The annual Steinbeck Festival this weekend focuses on “The Women Of Steinbeck's World.”
This focus goes well beyond the characters in John Steinbeck’s books -- like Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath or Juana in The Pearl -- to include real life women who influenced him, like First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, photographer Dorothea Lange and the environmentalist Rachel Carson. Why Carson?
"Because Steinbeck said the book that he most wished that he’d written was Silent Spring," says Susan Shillinglaw, who directs the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas when she’s not teaching English at San Jose State.
Shillinglaw says she wouldn’t call Steinbeck a feminist, but, "He so admired strong, resolute women. He married three of them. He was very close to his sisters and his family. And fished with women, had women as companions, et cetera," she says.
There will be lectures throughout the weekend, ranging from Shillinglaw's own on Steinbeck’s sisters, to UC Berkeley visiting scholar Ignacio Ornelas Rodriguez talking about female fieldworkers and strike organizers.