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Institute 2018 - Faculty Bios

Program Co-Director, Dr. Susan Shillinglaw

Dr. Susan Shillinglaw

Susan Shillinglaw is a Professor of English at San José State University and Director of the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas. A noted Steinbeck scholar, she has published several articles on the author and edited Steinbeck’s journalism (America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction) and collections of essays. She also wrote introductions to Penguin editions of Cannery Row and Of Mice and Men, A Russian Journal, and The Winter of Our Discontent (2008). She is the author of A Journey Into Steinbeck’s California (2006, 2011), Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage (2013), and On Reading The Grapes of Wrath (2014).

Program Co-Director, Dr. William Gilly

Dr. William Gilly

William Gilly is a Professor of Biology at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station and was Director and Chief Scientist of a 2004 retracing of Steinbeck and Ricketts’s Sea of Cortez trip. In addition to a scientific career with numerous peer-reviewed publications, he has engaged in many outreach projects involving print, television, radio and web media. His Squids4Kids program brings issues of ocean health to K-12 classrooms in California and Mexico, provides Humboldt squid specimens and online educational materials to teachers throughout the US, and participates in family science-events. His current research is focused on control of skin color in squid and on changes in life history strategies in response to climatic anomalies in the Sea of Cortez.

Presenter, Dr. Mary Alder

Mary AlderDr. Mary Adler is a Professor in English and Education at California State University Channel Islands, where she specializes in English education, classroom discourse studies, writing development and processes, and literacy practices. She is a former middle-school English language arts and social studies teacher. In 2007 and 2009 Mary co-directed, with Susan Shillinglaw, the NEH Summer Institute John Steinbeck: "Voice of A Region, Voice for America." She is the author of Writers at Play: Making the Space for Adolescents to Balance Imagination and Craft (2009) and co-author (with Eija Rougle) of Building Literacy Through Classroom Discussion (2005).

Presenter, Pete Barraza

Pete Barraza

Pete Barraza is a graduate of UCLA and teaches at Santa Monica High School in southern California.  He believes that teaching Steinbeck’s works connects students to their own lives, regardless of where that life is taking place. In 2007 he developed the California Literature Experience, a University of California approved innovative English course for high school students. In reading the kaleidoscopic literature of the Golden State, particularly the work of Steinbeck, students realized that California is made up of a multitude of voices, experiences, histories, and enclaves. A key component of the California Literature Experience was literary journey through Steinbeck country with the students, a 4-day curriculum-guided expedition through the Central Coast, provoking students to explore the literature read throughout the year in a tangible way. For many of the students, it was their first time away from Los Angeles, experiencing what Gerald Haslam refers to as the "many Californias" of our state. Students visited places such as The National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Corral De Tierra (Steinbeck's landscape for The Pastures of Heaven), Cannery Row, the Pacific Biological Lab of Ed Ricketts in Monterey, and Point Lobos. Along the way, students were visited by several speakers who provided lectures on various issues related to California, including the life and work of John Steinbeck.

Presenter, Dr. Robert DeMott

Dr. Robert DeMott

A native of Connecticut, Robert DeMott is Edwin and Ruth Kennedy Distinguished Professor of English Emeritus at Ohio University where he taught from 1969 to 2013 and where he received 6 different teaching awards and directed 21 PhD dissertations. A former interim director of San Jose State University’s Steinbeck Research Center, he has published Steinbeck’s Reading, Working Days: The Journals of the Grapes of Wrath, and Steinbeck’s Typewriter, co-winner of the Nancy Dasher Book Award from the College English Association of Ohio. He is a co-editor of After the Grapes of Wrath, editor of the Library of America’s 4-volume Steinbeck project (1994-2007), including Novels and Stories, 1932-1937, The Grapes of Wrath and Other Writings, 1936-1941, Novels, 1941-1952, and Travels with Charley and Later Novels, 1947-192, and he is a member of the Editorial Board of the Steinbeck Review. In 2006 he was awarded the Salinas Steinbeck Museum’s Trustees Award for significant contributions to Steinbeck Studies. His poetry books include News of Loss, The Weather in Athens, winner of the Ohioana Poetry Award, and Brief and Glorious Transit. He is a certified fly casting instructor and guides at Elk Springs Resort in Monterville, West Virginia. His most recent book is Angling Days: A Fly Fisher’s Journals (2016). A revised and updated edition of Conversations with Jim Harrison is due out in 1918 from University Press of Mississippi, and he is working on Steinbeck’s Imaginarium, a gathering of previously uncollected essays on Steinbeck’s creativity. He lives in Athens, Ohio, with his partner Kate Fox, a poet and free lance writer.

Presenter, Dr. Chris Fink

Dr. Chris Fink

Chris Fink is a Professor of English and creative writing at Beloit College and editor-in-chief of the Beloit Fiction Journal. Since 2000, he has published more than twenty stories in various US and Canadian journals, as well as several poems and essays. He also authored a collection of short fiction, Farmer’s Almanac (2013). He was a founding faculty member of the Master of Fine Arts program at San Jose State University and founder of the John Steinbeck Award for the Short Story. Since 2000 he has been contributing editor of Steinbeck Studies. His stories have been nominated four times for the Pushcart Prize.

Presenter, Dr. Scot Guenter

Dr. Scot Guenter

Scot Guenter is Professor and Coordinator of American Studies at San Jose State University. A cultural historian and vexillologist (vexillology is the scholarly study of flags), he is the founding editor of Raven: A Journal of Vexillology, author of The American Flag 1777-1824, and past president of both the California American Studies Association and the North American Vexillological Association. He has consulted at the Smithsonian and has most recently published on such varied topics as the effect of the Internet on interpreting national symbols, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Sarah Palin.

Presenter, Gavin Jones

Gavin Jones

Gavin Jones is the Frederick P. Rehmus Family Professor of the Humanities at Stanford University. He specializes in American literature of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. His three published books explore the power of literature to embody complex social problems and to uncover difficult ideas that often remain hidden in the culture at large:  Strange Talk: The Politics of Dialect Literature in Gilded Age America (1999),  American Hungers: The Problem of Poverty in U.S. Literature, 1840-1945 (2007), and Failure and the American Writer: A Literary History (2014). He is currently writing a book about John Steinbeck. By stressing Steinbeck’s tremendous variety and complexity as a writer, Jones hopes to recuperate Steinbeck as a crucial thinker for today’s world, plagued by problems of ecological catastrophe, racial injustice, and global inequality.

Presenter, Dr. Persis Karim

Dr. Persis KarimPersis Karim is the Neda Nobari Chair for the newly-established Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies at San Francisco State University and a professor of World and Comparative Literature. She is the author of numerous articles on literature and culture of the Iranian diaspora, including MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literatures of the United States (MELUS), Comparative Studies of South Asian, African and the Middle East (CSSAAME) and Iranian Studies. She is the editor of three anthologies of Iranian Diaspora Literature, most recently, Tremors: New Fiction by Iranian-American Writers. Her poetry has appeared in numerous publications including Callaloo, Caesura, Reed Magazine, and The New York Times. More information at:    

Project Coordinator, Brett Navin

Brett NavinBrett Navin teaches 7th grade ELA in Port Townsend, WA. His students read The Pearl and short selections from The Log from the Sea of Cortez, before riding bikes to tour the Western Flyer which is being restored at the local shipwright’s co-op. Brett received his MA from Northern Arizona University and has taught grades 4-12 and community college courses in Arizona, Ohio and Washington. He also taught classes on Alaska Frontier Literature, Art of Alaska, Art of the Grand Canyon, and Grand Canyon Literature. He attended the 2016 NEH Steinbeck Institute and has become involved with working with the Western Flyer Foundation in its efforts to restore the vessel and turn it into an at-sea educational platform.

Presenter, Anthony Newfield

Anthony Newfield

Anthony Newfield, originally from Northern California, is a professional actor based in New York City whose appearances on stage, film, and television have taken him from New York to California to Ireland and Russia. Broadway credits include 1984, The Father, The Winslow Boy, The Royal Family, The Columnist, Tartuffe, and Waiting for Godot. For his work in the play Bent, he won Florida’s Carbonell Award for Best Supporting Actor. In 2002, he created his one-man show, Steinbeck and the Land, and performed it in New York and in Salinas, California, at the Steinbeck Festival. Since then, he has created new pieces for the Festival, including The Dog Ate My Manuscript: Of Mice and Men Onstage, A Box of Glory… An Armful of Garbage, and Tortilla Flat: How Danny and His Friends Found Their Way from the Page to the Stage. He is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and earned an MFA in Acting from Carnegie Mellon University in conjunction with the Moscow Art Theatre.

Presenter, Dr. Matthew Spangler

Dr. Matthew Spangler

Matthew Spangler is Professor of Performance Studies at San José State University. He has written and directed over thirty adaptations of literature for the stage, including works by Khaled Hosseini, TC Boyle, John Cheever, James Joyce, Marjan Kamali, Jasmin Darznik, among others. His adaptation of The Kite Runner ran on London’s West End for eight months, followed by a year-long UK tour in 2017/18. His adaptation of Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” titled Albatross, was produced off-Broadway in 2017. His current play, about the Mughal Empress Noor Jahan, will tour Pakistan in 2017, as well as select cities in California and Texas. His plays have been produced throughout the US, Canada, and the UK, as well as in France and Israel. Matthew's academic scholarship looks at the relationship between theatre and immigration. He is the director of an NEH Summer Institute on theatre, literature, and immigration to California.

Presenter, Dr. Craig Strang

Dr. Craig Strang

Craig Strang is Associate Director, Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley. He leads the Learning and Teaching Group that designs and carries out professional learning programs around the country and internationally for educational leaders in schools, science centers, aquariums, museums, colleges and universities. He is Co-Chair of the Environmental Literacy Steering Committee for the state of California, is a past President of the National Marine Educators Association, and co-leads the nationwide Ocean Literacy Campaign. He is Principal Investigator of BaySci: The Bay Area Partnership for K-12 Science; an NSF-funded research study on science professional development, and an NSF-funded project to improve instruction in outdoor science programs. He is founding Director of MARE: Marine Activities, Resources & Education, a K-8 professional learning and curriculum program. Before turning to science education he did research on elephant seals, humpback whales and California sea lion.