John Steinbeck is one of the greatest and most popular American writers. Some think Cannery Row is his greatest novel, others East of Eden. For Clay there is only one Steinbeck novel that the world could not live without: The Grapes of Wrath.

This week-long journey is a lovely mix of talk about Steinbeck’s books and exploration of the California that inspired some of his best work. Spirit of place mattered to Steinbeck. The Gabilan and St. Lucia Mountains, the Salinas River Valley, Salinas itself, Pacific Grove, Carmel, and Monterey are as important as the characters in his fiction. He often pauses to describe the landscape of his youth. And he had a love affair with the great row of canneries in Monterey that gave him his closest friendship in life—with Ed Ricketts—and the setting for some of his most enchanting fiction.


The adventure begins with an evening with Steinbeck himself, portrayed by our host and humanities scholar Clay S. Jenkinson. Because Steinbeck was a reluctant and often petulant interviewee, he’ll be presented to our guests by Russ Eagle of North Carolina, Clay’s dear friend and one of Steinbeck’s greatest fans.

Our days will begin with after-breakfast book discussions, because Clay believes you cannot come to terms with Steinbeck’s California landscapes without a significant encounter with Steinbeck’s prose—his powers of description, his imagination, his political and social concerns, his capacity to create narrative.


After our playful but searching discussions we’ll venture out to explore Steinbeck’s world. Your cottage is within walking distance of the Point Pinos Lighthouse and the Pacific tide pools where Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts worked and played, while developing their philosophy of the interconnectedness of life, the futility of trying to deny the dynamics of nature, including human nature, and the ways in which groups (the phalanx) have “purpose” that eludes the understanding of mere individuals, whether they are brine shrimp or Oklahoma preachers.

Come join the adventure as we explore great landscapes and great literature with old friends and new in Steinbeck Country.



Day 1 — Saturday, March 2nd

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Welcome to Steinbeck Country! Gather this evening at the Lighthouse Cottages in Pacific Grove, California, for your welcome reception offered by your host, humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson. After a quick orientation meeting, we will take an evening stroll down to the edge of the Pacific Ocean surf to take in the ocean mists and salty air. Then we will have the opportunity to meet the great man himself, Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Steinbeck. Mr. Steinbeck, who is famously shy about public appearances, will be interviewed by our own Russ Eagle, who has spent his life reading Steinbeck’s novels, short stories, and nonfiction.

Lodging: Lighthouse Cottages, Pacific Grove, California • Travel Day

Day 2 — Sunday, March 3rd

World War II and the end of the sardine canning boom would forever alter this place. At the end of Steinbeck's novel Cannery Row, Doc recites a portion of "Black Marigold," a love poem written in Sanskrit in the first century. Perhaps Steinbeck wanted to leave the reader with a wistful sense that colorful Cannery Row, like young love, would not last forever. Your day begins with retreat discussions about the Cannery Row of Steinbeck’s memory, the publication of the novel in 1945, and its critical reception. (It is Russ Eagle’s favorite work of Steinbeck). Inspired by Steinbeck’s characterization of Cannery Row as “a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream,” we will venture out to the landscape that inspired Steinbeck’s fiction. We will stroll past Steinbeck's house on 11th Street; venture inside Lee Chong’s Market, (now a patisserie); walk in the footsteps of The Palace Flophouse and Grill; and enjoy a visit inside Doc’s Lab, Ed Ricketts’ Pacific Biological Laboratories. We’ll enjoy a delicious evening meal tonight at a local brewery—avoiding, if possible, the bar fights, liquor thefts, and chicanery of Mac and the Boys!

Lodging: Lighthouse Cottages • Cannery Row • Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 3 — Monday, March 4th

Steinbeck in The Log from the Sea of Cortez:

"This is a simple thing to say, but the profound feeling of it made a Jesus, a St. Augustine, a St. Francis, a Charles Darwin, and an Einstein. Each of them in his own tempo and with his own voice discovered and reaffirmed with astonishment the knowledge that all things are one thing and that one thing is all things — plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and an expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time. It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again."

This will be a wonderful day of sea adventure. Our morning begins with another hot breakfast prepared onsite by our local chef. Then off either to hike along the oceanfront trails and enjoy some tide pools yourself at Point Lobos State Park, or partake in a whale watching excursion. You get to choose. Early afternoon offers you time to explore on your own: the Monterey Bay Aquarium (your ticket is included); a favorite lunch spot perhaps; and the local shops. In late afternoon we will reunite again with our tour mates at the Cottages, where we will discuss the marvelous friendship of Steinbeck and Ricketts, their shared passion for marine life and their adventures on the Sea of Cortez. Ricketts helped Steinbeck develop what they called non-teleological thinking: the view, expressed by Jim Casy in The Grapes of Wrath, that things “just is,” and that human attempts to find purpose in life are as futile as they are logically pointless.

Lodging: Lighthouse Cottages • The Log From the Sea of Cortez • Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4 — Tuesday, March 5th

Steinbeck on writing The Grapes of Wrath:

"Throughout I've tried to make the reader participate in the actuality, what he takes from it will be scaled entirely on his own depth or hollowness. There are 5 layers in this book; a reader will find as many as he can and he won't find more than he has in himself."
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Steinbeck took seriously the working conditions and the experiences of the agricultural workers in California’s great Central Valley. He felt a particular sympathy and affection for Okies—displaced agrarians from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Kansas. After writing a series of newspaper articles collectively called “The Harvest Gypsies,” Steinbeck turned his genius to the plight of the Joad family as it journeys to the fabled California peach fields to start a new life. Steinbeck, who had worked in the lettuce fields near Salinas, and on ranches in the foothills near the California coast, knew whereof he spoke. And as he contemplated the degradations suffered by the Okies, his soul was filled with righteous anger. The result was one of America’s greatest works of art, The Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939, controversial then, controversial even now, and yet one of the most widely read novels in America.

After our book discussion today, we are bound for Earthbound Farms. In addition to enjoying an excellent lunch, we’ll hear a bit about the challenges today’s organic farmers and workers face.

Then we are off to hike the trails at Pinnacles National Park. With any luck, we will witness huge California Condors flying over the mountain peaks. Dinner tonight is at Tarpy's Roadhouse, thought by many to be Monterey’s best restaurant. Then we’ll return to our Cottage fireplace circle to end the night under the stars.

Lodging: Lighthouse Cottages • The Grapes of Wrath • Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5 — Wednesday, March 6th

Steinbeck in East of Eden:

"I remember that the Gabilan Mountains to the east of the valley were light gay mountains full of sun and loveliness and a kind of invitation, so that you wanted to climb into their warm foothills almost as you want to climb into the lap of a beloved mother. They were beckoning mountains with a brown grass love. The Santa Lucias stood up against the sky to the west and kept the valley from the open sea, and they were dark and brooding-unfriendly and dangerous. I always found in myself a dread of the west and love of the east."

This morning is our last chance for retreat discussions with Clay Jenkinson and Russ Eagle. Soon they will take you on a small adventure into the warm foothills of Steinbeck's "gay mountains." You will arrive at Fremont Peak—the highest point in the Gabilan Mountains at 3455 feet. We will delight in a short hike, a picnic lunch, fabulous views, and readings from Travels with Charley. Later, we will cap the day with fine dining at Fandangos.

Lodging: Lighthouse Cottages • The Grapes of Wrath & Travels with Charley • Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 6 — Thursday, March 7th

Steinbeck about Salinas:

"Strange how I keep the tone of Salinas in my head like a remembered symphony."

This morning we will visit the Steinbeck Center and the Steinbeck House in Salinas, CA, on what the master called "Sweet Thursday." "Sweet Thursday,” Steinbeck wrote, “is what they call the day after Lousy Wednesday—one of those days that's just bad from the start." Susan Shillinglaw, the author of several books on Steinbeck, will join us for lunch and speak to us at the Center. Highlights at the Center include: the truck camper Rocinante from Travels with Charley, and special collection items brought out for your enjoyment from the Center archives: original Steinbeck manuscripts, handwritten love poems, and Steinbeck's first published article from his 1919 high school yearbook. Then on to our hotel in San Jose for our farewell dinner party and saying goodbye to new friends.

Lodging: The Plaza Suites, San Jose, CA • Sweet Thursday • Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 7 — Friday, March 8th

Today is a travel day. We’ll provide transportation to the San Jose International Airport for your flight home or to pick up a rental car. Enjoy a safe journey home, or wherever your journey continues to take you!

Meal: Breakfast


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