Posts Tagged ‘Taylor Grossman’

Stanford’s most illustrious drop-out

Friday, February 27th, 2015

Happy birthday, loser!

“We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say — and to feel — ‘Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.’”

So wrote Nobel prizewinner John Steinbeck, Stanford’s most illustrious drop-out, who was born on this day in 1902. “He came to Stanford to mollify his parents, primarily his mother,” explained Kevin Hearle, a visiting scholar at the Bill Lane Center for the American West a few years ago. “He wasn’t excited about it. He didn’t see why he needed a college education to be a writer.”

Nevertheless, he made some lasting connections here – one of them was Prof. Edith Mirrielees, who would warm and ignite his hope, and also Ed Ricketts, a man who would later be immortalized as “Doc” in Cannery Row. (I’ve written about Ricketts here and here and here and here.) According to a Stanford Daily article a few years ago by Taylor Grossman:

“In a 1964 letter to his good friend Dook, Steinbeck asked, ‘Do you ever go near Stanford? I don’t think I would like to go. It would be kind of embarrassing because I was such a lousy student, I suppose. Anyway, I have no call for the Groves of Academe.’

“The Groves of Academe, however, had housed him well in some regards. In a 1962 letter to Mirrielees, he wrote about her influence on his writing.

“’Although it must be a thousand years ago that I sat in your class in story writing at Stanford, I remember the experience very clearly,’ Steinbeck said. ‘I was bright-eyed and bushy-brained and prepared to absorb from you the secret formula for writing good short stories, even great short stories. You canceled this illusion very quickly.’”

birthday cakeIn the six years that he was enrolled at Stanford, starting in 1919, he only accumulated 93 units — becoming equivalent in status to a junior. At the Faculty Club, his photo on the wall with all the Nobel Prize winners even though he refused to take “required” classes…