2012-2013 President’s Scholar: Susan Shillinglaw

2012-2013 President’s Scholar Susan Shillinglaw (Peter Caravalho photo)

The President’s Scholar Award recognizes a faculty member who has achieved widespread recognition based on the quality of scholarship, performance or creative activities. This year’s winner comes from the College of Humanities and the Arts.

In 1984, Professor of English and Comparative Literature Susan Shillinglaw came to her first faculty meeting with her baby in her arms, an unfinished dissertation and not a single word published. Twenty-eight years later, her subsequent research and determination have earned her the 2012-2013 President’s Scholar Award.

“When the president called to tell me that I won the award, I was just floored and so moved beyond words,” said Shillinglaw. “It’s such an honor to receive this recognition from the president and from San Jose State—the university that I’ve given my life and career to. I am delighted that my scholarship, outreach and commitment to the university are recognized in this way.

A specialist on Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck, Shillinglaw is “one of the top three or four [scholars] in the world on the subject, and since 2005 has been scholar-in-residence at the National Steinbeck Center,” said one nominator. Her research portfolio includes several edited books and scholarly essays, five introductions for Penguin Classics,  A Journey Into Steinbeck’s California (2006, second edition 2011), and a biography of Steinbeck’s first marriage to San Jose native Carol Henning, a forthcoming book from the University of Nevada Press that she says defines her career as a Steinbeck scholar. Among Shillinglaw’s numerous grants for studies on  Steinbeck are four from the National Endowment for Humanities for Steinbeck Summer Institutes, “John Steinbeck, the Voice of a Region, a Voice for America.” Focusing on place and ecology, each “works to bridge the gap between the humanities and the sciences.”

Shillinglaw’s work has been recognized nationally and internationally, and her articles and introductions are “a major contribution to the Steinbeck field,” said a nominator. Her work has clearly benefited the field of Steinbeck studies as a whole; each scholarly project has challenged Shillinglaw to write to a broad audience. It is the positive and visceral response to Steinbeck’s work that has allowed her to touch so many people and to lecture around the world.

The director of San Jose State’s Center for Steinbeck Studies for 18 years, Shillinglaw is presently working on a Steinbeck encyclopedia devoted to cultural contexts for each book as well as a book on Steinbeck and the Soviet Union. There’s always more to know about a writer whose work remains firmly in the canon. Shillinglaw wrote: “Steinbeck endures because he does not permit readers to complacently dig in, like the hermit crab. He embraces the fullness of life. With compassion, tolerance, and humility, he surveys landscapes: of place, of spirit, of a nation.”

Shillinglaw earned a bachelor’s degree from Cornell College and master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.