, and for students of marine biology. Less well known is the story behind Between Pacific Tides, the pioneering marine biology text by Ricketts and Jack Calvin, another Steinbeck friend, published by Stanford University in 1939, the year The Grapes of Wrath appeared. My research on the history of the Hopkins Seaside Laboratory and Hopkins Marine Station, and the Chautauqua nature study movement in Pacific Grove, touches on a formative phase in the life of Steinbeck, who took a summer biology course while a Stanford University student that helped set the stage for his introduction to Ricketts when Steinbeck, who left college in 1925, moved to Pacific Grove.

Image of Ed Ricketts, John Steinbeck's collaborator and friendMy research addresses intriguing questions about Ed Ricketts and his book raised by biographers, critics, and historians. The proposal for Between Pacific Tides was presented to Stanford University Press in 1930, the year Ricketts and Steinbeck met. Was the book’s publication slowed by the Director of Hopkins Marine Station Walter K. Fisher’s critical review of the manuscript? Did Stanford University Press dislike the ecological approach taken by Ricketts, whose holistic science and philosophy profoundly influenced Steinbeck’s thought and writing? Was Ricketts completely isolated from the scientific community of Hopkins Marine Station, as has often been suggested? The discovery of numerous letters between Ricketts, Stanford University Press, and invertebrate specialists around the world provides answers to these and other questions, chapter by chapter, in the book that I am writing about the delayed publication of Between Pacific Tides.

Why John Steinbeck Matters In Donald Trump’s America

Image of Donald Trump as George Orwell's Big Brother

“Steinbeckian” hasn’t achieved the currency of “Orwellian” as a term of obloquy for despotic language or behavior, but a cheerfully statistical item in The Atlantic reports that sales of John Steinbeck’s novel The Winter of Our Discontent—like George Orwell’s 1984—have spiked under the authoritarian shadow of Donald Trump, a bully and a blowhard of Steinbeckian, if not Orwellian, stature. While less apocalyptic than George Orwell’s nightmare dystopia, the world of The Winter of Our Discontent seethes with rancid resentment, greed, and xenophobia of the noisy, feculent variety increasingly associated with Donald Trump’s resurgent, alt-right America. The Atlantic article explains: “If the links between the events of the recent year and Steinbeck’s last book don’t seem entirely clear, The Atlantic’s review, published in 1961, is illuminating: ‘What is genuine, familiar, and identifiable [about the book] is the way Americans beat the game: the land-taking before the airport is built, the quick bucks, the plagiarism, the abuse of trust, the near theft, which, if it succeeds, can be glossed over—these are the guilts with which Ethan will have to live in his coming prosperity, and one wonders how happily.’” Steinbeckian is a good term for a bad leader who beat the American game, achieving personal prosperity and political power through means that can only be described as Orwellian.