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  • The State of the International Society of Steinbeck ScholarsYoung and Dynamic, with a Rich Heritage
  • Luchen Li, President (bio)

The International Society of Steinbeck Scholars, formerly the John Steinbeck Society of America, adopted its new name at the International Steinbeck Conference at San Jose State University in 2013. Three years later, in May 2016, our dynamic society of scholars from around the world gathered once more in the Silicon Valley and the Salinas Valley of California to celebrate one of America’s and the world’s preeminent writers, centered around the theme “Steinbeck as an International Writer.” I would like to take this opportunity to report on the 2016 conference and share updates about the Society’s agenda for the coming years.

The 2016 conference featured presentations and panel discussions from a wide variety of theoretical applications, exploring Steinbeck’s connections to world literature and thought—including Classical Greek and Roman, Eastern, and twentieth-century Russian. Celebrating the richness of Steinbeck’s texts, presenters spoke about the writer’s many themes, aesthetic choices, and narrative strategies. The 2016 conference committee not only invited some of the most renowned Steinbeck scholars, pioneers, and co-founders of the Steinbeck Society, it also attracted graduate students, teachers, independent scholars, and fans from the general public and nonprofit organizations. Conference participants were especially thrilled to hear the keynote speaker, Richard Astro, who gave a historical overview of intellectual bonds between Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts. The banquet speaker, Robert DeMott, shared rare insights into The Grapes of Wrath and the art of Steinbeck’s other works. Discussions and conversations went above and beyond Steinbeck’s international appeal to include topics on deep ecology, power and subjugation, the concept of [End Page 227] democracy and America, ethics and philosophy, and gender studies. Some of these presentations will be selected for publication in the Steinbeck Review, our Society’s fully refereed academic journal.

The success of the 2016 conference would not have been possible without the planning and coordination of a group of dedicated colleagues. Here I wish to thank Nick Taylor, Conference Director and Center Director, and his staff at the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies. Others on the thank-you list include the following:

  • Conference Co-Directors

  • Tom Barden, Professor Emeritus, University of Toledo

  • Barbara A. Heavilin, Editor in Chief, Steinbeck Review

  • Conference Steering Committee

  • Danica Čerče, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia

  • Chuck Etheridge, Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi

  • Mimi Gladstein, University of Texas, El Paso

  • Luchen Li, University of New Hampshire

At the end of the conference, I convened a group of colleagues who represented various operations of the International Society of Steinbeck Scholars to create a suggested agenda for the coming years. Thanks to Nick Taylor, the following notes capture the outcome of that meeting regarding the Society’s bylaws, the journal Steinbeck Review, and membership expansion.

It is inspiring to the Society’s members that after last year’s press release on the Steinbeck Renaissance, we are now witnessing increased Steinbeck interest in our communities. Here in the northeast corner of the United States, from mid-September through October 2016, Fireseed Alliance of Amherst, New Hampshire, will host a National Education Association Big Read program featuring Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath in partnership with seventeen libraries from the Hillstown Library Cooperative and the Souhegan Valley Chamber of Commerce. Special programs will include a kickoff event at LaBelle Winery in Amherst on Sunday, September 18, a keynote address by Steinbeck biographer Jay Parini at St. Anselm College on October 27, a series of living history performances by Richard Marold as Franklin Delano Roosevelt in four communities, and a discussion following a screening of the John Ford classic film adaptation with Luchen Li at Red River Theatres in Concord, New Hampshire, on October 23. [End Page 228]

As the annals have shown for decades, Steinbeck continues to draw interest and readership from all walks of life and from every corner of the world. Because of their timeless literary and artistic value, Steinbeck’s works will continue to engage scholars, and our Society will continue to expand, building on the solid foundation laid by Steinbeck scholars in the past half...


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