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Great Writers of the West: Steinbeck and the Environment

Wed May 10th 2017, 4:15pm
Event Sponsor
Bill Lane Center for the American West, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford American Studies Program
Cecil H. Green Library, Bender Room (fifth floor).
Please enter the library from Lasuen Mall, through the Bing Wing, where you will be guided to the elevator.
Great Writers of the West: Steinbeck and the Environment

Learn more about ArtsWest programs at the Center.

The world seemed on the brink of catastrophe when John Steinbeck published The Grapes of Wrath in 1939. Today we are confronted with our own cataclysmic moment in time. Steinbeck’s compassionate explorations of inequality, poverty-induced human migration, and environmental degradation yield insights we are at pains to grasp. As perhaps no other novelist before or since, Steinbeck had a fundamental ecological awareness. His work asks us to consider what it means to be an individual within the vast body of aggregate humanity. He shows us that people are not separate from the land on which we tread, and in fact share a common fate.

This symposium brings together scholars and public intellectuals to consider Steinbeck’s environmental legacy. Steinbeck grew up in the Salinas Valley and attended Stanford University. He studied English, History, and Biology, subjects that find a unique fusion in his work.  We will explore Steinbeck’s biography and narrative experiments, considering, as he did, how local issues reflect on much broader questions. Featured presentations include: 

  • Living Steinbeck by Valentin Lopez, Amah Mutsun Tribal Band 
  • The Ecology of Humans by William Souder, Writer
  • "We Ain't Foreign:" Race, Land, and Nation in Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrathby Sarah Wald, University of Oregon, Department of English and Environmental Studies Program
  • Sea of Cortez and the 'Toto Picture' by Mary Ellen Hannibal, Writer
  • Animal, Vegetable, Mineral by Gavin Jones, Stanford University, Department of English
  • Steinbeck's Holism, Susan Shillinglaw, National Steinbeck Center 

The symposium will feature an exhibit of rare books and original manuscripts from the Department of Special Collections at Stanford Libraries. The exhibit explores Steinbeck's writing career and the influence of his friendship with marine biologist Edward Ricketts on some of his best known works.

In advance of the event, we encourage you to read (or re-read) the following selections from Steinbeck’s works, including: 

  • East of Eden, Chapter 1
  • Grapes of Wrath (Penguin Books)
    • Chapters 19-20, Pages 295-309
  • Sea of Cortez (Penguin Books):
    • Introduction
    • Chapter 10: March 18
    • Chapter 11: March 20 
    • Chapter 21: March 31
    • Chapter 29: April 13
  • The Chrysanthmums in The Long Valley, Pages 5-16
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