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  • Tribute to Martha Heasley Cox
  • Greta Manville (bio)

Meeting Martha Cox in 1975 added a dimension to my life for which I shall always be grateful. I had returned to college to finish studies for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees at San José State University. John Steinbeck had long been one of my favorite authors, so when I heard that a Center had been established for him at the university library by Professor Cox and that she needed a student assistant, I trotted right over to apply for the job. With considerable secretarial experience in my background—and fortunate timing—I was hired.

Martha’s efforts several years earlier had resulted in a fine, most valuable collection of books by and about Steinbeck. With the help of Ray Morrison, another student assistant, she had researched and acquired a massive amount of material to honor the author. This collection has since grown and continues to grow. As a professor of American literature, Martha placed Steinbeck foremost in the classes she taught, though, as a Southerner herself, she confessed to having strong leanings toward William Faulkner. She lived and taught near “Steinbeck Country,” however, and believed it only fair that the Nobel laureate be recognized in his own territory. With prodigious effort on her part and with help from Steinbeck scholars such as Warren French, Peter Lisca, Robert DeMott, Jackson Benson, and many other members of the John Steinbeck Society founded by Tetsumaro Hayashi, the San José Center flourished.

Martha had begun work on an annotated critical and biographical bibliography of Steinbeck, and the bulk of my work at the Center was to locate books and articles at universities nearby, particularly Stanford and Berkeley, and then to write brief annotations for each to add to the bibliography. A teacher of composition and author of composition textbooks, Martha was a terrific editor and taught me a great deal about conciseness in written expression.

When Martha retired, she hoped future scholars would continue the work on the bibliography, which was still unpublished. Thirty-five years later, I was awarded a Steinbeck Fellowship to work on my project to continue the bibliography for publication. Of course, bibliographies about noted authors never end as new material continues to appear, thus much material remained to be [End Page 82] added. After several years, our combined effort was turned over to San José State University and published as an online resource, where it is updated on the Center’s website and available to scholars, teachers, and readers today.

Among my fondest memories of Martha is the 1977 research trip we took to New York City to locate material at the New York Public Library, Lincoln Center Library, and Viking Press, where Martha was allowed to identify and remove extra copies from their files to add to the Center’s growing collection. We worked very hard all day long for a week and went to the theater each night. Our somewhat fleabag hotel was right in the heart of the theater district. A less fond memory of that trip was all the walking we did. Martha was a walker, whereas I prefer to ride. We walked everywhere, even from Lincoln Center on 62nd Street, through Central Park, to a restaurant near the hotel—arriving in time for the evening performances on 42nd Street. Martha’s exercise regimen no doubt contributed to her long and healthy life.

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Fig 1.

Martha Cox giving a tour of Pacific Biological Laboratories (akaDoc Ricketts’ Lab), Cannery Row, Monterey, 1975.

Photo by Greta Manville, collection of the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies.

My memories would not be complete without commenting on her excellence as a teacher. She expected interest and enthusiasm from her students, but was no more demanding of them than she was for herself. No matter how many times she taught a novel, she reread the book before the class discussion, and we all benefited from the freshness of the insights she brought to us. She took [End Page 83] her classes on tours of Steinbeck Country—from Fremont Peak to Salinas to Monterey, and, of course, to Cannery Row—bringing the...