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  • Editor’s ColumnA Continuing Legacy to Scholarship, to the Arts, to Steinbeck: In Memoriam, Martha Heasley Cox, February 26, 1919–September 5, 2015
  • Barbara A. Heavilin and Cecilia Donohue

The Spring 2016 Steinbeck Review is a memoriam dedicated to Martha Heasley Cox, whose enduring legacy is a paradigm of a scholarly life that melded a brilliant intellect with a magnanimous heart. Evidence of her keen insight and love of scholars and scholarship is amply provided in this issue’s section titled “Tributes to Martha Heasley Cox.” Nick Taylor, Director of the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies at San José State University, enumerates some of Martha’s accomplishments, thereby defining the life of a beneficent, dynamic person—one who has left this world a better place. Taylor writes,

In the late 1990s she was inspired to create a fellowship program at San José State University that would bring together scholars from all of the disciplines Steinbeck practiced—including fiction writing, drama, journalism, and marine biology. She bestowed an endowment to allow the University to invite two or three such scholars to San José for campus residencies, during which they would interact with one another and make regular presentations to the University community. The program had been remarkably successful. Since 2001 the Steinbeck Fellows program has awarded over $360,000 to three dozen writers and scholars, who collectively have gone on to publish twenty-three books and earn numerous additional distinctions, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rona Jaffe Foundation. … Such is Martha’s continuing legacy to scholarship, to the arts, to Steinbeck. [End Page V]

Inspired, creative, generous—Martha was a lover of literature and scholarship who saw far into the future as she bestowed endowments that have assured the enduring success and longevity of her Center.

Director of the Steinbeck Center for eighteen years, Susan Shillinglaw recalls Martha’s dedication to excellence and to her Steinbeck collection:

I came to appreciate fully the high bar she set for any scholarly endeavor. With the help of her student assistant, Greta Manville, Martha collected the core of the Steinbeck collection—first editions and scholarly materials—and created oversized scrapbooks of Steinbeck ephemera. Maybe it was those scrapbooks that sealed the deal for me: her devotion to the Center and to John Steinbeck’s career was imprinted on every page.

Paul Douglass, also a former Director of the Center, has high accolades for Martha as well, finding her legacy “manifold—from SJSU’s Center for Steinbeck Studies to the Cox Lectureship, the California Book Awards, and the San Francisco theater scene, to conferences and meetings.”

Steinbeck scholar Mimi Gladstein recalls the evolution of the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies, beginning in the 1970s with “the Steinbeck Collection” and expanding into “the world-class reference center it is now. The scope of her impact is international,” she continues, “with scholars now coming to the … Center … from as far afield as Algeria, Japan, and Slovenia.”

Greta Manville, a former student assistant, remembers Martha fondly as a teacher, a researcher, and a gatherer of all things Steinbeck for her Center at San José: “Martha Heasley Cox has been an inspiration to many of us through her self-discipline and generosity. Her legacy has spread worldwide as interest in Steinbeck’s work grows, and the Center now named for her continues the vision she began over forty years ago.”

Arlene Naylor Okerlund, Martha’s colleague and onetime office mate, believes that Martha is the living epitome of the aphorism “One person can make a difference.” Privileged to watch the creation of San José State University’s Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies from its genesis, Okerlund observed Martha’s indefatigable efforts and remarkable accomplishments in gathering materials for the Center. She also notes Martha’s other masterstrokes in her inspired creation of endowments to ensure the future vitality and outreach of the Center beyond its boundaries. There are three of these endowments, each undergirding vital aspects of the Center: the Martha Heasley Cox Lecture [End Page VI] Series, “a program intended to enrich the academic environment of the larger University and the community”; the Steinbeck Research...

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