Khaled Hosseini Receives Steinbeck Award

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Novelist Khaled Hosseini in conversation with KGO’s Pat Thurston at San Jose State (Robert C. Bain Photo).

It’s not often that teachers sit in rapt attention, listening to a student.

Yet that was the case Sept. 10 at the Student Union, where novelist Khaled Hosseini received the John Steinbeck Award: In the Souls of the People from the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies at San Jose State.

In the audience were his mother, a teacher of Farsi and history while the family was living in Afghanistan; his English teacher from Independence High School after his family sought asylum in the United States; many more school teachers; and of course faculty members from San Jose State.

I don’t think teachers understand the extent of the influence they have on their students, especially after the class is over, when it all comes echoing back,” Hosseini said.

The author refused to be compared with the great Steinbeck in terms of their stature, but during an on-stage conversation with KGO’s Pat Thurston, he did describe a direct connection between the migrant farm workers of Salinas, described in the “Grapes of Wrath,” and the refugees Hosseini follows in his bestselling novels: “And the Mountains Echoed,” “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” and “The Kite Runner.”

His comments were timely, given President Obama had just a few hours earlier addressed the nation about deteriorating situation in Syria and neighboring countries, which will most certainly unmoor even more refugees.

“If John Steinbeck was alive today, he would really be in his element in Afghanistan,” Hosseini said.

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Hosseini with the John Steinbeck Award. The honor is presented to artists and activists whose works exemplify the spirit of Steinbeck’s social engagement (Robert C. Bain Photo).

Gathering Stories, Experiencing Lives

Like Steinbeck, who once lived and worked as a migrant farm worker to, as Hosseini said, “gathering their stories and experiencing their lives,” the author has returned many times to his homeland to see how the wars of the past three decades have impacted everyday people.

“I really wanted to understand on a human level what had happened to my country, to gain that human dimension,” he said. “It was through their stories that I began to understand what really happened and some of their stories were so vivid that they landed in the pages of my book.”

Working with the United Nations Refugee Commission, he observed that like migrants escaping the Dust Bowl, the refugees in the Middle East–mothers, fathers, children and grandparents–are packing their belongings on their backs and leaving their homes because they can no longer forge a living there.

I suspect there are a lot of Ma Joads in Afghanistan right now, trying to keep their families together,” Hosseini said. “Every tent is occupied by a human being” he continued, who wants the same things we do, “a sense of predictability, a place you call home.”

At one point, eight million people in Afghanistan were displaced, one-third of the population. Ethnic groups had a long history of clinging together, and the warlords who emerged to fill the vacuum when the Soviets left plunged the country in chaos until the Taliban dominated.

A Higher Purpose

“I’m not a politician. I’m not a bureaucrat. My role is to be a storyteller,” he said. “I try to remind people that there is a human behind each one of those statistics. Refugee crises happen because of very complicated conflicts that have no easy answers…At the end of the day, it’s people who have to flee across the borders.”

During the award presentation, Nicholas Taylor, associate professor of English and director of the Steinbeck Center, noted it was fitting that on the 75th anniversary of the publication of “Grapes of Wrath,” the Steinbeck Award was going for the first time to a novelist.

Authorized by the Steinbeck estate, the honor is presented to artists and activists whose works exemplify the spirit of Steinbeck’s social engagement. Previous recipients include Bruce Springsteen, Ken Burns, Rachel Maddow, John Mellencamp and Michael Moore.

Hosseini did not intend to become a published author when he began writing for the pure joy of it as a teenager, first in Farsi, then French when his family lived in Paris, and finally in English.  Yet he acknowledged that he recognized a higher purpose in his novels, which he resumed writing after graduating from the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine.

Much as Steinbeck opened a window into a world unacknowledged and unfamiliar to many Americans, Hosseini “understood as I was writing that these books, if done right, if I am honest about the storytelling, then these books can be a kind of a window into Afghan life, into its culture, its religion.”

 

Ken Burns to Receive Steinbeck Award

Ken Burns to Receive Steinbeck Award

Ken Burns to Receive Steinbeck Award

Ken Burns (photo by Jason Savage/courtesy of Florentine Films and WETA Washington, D.C.)

“History made them famous. Ken Burns made them real.” So says PBS about one of the most influential documentary filmmakers of our time.

Join the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies, the Student Union, and KQED for a special evening as Ken Burns accepts the John Steinbeck Award at 8 p.m. Dec. 6 in Morris Dailey Auditorium.

Burns will sit down for an on-stage conversation with Michael Krasny. Tackling subjects ranging from the Central Park Five to the Dust Bowl through the eyes of everyday people, Burns keeps social justice at the heart of all of his work.

Authorized by the Steinbeck estate, The John Steinbeck Award, “in the souls of the people,” is presented to artists and activists whose works exemplify the spirit of Steinbeck’s social engagement.

Previous recipients include Bruce Springsteen, Arthur Miller, Sean Penn, John Sayles, Studs Terkel, Joan Baez, Garrison Keillor, John Mellencamp, Rachel Maddow, and Dolores Huerta (co-founder, with Cesar Chavez, of the United Farm Workers).

Sneak Preview 

At the event, Burns will screen a sneak peek of his upcoming documentary, “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History,” set to air in 2014.

There’s a connection between John Steinbeck and Eleanor Roosevelt. When detractors accused Steinbeck of exaggerating the conditions in migrant labor camps as depicted in The Grapes of Wrath, the first lady came to the novelist’s defense.

Tickets are on sale now at Ticketmaster, the Event Center Box Office, or by phone (1-800-745-3000).

John Mellencamp to Receive Steinbeck Award

John Mellencamp to Receive Steinbeck Award

Mellencamp (center) with Paul Douglass (left), director of the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies, and Robert Santelli (right), executive director of the Grammy Museum (Christina Olivas photo).

Mellencamp (center) with Paul Douglass (left), director of the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies, and Robert Santelli (right), executive director of the Grammy Museum (Christina Olivas photo).

Media Contact: Pat Lopes Harris, SJSU Media Relations

Last night at the California Theatre in San Jose, rocker and Farm Aid activist John Mellencamp brought down the house at a benefit concert for the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies.

The singer/songwriter accepted the John Steinbeck Award presented by the Steinbeck Center to artists and activists whose work exemplifies the values found in the writings of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author. For the first time since Joan Baez in 2003, a musician received the prestigious award, “in the souls of the people.”

Mellencamp discussed his career and creative process with Robert Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum, stopping several times during the talk to strum his guitar and sing. And then he brought the audience to its feet with a musical performance that included “Rain on the Scarecrow,” “Crumblin’ Down” and “Cherry Bomb.”

“John’s 40-year career makes one marvel,” said Thomas Steinbeck, noted author and the surviving son of John Steinbeck. “As an artist, John Mellencamp has been a superb singer-songwriter-storyteller; as an exemplary activist, and as a creator and longtime champion of Farm Aid, he has maintained the true spirit of John Steinbeck’s compassion for the worker. Without question, John Mellencamp has earned the John Steinbeck Award, and it will be my great pleasure to present it to him.”

Giving Voice to the Common Man

Mellencamp said, “John Steinbeck’s remarkable ability to give voice to the common man and to people on society’s margins, to describe their plight and aspirations, continues to inspire us more than a century after his birth,” Mellencamp said. “I’m very honored to be the recipient of an award given in his name.”

Upon receiving the John Steinbeck Award, Mellencamp had his name further linked to that of the legendary Baez on a select list of two as the only recipients of both the Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie awards. Mellencamp received the Guthrie award in 2003.

Previous recipients of the John Steinbeck Award include: Bruce Springsteen, Arthur Miller, Studs Terkel, Dolores Huerta, John Sayles, Jackson Browne, Garrison Keillor, Joan Baez, Michael Moore, Sean Penn, and Rachel Maddow.

About the Award

The Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies at San Jose State University is the world’s leading archive of Steinbeck materials, with over 30,000 items. The center has been authorized by the Steinbeck estate to present awards to those artists and activists whose work exemplifies the themes and values found in the writings of John Steinbeck: in particular, his concern for the natural environment, his commitment to the common people, and his willingness to critique the contrasts between the powerful and the poor.

Of John Mellencamp, Thomas Steinbeck also said: “My father always carried a deep and profound respect for songwriters and musicians. He felt they were the voice of the people and had the unique opportunity to reach the very souls of the people. Like Woody Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen, and a handful of others, John Mellencamp has done just that. He has spent his life serving as a voice for the people.

The John Steinbeck Award, “In the Souls of the People,” was first given in 1996. Nominations for the award are made by a committee of members of the board of the Center for Steinbeck Studies.

Rachel Maddow Receives Steinbeck Award

Rachel Maddow Receives Steinbeck Award

Rachel Maddow

Rachel Maddow

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

Rachel Maddow, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC, will receive the John Steinbeck Award at an event beginning at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25 in SJSU’s Morris Dailey Auditorium.

Maddow will appear in conversation with KGO host Pat Thurston. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Reserved seating is $25. General admission balcony seating is $20 ($15 for students). Tickets are available now at Ticketmaster and the SJSU Event Center box office.

The Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies, located within the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, is the only university research archive in the world dedicated solely to John Steinbeck’s life and work. The center promotes Steinbeck’s goals of empathy and understanding by supporting education, inquiry and the literary arts.

The Steinbeck Award: “In the Souls of the People” is given annually to honor an artist, thinker or activist who has made a significant contribution to causes that matter to the common person.

Rachel Maddow

Huffington Post: Rachel Maddow Receives Steinbeck Award

Rachel Maddow

Rachel Maddow

John Steinbeck’s Son: Rachel Maddow the New Walter Cronkite

(Editor’s Note: Learn more and purchase tickets for the Feb. 25 event at SJSU through the The Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies.)

Posted by the Huffington Post Feb. 6, 2012.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow was announced the winner of the prestigious John Steinbeck Award on Monday. In addition to being honored with the award, Maddow was also the recipient of a major compliment from Thomas Steinbeck, John Steinbeck’s son.

Speaking of Maddow, Steinbeck was quoted in the official release as likening Maddow to the great Walter Cronkite. He said, “My father would have adored Rachel Maddow…Listening to Rachel Maddow is like listening to Walter Cronkite. We have that kind of trust in her…I hope she’s in it for the long haul, because we really need her.”

The Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies is part of San Jose State University. According to the Center’s website, the award is “given to writers and artists whose work captures the spirit of Steinbeck’s empathy, commitment to democratic values, and beliefs in the dignity of people who by circumstance are pushed to the fringes.”

Previous award recipients include Bruce Springsteen, Arthur Miller, Joan Baez, Sean Penn, and Michael Moore.

This is not the first time Maddow’s name has been associated with legendary broadcaster. Maddow was awarded the The Interfaith Alliance’s Walter Cronkite Faith and Freedom award in August 2010.