Professor Heather E. Bruce of the University of Montana, published a fascinating article in January's edition of The English Journal, Green (ing) English: Voices Howling in the Wilderness. As most of my readers already know, I am a John Steinbeck fan. I visit the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California; I read his works regularly, and I have studied a bit about his life. Even though I am only an undergrad, and a poor one at that, I still appreciate his early contribution to conservation and ecological awareness. As I read Professor Bruce's piece, I drank my Bombay Sapphire, munched on popcorn, and eagerly awaited her words on my favorite author's early achievements on this subject matter. My mind flew to the dustbowl of Oklahoma, his intricate descriptions of blight, dust, and the underlying causes. I reminisced about the characters in "The Grapes of Wrath." I thought about the enemies he had made in California farming, and the banning of his book. I started to worry.
Not once did the professor mention John Steinbeck. She included Simon Ortiz, Langston Hughes, Mark Twain, and many important literary figures. I loved her discussion of the Mississippi River and how it had become a character in its own right. She reminded me that since Twain's time we have seen very negative changes in the delta region, and how ecological damage is compounded by disasters such as Katrina, and the BP oil spill.
John Steinbeck's best friend was marine biologist Ed Ricketts (1897-1948). Ricketts influenced much of Steinbeck's work and the underlying themes of ecology, and preservation. I could not believe the professor completely disregarded Pulitzer Prize winner John Steinbeck. I read her article again, and I scanned it for his name, or Ricketts, but nothing. Together Ricketts and Steinbeck explored and studied species, habitats, and even indigenous peoples. They traveled to Mexico, and other foreign countries, searching for new life, and recording data. These experiences contributed to all of Steinbeck's work.
In spite of this exclusion, I still love Professor Bruce's very informative and inspiring article. She is correct, it is our responsibility to share with our children the importance of environmental justice, and how this is demonstrated in our important literary works. It is artful, the blending of ecology with the mind of the character, the details of a scene, the realism of a period in time. How we have toxified our environment, and the descriptions of abuse, are important concepts to share in our reading and writing. In this way, we can teach responsibility to those who are disconnected from nature by an urban life, or poverty.
I am going to check again! She must have mentioned him….