Contact: Mike Myslinski 650-552-5324
CTA ‘California Reads’ Program Promotes Quality Books
BURLINGAME – For new generations, the wrath continues. John Steinbeck’s classic book and its themes about the dispossessed, income inequality, social injustice and the value of family solidarity have inspired readers from the Great Depression through the recent Great Recession, keeping “The Grapes of Wrath” relevant today in California classrooms and living rooms.
Now, the iconic work’s 75th anniversary looms large on Monday. It’s a reminder of how teachers are also promoting quality books with strong instructional value through the California Teachers Association’s “California Reads” program of teacher-recommended books for students of all ages.
From the Bay Area to Salinas to Bakersfield and beyond, the epic struggles of the Joad family in Steinbeck’s novel are being rediscovered and honored in classrooms, theaters and lecture halls this month and year-long. Steinbeck wrote a book “from the depths of his heart with a sincerity seldom equaled,” a New York Times book reviewer wrote in 1939.
English teacher Daniel Reynolds has taught the book for nine years to his high school juniors in Walnut Creek and sees its powerful instructional potential.
“'The Grapes of Wrath' is relevant to students today because the struggles of the Joad family, and of all the families dispossessed by the Depression, are the struggles of millions of people today,” Reynolds said. “Steinbeck reminds us that people want to work, they want to provide for their families, they want a little piece of land they can call their own, an education for their kids, they want to be healthy, and ultimately they want all these same things for everyone else too. Students feel a lot of this already, but struggle to put their feelings into words. 'The Grapes of Wrath' helps them do that.”
Reynolds’ Mt. Diablo Unified School District students at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek will launch a full day of events honoring the book on Monday, April 14, exactly 75 years after the blockbuster novel was first published by Viking Press. Projects to be unveiled include a 75-foot multimedia timeline based on events in the book, an interactive social media experience designed by Reynolds, an Instagram scavenger hunt related to the novel, and a student’s new website documenting what other classmates are doing to honor the book.
The book depicts the brutal migration of the Joads from their farm in Oklahoma to California, where they are exploited and forced to work for starvation wages by unscrupulous growers. Reynolds noted that the book – which angered growers and was scorned in Salinas, Steinbeck’s hometown, and banned from public libraries in Kern County and elsewhere – shows the power of working together against great and menacing odds.
“'The Grapes of Wrath' evokes the American themes and progressive ideals of collective action and reasoned dissent, and reminds us that we all do better when we all do better,” Reynolds reflected.
In Fremont, American High School English teacher Deborah Thorsen just finished teaching the book for a fifth time to her junior students. “I tell my students that this is the kind of book that can change the way you look at the world. It tells them that they have a chance to change the world. It shows them that society isn’t nice. They come away from the book with a sense of injustices, but wanting to do something about it.”
In Sacramento, students at McClatchy High School studied “The Grapes of Wrath” in March and saw how strong labor unions are needed to prevent exploitation of workers, said English teacher Larry Tagg. “It’s a vital book for learning about labor. It’s a central book of the Depression and a central book for California.”
The book won the Pulitzer Prize, the 1940 movie won two Academy Awards, and Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. Quotes from the book and movie live on – including Henry Fonda’s famous speech as Tom Joad in the film.
Written in the hills above Los Gatos in Santa Clara County, where Steinbeck also wrote “Of Mice and Men” and “In Dubious Battle,” the novel is on the California Department of Education recommended literature list. It has sparked numerous teacher lesson plans, including this one from the National Endowment for the Arts. The anniversary of “The Grapes of Wrath” is being honored around the state, and this is a sampling of locations and events:
--San Jose: San Jose State University has several events planned. It’s home of the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies with its extensive archives – including “The Grapes of Wrath” manuscripts and first editions – on the fifth floor of the Martin Luther King Jr. main library downtown, adjacent to SJSU. The campus is offering a stage production of the novel on April 16, immediately followed by a discussion with renowned Steinbeck scholar Susan Shillinglaw, an English professor at the university, about her new book, “On Reading The Grapes of Wrath.” Performances of an opera based on the novel are May 9 and 11. Get more details and ticket information here.
--Salinas: The annual Steinbeck festival is May 2-4 at the National Steinbeck Center. It includes field trips and Steinbeck scholar Susan Shillinglaw discussing “The Grapes of Wrath,” and other forums about the book being banned in Kern County. See the festival schedule and ticket information here. Read more about the early rocky relationship between Salinas and Steinbeck.
--Bakersfield: Several months of ongoing lectures and forums about Steinbeck’s novel and the Great Depression are being coordinated by California State University-Bakersfield, culminating in a November academic conference on the cultural legacy of “The Grapes of Wrath.” Forum topics include the impacts of the Dust Bowl years, and a free April 17 lecture features former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso. See complete details.
The 325,000-member CTA is affiliated with the 3.2 million-member National Education Association.