Robert De Mott - Career


DeMott began his academic career as assistant professor of American literature at Ohio University in 1969. From 1973 to 1979, he and colleague Dave Smith co-edited the Back Door, a poetry magazine that Smith had founded in 1969. DeMott also created an English course on living writers, team-taught with colleague Carol Harter, that featured such writers as Walter Tevis, Hollis Summers, Jack Matthews, Wayne Dodd, Daniel Keyes, James Norman Schmidt, and others. DeMott became a full professor at Ohio University in 1979. He designed and taught the first courses at Ohio University on women's fiction, environmental writing, fly fishing literature, and doctoral student pedagogy. He received five undergraduate teaching awards, including University Professor, Grasselli Faculty Teaching Award in the Humanities, and Honors Tutorial College's Outstanding Tutor Award, as well as the Outstanding Graduate Professor Award. DeMott directed seventeen Ph.D. dissertations on a wide range of American literary topics and four in creative writing (poetry), many of which were published as full-length books.

DeMott's primary scholarly attention focuses on novelist John Steinbeck. He has published numerous books and more than sixty articles and essays on Steinbeck. In 1984, after many years of archival research, he published the first book of a scholarly trilogy on Steinbeck: Steinbeck's Reading: A Catalogue of Books Owned and Borrowed, a look into the reading habits and reconstructed print library of the famous author. Widely referenced, Steinbeck's Reading is considered an essential resource in Steinbeck studies. In 1989, DeMott published what is perhaps his most famous work: Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath, 1938–1941. This book was an extensively annotated volume of the journal kept by Steinbeck during the five months he was writing The Grapes of Wrath. Working Days was a New York Times Notable Book for 1989, one of the year's ten best books listed by the San Diego Union, and among the twenty recommended books for 1989 by Writers Digest magazine. It has been translated into Japanese and Chinese. Finally, DeMott's third book in the trilogy, Steinbeck's Typewriter: Essays on His Art, was published in 1996. The book collects nine fully revised and updated essays published by DeMott between 1980 and 1995. Of this trilogy, eminent Steinbeck scholar John Ditsky writes in John Steinbeck and the Critics: "DeMott's trilogy is unique, not simply formalistically. No one else has done anything like it in terms of original coverage."

In 1984-85, DeMott took leave from Ohio University to become a visiting professor of English and director of the Steinbeck Research Center at San Jose State University in California, for which he acquired $85,000 in scholarly materials, most of them unpublished correspondence and manuscripts. He helped launch, then served on, the editorial board of the Steinbeck Quarterly for its entire run, from 1969 to 1988, and he served on the editorial board of the Steinbeck Newsletter (later Steinbeck Studies) from 1994 to 2005. 1n 1987 DeMott was awarded Ball State University's Burkhardt Prize for Outstanding Contributions to Steinbeck Studies, and in 2006 he received the National Steinbeck Museum's Trustees Award at a ceremony in Salinas, CA.

DeMott is an internationally respected expert on Steinbeck, having written authoritative introductions and notes for three Steinbeck novels in Penguin Book's Classic Series—The Grapes of Wrath (1992, rev. 2006); To a God Unknown (1996), and Sweet Thursday (2008). He also served as editor for three volumes of the Library of America's series on Steinbeck—Novels and Stories, 1932–1937 (1994); The Grapes of Wrath and Other Writings, 1936–1941 (1996); and Novels, 1942–1952 (2001)—and co-edited a fourth—Travels with Charley and Later Novels, 1947–1962 (2007)—with his former doctoral student Brian Railsback. He consulted on and appeared in the Learning Channel's Emmy-nominated documentary film on The Grapes of Wrath (2000), in "Novel Reflections on the American Dream," a PBS American Masters series television documentary on American writers (April, 2007), and in a joint U.S. State Department-Georgian (Russia) documentary film, Steinbeck and A Russian Journal 60 Years Later (2008). Several of his limited edition publications on Steinbeck, including Your Only Weapon Is Your Work: A Letter by John Steinbeck to Dennis Murphy, and “A Play to Be Played”: John Steinbeck on Stage and Screen, 1935–1960, are reprinted in Luchen Li, ed., Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 309: John Steinbeck: A Documentary Volume (Gale, 2005). A major critical summation, "Prospects for the Study of John Steinbeck," written with Brian Railsback, appeared in Jackson R. Bryer and Richard Kopley, eds., Resources for American Literary Study (AMS Press, 2009). In 2009, DeMott provided a new preface for the online version of Steinbeck's Reading, which is available on the Martha H. Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies website. His edition of The Grapes of Wrath was chosen as the university-wide text for Cornell University's 2009 New Student Reading Project.

In addition to teaching American literature at Ohio University, DeMott has also regularly taught an introductory poetry workshop in the Creative Writing program. He has published poetry in numerous literary magazines including Cimarron Review, Southern Review, Georgia Review, Lake Effect, North Dakota Quarterly, Small Pond, Southern Poetry Review, Ontario Review, Southern Humanities Review, Tar River Poetry, Texas Review, Quarterly West, Spoon River Poetry Review, Windsor Review, and elsewhere. His first book of poems, News of Loss, was published in 1995 by Bottom Dog Press as part of a chapbook collection entitled Men and Women/Women and Men. His second, The Weather in Athens: Poems, was also published by Bottom Dog Press in 2001 in Two Midwest Voices, which also included poet Jerry Roscoe's Mirror Lake. That book won the 2002 Book Award in Poetry from the Ohioana Library Association. DeMott's third collection, Brief and Glorious Transit, a chapbook of prose poems, was published by Pudding House Press in 2007. In 2005, in recognition of his long service as faculty advisor to Quarter After Eight, a national journal of poetic prose founded in 1994, its editors (Ohio University English Department graduate students) instituted the Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Contest.

DeMott's continuing scholarly and literary interests have led him to publish Dave Smith: A Literary Archive, an annotated bio-bibliography and personal memoir (Ohio University Libraries, 2000), and Conversations with Jim Harrison (University Press of Mississippi, 2002), a collection of interviews by the author and screenwriter, best known for the novella Legends of the Fall. DeMott also provided the introduction for Jim Harrison: A Comprehensive Bibliography, 1964–2008 (University of Nebraska Press, 2009), by Gregg Orr and Beef Torrey. Most recently, DeMott's sporting interests have led to “Of Fish and Men,” an essay on Steinbeck and fly fishing in American Fly Fisher, 32 (Fall 2006), and to Afield: American Writers on Bird Dogs (Skyhorse, 2010), co-edited with Dave Smith. The latter is a collection of original essays by American novelists, poets, and essayists—including Tom Brokaw, Jim Harrison, Tom McGuane, Richard Ford, Craig Nova, Clyde Edgerton, Guy de la Valdene, and others—on the joys and tribulations of bird hunting and living with the setters, pointers, spaniels, and retrievers required to do it.

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