Jill Stewart Evenson Has Passed Away

  Jill Stewart Evenson, daughter of George and Ted Stewart, passed away late last month of complications from surgery.  She was 90.

Named Jane, but always called Jill, she was born in 1925.  She lived a long and interesting life, leaving home to move to San Francisco in the 1940s, marrying Morris Evenson of the Painters Union, and raising her family.  But she still found time to earn two Masters of Art, one in Educational Research and the other in Art.  She worked in Educational Research at the Far Western Lab for Educational Research.  After retirement, she helped to coordinate artists’ shows in her retirement.  She even wrote some poetry; one poem was highly praised by her author father.

Jill was of invaluable help in all the GRS work and projects.  In fact, Jill was the one who introduced George and Ted Stewart to Thornton State Beach, and thus, indirectly, to me.

When I was researching the GRS biography, Jill graciously invited me to her home in Santa Rosa so I could interview her.  Then she arranged with her daughter Anna, the Stewarts’ first grandchild, a chance to review the family photo collection and scan in many of the photos for use in the biography.

Jill will be remembered as long as the GRS biography lives.  More, she will be known to all who read Earth Abides for as long as that beloved classic survives – it is dedicated to her.  Her father gave her the first copy off the press, autographed to her.
Here are some photos of Jill:
Image 2
Jill (in striped shirt) with Jack Stewart (back to the door) and others on Wallace and Mary Stegner’s house, early 1940s.
FAMILY 1940s 2 136
Stewart family Portrait, mid-late 40s.  Jill is peeking out at the left.
  baby anna, jill, grs -- 182
The first Stewart grandchild, Anna, with Jill and GRS.

A Pleasant Surprise – It’s in the British Library

The Life and Truth of George R. Stewart sells few copies, probably due to high price.  But it’s made its mark.  In an interesting exchange of messages with, David Waldock, a Librarian in the British Library (about the threat to the Archives of the Imperial War Museum from Tory funding cuts), I mentioned I’d heard there was a copy in the Library.

David did some quick checking, and sent these messages:

Awesome, and yes we have a copy, 

It’s in Basement 3, so about 50 metres away from me at the moment

Straight down!

David Waldock, The British Library

Here’s the link to the book in the Library catalog – just in case you’re in England and want to check it out.



Once again, the biennial CONTACT Conference is on the horizon.  Scheduled for next April 1 -3, it will be, as always, a small gathering of renown scientists, artists, authors, educators and just plain interested folks, who want to consider those meeting places of science and the arts which define and drive change.  It will be powered by the energy of STEAM, since it has presenters from and talks about  science, engineering, technology, art, and math.  There will be filmmakers, authors, NASA and SETI scientists, educators, and others.

One of the highlights will be a panel on the art and science of Star Trek; another will be a keynote speech by Rick Sternbach, legendary Star Trek artist, who designed, among other things large and small, the DS 9 Space Station.

The conference has a George R. Stewart connection.  Stewart was the writer of STEAM works, using the art of literature to interpret science and the other disciplines in the acronym.  CONTACT also offered a George R. Stewart Symposium in past years, with participation by composer Phillip Aaberg, geologist Dr. John Stewart, JPL’s Dr. James D. Burke, Stewart Scholar Robert Lyon, and others.  Perhaps most important, Earth Abides opened an intellectual door, for me, into the world of real science, and STEAM.

The conference is affordable, and the hotel rate low.  So if you want a chance to be uplifted and inspired, in a laid-back and collegial atmosphere in which all are welcome, come join us at CONTACT.

CONTACT 2016 (our 29th year!) is meeting on April 1-3 at the Domain Hotel in Sunnyvale, CA. The Keynote speaker: Artist Rick Sternbach, well known for his designs and tech manuals for Star Trek, whose presence celebrates the 50th anniversary of the famed science fiction series. There will be a special symposium dealing with Star Trek’s legacy in the sciences and the arts.

CONTACT has evolved into a premier forum on the future. After a quarter century of our multi-disciplinary conferences, CONTACT includes some of the brightest of the new generation at NASA and SETI, scientists hard and soft, and as well as such exotics as anthropologists, philosophers, poets, filmmakers, historians, mathematicians and space lawyers. And the science fiction community (Larry Niven and Kim Stanley Robinson, this year) always adds a brand of innovative and responsible speculation that has made our conference and organization unique. And more fun for all.  Everyone’s a participant!

We will be offering our traditional blatantly diverse program, with a SETI panel and a session highlighting the connections between science and science fiction. The program will be continuously updated on our website. Join Penny Boston, William Clancey, Bruce Damer, Gus Frederick, Jim Funaro, Joel Hagen, Jeroen Lapré, David Morrison, Larry Niven, Gerald Nordley, Jim Pass, Doug Raybeck, Kim Stanley Robinson, Seth Shostak, Michael Sims, Rich Sternbach, Melanie Swan, Kathleen Toerpe, Zac Zimmer and others at CONTACT 2016.  Looking forward to working and playing together…

 You can register now at:  http://contact-conference.org/

Down the Home Stretch

We’re near the end of our discussions of the books George R. Stewart wrote.  At the end of his life, when I met him, he was working on the last one – American Given Names.  In the same short period, near the end of his life,  Stewart wrote two other names books:  Names On the Globe, and American Given Names.

He also wrote a manuscript that was never published.  Since that particular work, which is controversial, speaks to some of the same issues as The Year of the Oath,  subject of the last post about the courage of author James Sallis.  So this is a good place to discuss Stewart’s unpublished work.

The Shakespeare Crisis is an unpublished novel which takes us back to the same fictional university and many of the same characters as Stewart’s 1939 novel Doctor’s Oral. It is clearly inspired by events on the Berkeley campus in the post-Free Speech Movement era, when movements which had great campus support – if not government and university support – were joined by other movements which were often vicious, and counter to freedom and democracy.  Stewart had been a quiet supporter of some parts of the earlier movements; but he, like many of his colleagues, was appalled at the later movements, with their damaging of buildings, disruption of classes, non-negotiable demands for huge university programs with no accountability, and the like.  The novel is his answer to the gangs wandering the classrooms, breaking windows, and shouting disruptively. His villains are clearly modeled on the real villains – from across the spectrum – in the real movements.

The novel tells the story of two professors who get into a debate over the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays.  A young feminist journalist decides to hype the disagreement into an academic war in order to pad her resume.  As she scales up the argument a seller of theses, who is also an entrepreneur of chaos, sees it as an opportunity.  He gathers his regular protesters for a meeting and encourages them to make this a major war over books and learning.  As things escalate, the “journalist” makes sure that the entire world knows about it, the protesters disrupt the university, and the regents act abominably.  The climax is an assault on the Library by the protesters, who plan to burn its books.  And in one the great concept scenes in literature, the Librarians fight them off with the tools of their trade – staplers, books presses, and the like.  But one of the professors, depressed by it all, takes his life.  The campus holds a meeting.

A Professor Emeritus,obviously Stewart, rises to speak.

“In those eighty years that I remember, the world has not moved … in a way that
I, as an old man, now find wholly agreeable. The trust in reason, and the sway of
the intellect, seem to have weakened….

Like an old-fashioned preacher, I now present an anecdote that might be
called an emblem. When I took my modest walk, as I do twice daily on the campus,
I saw recently a word, POWER, illegally sprayed on a wall. Then, a day or
two later, it had been partially scrubbed away, and reduced to POW, the traditional
word having been transformed into a kind of semi-word, as if in replica of
our times, moving from reason to un-reason…. Then, this morning—again
walking—I saw it still further reduced to OW, a mere instinctual cry of human
confusion or distress, animal-like, lacking in what we once called reason. So have
my times gone!…

There was a famous saying … in my day … “The lamps are going out all over

Yet one of them never went out, though it flickered at times. And that was the
lamp of learning, which we sometimes envisage as a torch…. And always—or, at
least, in our times—the universities.”

In our time, as universities are assaulted with politically correct thought, hiring and promotion by standards other than academic, and repeated accusations of misbehavior which, with no hearings except in the press – in the manner of that feminist reporter in the novel – one might think that the universities have seen their lights dim and feel that Stewart, like that old professor, was right.

But, after all, Stewart’s manuscript is fiction, isn’t it?

Stewart felt so strongly about the issue that when the Librarians are assaulted one of them uses a profane phrase that is beyond the pale of Stewart’s usual dignified writing.  It’s almost as if one of those protesters had written that paragraph.  The word would never have appeared in a published novel – Ted (Theodosia) Stewart would never have permitted it.

But there was no need to censor a publication.  The book was not published.  Ted almost burned it, and only allowed it to go to the Stewart Papers after long and persuasive arguments by family and university colleagues.  She felt that the novel, with its condemnations of protest movements, sounded like a conservative rant.  And she, like her husband, were dedicated liberals.  (Ted was so progressive in her political views that she voted for Socialist Norman Thomas every time he ran for President.)  Ted and others also felt that it was not a worthy example of Stewart’s brilliant style.  He had bitten off more than he could chew in years when he was aging.  He was also angry, so the characters are cardboard and the novel reads more like a polemic than a work of tragedy or comedy.

The Shakespeare Crisis is now  only to be found  in the Stewart Papers.  I’ve read it, and it helped me write by biography of Stewart.  If you have the desire and wherewithal to travel to Berkeley and the days to read the manuscript in the Library, you may judge it for yourself.  But I would certainly not judge George R. Stewart by that book – it is far below the quality or the power or the importance of his great works like Storm or Earth Abides or Names On The Land.  Consider it an experiment, like his other books that weren’t published (at least three never saw the light of day).

The next posts will return to Stewart’s published works; to his final books, on names.

The Year Of The Oath is Not Over

In 2014, this weblog reviewed George R. Stewart’s classic work, The Year Of The Oath, a book about the loyalty oath controversy at the University of California, Berkeley.  The faculty won their battle to have the oath removed.  But oaths, pernicious and unconstitutional, still abound in public employment – even for teaching and research positions.

This past week, in one of the less-pleasant small world stories connected with Stewart and his work, another author in another college resigned when he was ordered to sign such an oath – years after he began teaching there.  James Sallis is by coincidence a George R. Stewart scholar who wrote  likely the best essay about Earth Abides for The Boston Globe. Sallis, who also wrote Drive, made into an award-winning movie starring Ryan Gosling; and he’s now written Driven, a sequel.  Sallis is a poet, a novelist, and – until recently – a teacher at Phoenix College in the city of that name.

His work in the classroom drew students from a wide geographic area.  He was an excellent teacher, who knows how to write well, and to sell his writing.  The chance to have this man as a mentor was a great boon to the apprentice wordsmiths.  But the administrators of the College – who Sallis says were professional, and asked him to stay  – said he couldn’t teach without signing.  He chose to follow his conscience, and resigned.  The administrators, when contacted by news organizations passed the buck, in this case to the Arizona legislature who authored the oath long ago.  Even local Arizona media found the entire story incredible.

Fortunately, his act of courage is having a far reach, and may eventually help result in the tossing of the oaths.

Sadly, the Year of the Oath is not yet ended.  Citizens would be well-advised to put their energies into correcting that rather than various red herring issues they seem to focus on.

(Disclaimer:  I refused to sign both the US Army oath – which had already been declared illegal by the Supreme Court – and the California Standard Secondary Credential application oath without qualifying statements discussing the oaths’ illegality and unethical qualities.  That meant deferring teaching for a while, until the state oath was tossed out by the State Supreme Court.  As for the army oath – I have the rare distinction, during a time when protesters were trying to shut down the Oakland Army Induction Center, of keeping it open and keeping employees there long after they wanted to leave.)

MAKING SOMETHING FROM NOTHING – George R. Stewart in the Donner Summit Historical Society Newsletter

October’s issue of The Donner Summit Heirloom has a series of articles about George R. Stewart, or topics that relate to Stewart’s subjects.  There’s a good article about the search for the California Trail route over Donner Pass, which includes some information about the Lincoln Highway route – think Stewart’s U.S. 40 and The California Trail – a review of Stewart’s landmark work, Ordeal By Hunger, a description of the new George R. Stewart interpretive sign.

There’s also my article about Stewart, with an emphasis on his connections to the Donner Summit area.  It gives a good overview of the man and his work.  If you’d like a quick introduction to GRS, you’ll find the article – and the other articles – useful.

Here’s the October 2015 Heirloom:

By the way, if you have an interest in GRS, or Donner Summit, or Lake Tahoe, you might want to join the Society.  It costs little, but supports the historic preservation and interpretation of the area.

The Donner Summit George R. Stewart Interpretive Sign

Thanks to several sponsors and the hard work of Bill Oudegeest of the Donner Summit Historical Society, the George R. Stewart interpretive sign, which will be part of the Twenty-Mile Museum, has gone to the manufacturer.  The base will be installed soon; the sign, late next spring when the Pass opens.  Here’s the final (or nearly final) sign:

  The almost final sign

Bill chose the location with care, and it’s perfect:  A parking area which overlooks Donner Lake, Donner Peak, the historic “Rainbow Bridge” on U.S. 40, and the Summit of Donner Pass – which would have been the route of the first covered wagons over the Pass.

Here’s a photo from Bill, showing where the sign will be placed:

photo of GRS sign location

Stand by the sign, face northwest across old U.S. 40 to look directly at George R. Stewart Peak.  Here’s a photo from a kind soul who posted it to Google Maps:

parking area - grs peak

The parking area is close to the Pacific Crest Trail, too,  The PCT crosses U.S. 40 not far beyond the left (west) side of this photo.  Here’s a map from Bill which shows the PCT crossing – yellow arrow – in relation to the sign location at the parking lot – black arrow.


It’s a short walk – always face traffic! – to the Trail Crossing; from there, it’s a short hike and scramble to the summit of George R. Stewart Peak.  The directions are on the new sign.

Let’s all hope to meet there some day in the summery future, and do the hike.  Afterward, we can have a picnic – Ted (Theodosia) Stewart loved picnics – and read from Stewart’s books.

Thanks to Bill Oudegeest, and the sponsors who made this possible:

  • Alan Kaplan, Naturalist, Founder of the National Association for Interpretation, Stewart Scholar;
  • Paul F. Starrs, distinguished geographer, University of Nevada, Reno, Professor, author of books about California agriculture, the Black Rock Desert, and other topics;
  • Willie Stewart, George R. Stewart’s grandson, who accompanied GRS on trips;
  • Joyce Colbath-Stewart, wife of GRS’s son Jack Stewart, inveterate hiker, and caretaker of Stewart family history;
  • Steve and Carol Williams.  Steve – who went to school with Lennon and McCartney –  is a Stewart scholar, artist, teacher; Carol is his partner in all things;
  • Denise and Milton Barney, campers extraordinaire, who have walked the GRS journey with me for many years.  Denise is a poet, Barney a scouter encouraging young folks to explore the outdoors like Stewart;
  • Beth Lapachet and Brian Byrne, also campers and colleagues for many years.
  • John and Angela Lucia, former Rangers, who have also walked the GRS journey for decades, and helped support it;
  • Bob Lyon, Founder of The Friends of George R. Stewart, Stewart Scholar, and Encourager of all things Stewart, who first introduced Steve Williams to the Friends of GRS.