Steinbeck Conference

Kelsey Healey

This May, the John Steinbeck Society of America will present an international conference: Steinbeck and the Politics of Crisis: Ethics, Society, and Ecology. The conference is sponsored by the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies which publishes the Steinbeck Review  and maintains an extensive bibliography of articles and books on Steinbeck and his works.

This conference focuses on ethical issues of different kinds and explores some new ways of looking at Steinbeck’s work. The individual papers are grouped into themed sections that reflect some of the major trends in Steinbeck studies. An attention to global and social consciousness, for example, is seen in the sections on “The Female Space,” “Reports from Overseas,” or “Steinbeck and Race in America.” Some of the papers in these sections will take a feminist critical approach to Steinbeck’s novels, or looking at  race relations and what it means to be “American.” Interestingly, the conference will also hear from some international perspectives on this American writer. I find it especially interesting that there will be two papers on Steinbeck’s relationship with Japanese culture, as this is a connection I have come across in my own research.

Other sections of the conference include “Eco-criticism,” “Fresh Critical Approaches,” “New Economic Approaches,” and “Man and Machine.” These sections cover a variety of topics which indicate that readers and scholars are constantly looking at Steinbeck’s works in new ways. As the world around us changes, so do our ways of reading and understanding these texts. For instance, one of the papers to be presented is entitled “John Steinbeck, Spaceship Earth Cosmonaut.” Over the span of the three-day conference, many other topics of interest will be explored as well.

The conference on May 1-3 will be immediately followed by the 33rd annual John Steinbeck Festival on May 4-5; this year’s festival’s theme is “Home.” The festival will honor this particular theme by celebrating the specific places that Steinbeck considered “home” (Salinas, CA, for example) and also exploring the concept of “home” in American culture.

Some other things I discovered, via the Center for Steinbeck Studies website: the John Steinbeck Society periodically presents the “John Steinbeck Award” to recognize “writers, artists, thinkers, and activists whose work captures the spirit of Steinbeck’s empathy, commitment to democratic values, and belief in the dignity of people who by circumstance are pushed to the fringes. The phrase “In the Souls of the People” comes from Chapter 25 of The Grapes of Wrath.”

I learned that the first recipient of the award was Bruce Springsteen in 1996– which fits in perfectly with my own research that connects these two. Other recipients of the Steinbeck Award include Rachel Maddow, Dolores Huerta, Garrison Keillor, Arthur Miller, and most recently, John Mellencamp in 2012.


What Is the English Major?

The English major is diverse and difficult to define, but during a semester exploring lots of ideas and conflicts regarding the major, we came up with analogies that say what the English major might be if it were a place, a movement, an animal, a time of day.

What’s the English major to YOU? Leave comments and video responses!

PS If you’re wondering about the finale, it’s because we’ve been reading The Use and Abuse of Literature, so Marjorie Garber has become our unofficial mascot. Oh, yeah.

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Response to Freeburg

by Kelsey Healey

The last lines of Christopher Freeburg’s essay “Teaching Literature and the Bitter Truth About Starbucks” in my Profession book are now practically unreadable, so completely have I inked up the page myself. Upon reading those lines for the first time, I may have gotten a little carried away with the underlining and the starring.

Freeburg writes: “If we do not help them understand better what it is they are doing in our courses, then we undermine their potential success and ours. We should, especially for undergraduates, emphasize vocation more. We should… present the tools and options our fields offer in the most clear and cogent ways. What will make the students themselves bitter… is the realization that we didn’t ask them to do enough.”

Freeburg’s point about informing students about the relevance of their work, and the vocation they’re involved in, and the bigger conversation going on outside of the classroom is spot on. The idea of “vocation” and the “options” available in the field of English is something we definitely don’t know enough about as students for most of our undergraduate careers. And while job-mindedness is not and should not be the primary focus of our educations, it IS important to know what is going on outside the university. And, how we can not only passively consume knowledge but contribute and produce it as well.

His essay reminds me of Sidonie Smith’s essay “The English Major as Social Action,” when she talks about students’ work having an “afterlife.” She quotes Marshall Gregory, “Information we can look up, but when a thing gets absorbed, it turns into ideas and skills, and it turns into forms of socialization and cognition that shape students’ intuitions and that strengthen their powers of language, imagination, judgment, and reasoning.”

As hard as it is to define the value of studying English, the above quote at least gets at one big part of it. The ideas, skills, intuition, judgment, etc. that we may gain are part of the “afterlife” of our work that Smith mentions. Freeburg echoes Gregory when he says that students cannot “grab the syllabus” and accomplish on their own what they would accomplish in class. It’s not just about the information, but also the skills being learned and honed, and the participation in a conversation.

Explicitly addressing the ways in which our work is not  “inconsequential after submission” makes such a difference in the classroom experience, and I think it is just not done enough. If we’re not getting the sense that the work we’re doing is relevant, then what’s the point?  I think this holds true for college as well as high school. When assignments and classes have no “afterlife,” they feel like a waste of time, and that’s not fair to students or teachers. And frankly, that’s where the “bitterness” comes in. Furthermore, having assignments in English classes and humanities classes that we don’t connect to a bigger picture outside the classroom only contributes to the myth that these courses don’t have real-life value.

As much as I love it, it’s not enough to just read books and write about them and call it a day.  It’s vital to give students “an awareness of what they’re doing, why they are doing it, and what it offers them beyond the loose rhetoric of critical thinking and writing skills.” Students should ask these questions more often, and teachers should help them always to arrive at some answers.  Otherwise, we’re just going through the motions; we’re just David Foster Wallace’s little fishies, swimming blindly around with no idea what “water” is.

The Humanities: Only if Daddy has $$$

By Megan Zappe

Apparently, only the rich kids get to educate themselves in the realm of the humanities. At least this is where the field is headed – students who are getting turned away from schools because of their interest in philosophy, history, and english degrees, students who are unable to even get into courses required of their humanities degree because of cutbacks on professors – who is running this show anyway? It is sad that kids entering college are being coerced into fields that will prepare them for the professional world. It’s as if the nation is preparing to pump out mini-clones of politicians and corporate moguls.

But the fact that it is predicted that only elite, wealthy, private colleges and universities will be able to offer the humanities degrees is heartbreaking. There are many students who deserve the equal right to major in something they are passionate about, regardless if that is pre-med or modern languages. There has always been a rift between the science/math (aka: “practical” majors) versus the humanities. There are countless colleges who are beginning to completely cut out their foreign languages programs.  What is at risk here is a generation of American adults who are specifically programmed to be cut-throat, business-minded, and harsh. They will be unable to value ethical reasoning, historical effects, and the importance of the English language in literature.

It’s even more saddening to be hit with the realization that as my college career comes to a close that there will be employers out there who simply do not value my degree. I have wanted to be a teacher for years now, and I am fairly certain that is where my degree will take me, but if at any point in my life do I want to enter a more business-minded tract, I suppose I might as well give up before I get started, since my degree doesn’t fit the requirements.

-Katie Owens

Out of all the boring repetitive things that professors have to put into their syllabi as per the university, there is nothing I roll my eyes at more than the section on academic honesty. This is mostly in part to my philosophy that if you’re going to cheat, why the hell are you in college, because no one makes you come here. Then I remember that not everyone is an English major and that writing papers is hard for other people. I then also remember how easy is it is to plagiarize on accident. These are things that were talked about in the interview with Rebecca Moore Howard and Sandra Jamieson that we read.

A lot of the points that were brought up in the study regarding plagiarism are ones that don’t surprise me. The more I thought about my own history writing papers, it was easy to remember times when I simply looked for sources because I had to, by consulting indexes and contents. Rebecca and Sandra studied papers to find out more about the ways in which students use sources, as opposed to strictly finding copy and paste, no citation incidents. Quote mining was another example of something that I think every undergraduate is guilty of at some point or another.

The Citation Project and its findings reminds me of a lot of the readings we have done this years. The actual information is different put the end point turns out to be similar. What we are trying to learn as humanities majors is to take the ideas that are presented to us and combine and use them to meet our own realizations. Whether these realizations are about a particular text or human relationships in general, they are ones that shape our understanding of the world. The Citation Project relates to this is the fact that what they contend that students should be doing, instead of paraphrasing and taking direct quotes, is showing how the research that they have done is in conversation with one another. This conversation is what helps to gain a better understanding of whatever it is that the student is writing about.

Overall, I think that this interview and what they have to say about plagiarism and citations made me think more clearly about what it means to ‘cheat’ both intentionally and not. You really are only cheating yourself in the longer run. *wink nudge*


Money – what is it good for?

By: Molly Boylan

Is MONEY what it is for?

I think as someone who is an English major and has interacted with other English majors the answer would be: No. Money obviously isn’t the drawing force of the major. But from what I am reading in various articles, essays, and books, it was never about the money. Unless if you are looking at the funding being put into academics. It all gets shoveled into the majors of math, science, and engineering. Now, I’m not here to tear down the other professions that are out there. Personally, I think we all need to work together and use the benefits of each person and/or major.

However, just like everything else in society, if you follow where people spend their money you can tell what they care about. They are putting their energies in buying clothes, shoes, makeup, and plastic surgery. This shows that they care most about their appearance or what people think of them.

On a larger scale, American’s can tell what we care about most by where we invest our money as a country. If we look to the white house website, we can see that the Obama Administration is focusing on schooling that provides “on-the-job” skills. The President of the United States is telling us we need to do and get a degree in something that will make us as a country money.

Does this not seem backwards or maybe just a little off? I don’t know maybe I’m being naïve, but so are all the other English majors out there to think that we should go to school for things that make us happy and engage our minds, and helps us think critically so we can then define who we are. No! We must want to make money instead. (the thought makes me cringe)

Mark Slouka in his article “Dehumanized” puts it this way: “By downsizing what is most dangerous (and most essential) about our education, namely the  deep civic function of the arts and the humanities, we’re well on the way to producing a nation of employees, not citizens.” And it may be bold for him to say this, but it really seems that most of what I read this past week would agree with his statements.

The humanities are always having to fight for their worth. It must get tiring to love something that doesn’t seem of any worth to the community you belong to. For example, we can look at Patricia Cohen’s article in the New York Times, “In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth”, “With additional painful cuts across the board a near certainty even as millions of federal stimulus dollars may be funneled to education, the humanities are under greater pressure than ever to justify their existence to administrators, policy makers, students and parents.”

I was getting tired of reading the same things over and over, but then I thought… imagine living this life over and over. And constantly battling these accusations that what you are doing isn’t nearly as important as what someone else is doing.

Christopher Freeburg in his essay “Teaching Literature and the Bitter Truth about Starbuck” suggests that in order for the humanities to attain more worth in the eyes of citizens, they have to make their fields and courses vocational. Meaning “giving our students an awareness of what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what it offers them beyond the loose rhetoric of critical thinking and writing skills” (Profession 2012 26). And personally, I think that is a great idea. We will just have to show them why that is true even in the humanities. We will prove that the skills learned in the humanities will provide the nation and human population something worth investing in.

Yes, it may sound like a lot to accomplish, but hey, we have degrees in the humanities – we can deal with whatever is thrown at us.

Being Human: Defense of the liberal arts in an unoptimistic ecconomy

By Noelle Kozak

Yesterday I picked up my graduation robes.

I also  filled out my senior survey—which was probably one of the more ridiculous documents I ever filled out in my life. Mostly because of what it was asking, like how important I felt it was to learn…Mostly the question just annoyed me because the survey seemed to be asking me to determine the worth of someone else’s discipline. Undoubtedly, I sounded hypocritical at times because on instinct I filled in the little bubble that said multiple math or science were courses were not as essential.  Secretly I would like to admit that they are important, but how could I help my answer? I love the liberal arts. And given the choice again, I would always choose the humanities, the liberal arts education and English as my major. I don’t even have to think about it because my education has taught me how to be a human being.

However, Patricia Cohen writes some distressing news,  “Previous economic downturns have often led to decreased enrollment in the disciplines loosely grouped under the term “humanities” — which generally include languages, literature, the arts, history, cultural studies, philosophy and religion”(Cohen). Her further discussions on the rise of unemployment for all of us, is more of a reality for me now then it ever was before. It is so difficult to find a job that specifically asks for English majors and it is even more difficult to explain to your relatives what exactly you are going to do for a career when you are highly valuable though seemingly unwanted. Cohen cites a lack of confidence in the disciple for proving why we matter beyond exploring “what it means to be human”(Cohen). The article goes on to say that many people so feel our value to the economy, while others say it is not just just about the economy but what we can contribute to the thinking of society on the whole. In other words critical thinking and learning to care about issues which affect our world does concern the humanities and it concerns all of us (Cohen).

Learning how to be a human being only touches the scope of why I really love the humanities. In so learning how do be a compassionate, involved member of society, English and the humanities has made me well rounded and engaged with the world around me in a variety of topics. So while Cohen laments our future and whether or not we can afford to be human I’m going to remain optimistic that one day our value will be appreciated. Everything that I am I owe partly to my decision to be in English and to be in liberal arts, so, even if that means eating ramen noodles for a little longer, I believe and always will believe that it was well worth it.

Works Cited

Cohen, Patricia. “In Tough Times, Humanities Must Justify Their Worth.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 25 Feb. 2009. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <;.

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Who Knew Text Books Would Be Useful

By: Megan D. Davis

When sitting in the classroom, a student views the teacher as having the easiest job because the answers are written in the book for them and they assign papers instead of composing them. However, what they do not know the rules and guidelines that teachers are told they must follow in order to create the “proper” classroom environment. In his book “Bridging English” Joseph O’ Beirne Milner provides these rules and guidelines along with other techniques that will assist English/Literature teachers. Some of the information seems redundant and common knowledge, it is useful that does not just apply to English teachers but some of the chapters apply to other teachers as well. Chapter is all about different ways to instruct and explains the many ways students learn, four organizational structures, and the use of technology. Though, after this chapter the instructions are more focused on English teachers and how to present poetry, drama, and composition to their students.

Currently, as a student, this book blends in with my other text books and is not one that I would pick up for some light reading. However, while reading it for assignments, I realized how vital it would be once I entered the classroom as a teacher. Along with the different ways to teach multiple genres, Milner’s book also provides instructions on how to construct a lesson plan, a unit plan, and plans for the whole curriculum. The final chapters are all about how to better oneself as a teacher and become comfortable in the classroom. This acts as a way to teach yourself how to be an efficient teacher. While it may sound ridiculous to define yourself as a teacher and do self-evaluations, this may open your eyes to an aspect of your character that would have otherwise remained unnoticed. Also this aspect may be something that is helping or hurting your teaching style. If it is hurting your style then noticing it gives you the opportunity to alter it into a helpful aspect. Therefore, while reading a text book is boring, this one contains information that actually is helpful and will come in handy in my future.

Coffee Shop Anxiety

Christopher Freeburg spoke to me. Not literally but through his essay, “Teaching Literature and the Bitter Truth about Starbucks.” You see, I spend a lot of my time toiling away at a coffee shop. Perhaps Northern Light Espresso Bar isn’t an evil, mutant mega corporation like Starbucks but the sentiment is there. Freeburg starts his essay “I have spent far too much time in coffee shops…” (25). My eyes light up with the familiarity of understanding my author. You see, as I read that line, as I soured his essay, I was also in a coffee shop. Surrounded by caffeinated luxury and a couple bookshelves, I’ve always thought of “Northern” as a sort of sanctuary. The point Freeburg ultimately makes is one that I intimately understand. Freeburg writes, “As at any good bar, the Baristas at Starbucks, many of them students, get paid to listen to me talk about my research and interests” (25). As I read these words, I realized just how true his statement was. The regulars that come into the café come for friendship. They come to talk to us, they come to talk to each other and many of them are, in one way or another, involved with one of the local colleges. Just last week I had the privilege of making the perfect latte for the dean of my college. As I tamped the espresso, I told her about what I was working on with my thesis paper. The grinder caused me to raise my voice as I proclaimed “The modernist expats were really on to something…” and as I pour her skim milk over the crema of that perfect shot she had enough time to give me her feedback on my paper. These interactions, my causal run-ins with literacy, wouldn’t be possible if Northern Light didn’t exist or if I decided to do something better with my time than sit at a coffee shop.

 My point, much like Freeburg’s point, is that these atmosphere’s invite the intellectual conversation that may otherwise not exist. They create the casual environment where a barista can ask Freeburg what good there is in what he teaches or why he even bothers (25). While these questions might come off as rude in a more academic setting, they are perfectly acceptable at the coffee shop. Strangely, I ended Freeburg’s essay with a pit in my stomach. I enjoy my job as a barista and I’ve loved my life as an English major but I couldn’t help to know exactly what Freeburg meant when he said, “The bitter truth about Starbucks is obviously not the taste of black coffee.  I do not want my students to continue to work at a coffee place when they graduate unless they want to” (30). In these lines, Freeburg sums up the anxiety of the English major. The fear of uselessness that was coupled with the heckling of unsupportive family members four years before graduation. The stigma that the English major is an unemployable consumer of novels and poetry, doomed to pour lattes for the rest of her life. While Freeburg doesn’t say this is the be all end of the English major, he does put pressure on the professors to make sure the English major understands how to apply all these fancy skills we learn.


Freeburg, Christopher. “Teaching Literature and the Bitter Truth about Starbucks.” Profession. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2012. 25-30. Print.

Calling All Traveling Spinsters!

This year the Travel Cultures Seminar Series presented by the University of Oxford is focusing on the perennial topic of traveling women. The conference, ‘Navigating Networks: Women, Travel, and Female Communities’ is sure to excite feminists, women’s studies majors, and lady-likers from all over the world. Oxford  is looking for papers that expel the stereotype that travel writing is a man’s field and to widen the perspective. After all, it’s 2013 and women still hold up half the sky. Interestingly, they aren’t looking for a bra-burning haiku, either. The University of Oxford is interested in looking at papers that disregard the idea of gendering the travel and to see traveling as the human experience that it is. According to the website, they are looking for papers that focus on connection from any historical period. The muse can be anything from letters and diaries to paintings and photography… GO!

I was happy to read that they are looking to focus on wealthy women, women traveling “independently” from men, like Daisy Miller or, even more hilariously, “Spinsters Abroad.” The conference seems just perfect for my paper “Representations of the American Women Abroad.” On top of the of everything I’ve already mentioned, the website also welcomes papers with the following topics or themes:

The Act of Travel:
• access to exclusively female spaces abroad (harems, baths, spas, circles of gossip)
• development of alliances between the female traveller and the female local
• issues of ‘othering’ – do women have an imperial agenda or do they sympathise with foreign women?
• bonds of sisterhood, friendship, and partnerships
• communities of female expats; salons and social scenes abroad
• feminine self-fashioning: creation of female travel identities abroad
• negative associations with female travel networks: women’s aversion to being lumped together with other female travellers; their desire to break free from collective identities and stereotypes

Many of these ideas coincide with what I’ve ready written about the class issues and female dynamics within Daisy Miller. Other topics and ideas that haven’t been exactly addressed in my paper are also featured and could have relevancy if I was to reconstruct my long paper as a conference paper. All this and more will be presented at the Navigating Networks: Women, Travel, and Female Communities’ conference in Oxford on October 4, 2013!

For more information, check out their website (which I used to help me with this blog post).