From Hollywood to Egypt, the most-decorated Steinbeck Festival yet traverses diverse and verdant territory.
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Take a big overriding theme, shoot it through the prism of John Steinbeck’s life and works, and refract it over several days in many different directions.
That’s how the Steinbeck Festival goes down. It does it again for the 31st annual.
For the 28th, that theme was Mexico; last year it was Steinbeck’s travels and influence on sectors of the world. For the 2011 installment, the programming revolves around the theme “Friends and Foes” – and lands in unexpected places. Like Aracataca, Colombia. Or graphic novels. Or extreme sports.
“He had a wide curiosity,” says Steinbeck Festival co-director Lori Wood. “We can look at almost anything through the lens of Steinbeck.”
The official kick-off is Thursday, made up of bus and walking tours in the daytime, and a “Literary Brawl and Pub Crawl” in the evening.
From there the sprawling affair commands a deep well of authors, scholars and artists who represent the most decorated talent the festival has seen.
O. Henry – and Pulitzer-winning author Jane Smiley is slated to talk on “Our Animal Friends” by way of her new novel True Blue, about a girl’s relationship to her mysterious horse, set in Salinas Valley (noon Sun). Thomas Steinbeck, son of John and author in his own right, fits right into the program (1:45-2:30pm Fri), as does Steinbeck scholar Susan Shillinglaw, discussing Steinbeck’s discovery of Robinson Jeffers’ poetry (1:30-2:15pm Sat) and juxtaposing East of Eden to Colombian author Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (5-5:45pm Sat).
High-powered Hollywood figures contributing their insights include Walon Green, writer and executive producer of NYPD Blue, ER and Law and Order; David Milch, creator of HBO’s Deadwood; and David Peoples, the writer behind sci-fi classic Blade Runner and the Clint Eastwood/Western classic Unforgiven. Their new panel, “Hollywood Villains” (8-9:30pm Sat) will be moderated by Hollywood executive producer Susan B. Landau. Stage, TV and film actor David Conrad (CSI: Miami, Boston Public) sits on a panel with poet Tim Hernandez and scholar Katharine Rodger to talk about the “rowdy circles of friends in Steinbeck’s Monterey trilogy” (10:30-11:15am Sat).
New blood shows up with Filipino-American Elda Rotor, editorial director at publishing powerhouse Penguin Classics, who will talk “Literature + Technology: Friend or Foe?”
“Rotor is known in the publishing industry as a changemaker,” Wood says. “She’s had graphic novelists, very fresh, bring [classics] back to life. She really understands how young people see literature. She’s relatively young, and not afraid to bring in illustration and technology.”
Neither is Colleen Bailey, who became executive director of the Steinbeck Center nearly two years ago.
“We’ve become more of a visual audience,” Bailey says. “Depth is coming through the succinct language of visuals, artistically done.”
Central to this year’s festival is the new graphic novel adaptation for Of Mice and Men by Swiss artist, illustrator and set designer Pierre-Alain Bertola, who’s curating an art exhibit from his book, opening 6-8pm Friday, for free, in the midst of Oldtown Salinas’ First Friday Artwalk. (See story, p. 48.)
In a partnership of graphic novels and technology, Egyptian graphic novelist Magdy El Shafee, who was arrested and tried under ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak for his graphic novel Metro, will be interviewed by Egypt scholar Iman Hamam live from Cairo (10-10:45am Sun). (See story, p. 48.)
“So many people want to participate in the festival,” says Erika Koss, the other co-director. “We turn a lot of people away.”
Some superlative people and events who did make the cut include ultra-endurance athlete and author Terri Schneider from Expedition Bhutan, addressing “You Against Yourself: Extreme Sports and the Foe” (5-5:45pm Sat). Preeminent American opera composer Carlisle Floyd, who adapted Of Mice and Men into an acclaimed opera, will make his presence felt through a pre-recorded conversation from the Sidney Opera House (11-11:45am Sun). Poet George Wallace, who hung out with the Beats, aims to “celebrate” American artists Toni Morrison, Walt Whitman and Steinbeck (also 11-11:45am Sun).
The written word gets musical and theatrical treatments on Sunday. At 3pm, “Between Text and Tune” (at First United Methodist Church in Salinas) serves up original music from a dozen local composers writing to themes inspired by Steinbeck’s works. At 3:30pm, the formerly incarcerated actors and writers of Poetic Justice perform a piece on Of Mice and Men and stay to talk with audiences afterwards.
Sprinkled among all this heady stuff are tours, workshops, archival displays, culinary gatherings, and a number of International Fringe Festival simulcasts.
“We’ve created multiple tracks so the novice and the scholar can get something out of it,” Bailey says.
THE 31ST ANNUAL STEINBECK FESTIVAL takes place 10am-9:30pm Thu; 8:30am-8pm Fri; 8:30am-9:30pm Sat; 9am-6pm Sun. Most events occur at National Steinbeck Center, One Main Street, Salinas. See website for times and prices. 775-4721, www.steinbeck.org