Twenty-six literary research scholars traveling through Steinbeck Country this spring: April 2nd-April 5th:

Leo Gilman is currently a junior at Santa Monica High School. He has been pursuing his primary interests of birding, clarinet playing, and just hearing the sound of his own voice. He appreciates the wondrous and scenic landscapes portrayed in many of Steinbeck’s works, which have opened his eyes to many beautiful aspects of California.

Akin Gruner Domic is a senior at Santa Monica High School.  Born in Berlin, Germany, he moved to Los Angeles with his family at the age of six. He is passionate about creative writing, photography, and music, as well as environmental conservation. Akin also enjoys the occasional spontaneous adventure and opportunity to photograph nature, in addition to finding new places to dine and satisfy cravings. He is also an eco-leader and active member of Team Marine, an environmental advocacy group. Along with his love for writing, he also enjoys a good read, Cannery Row being one of his favorites. He enjoys immersing himself in the world of California literature as well as creative fiction and non-fiction reading. Akin wants to further connect with his home and is eager to learn more about the history of Steinbeck and his ability to connect marine life and nature to our society.

Anastasia Shakhidzhanova is a senior at Santa Monica High School and when she isn’t knee deep in sorting trash for Team Marine (an environmental organization at school), she can be found yelling at the TV during political debates or reading Agatha Christie novels on the beach. She was born in Los Angeles but lived in Russia until she was four years old, learning to speak Russian fluently. Although she appreciates the benefits of growing up in a city, she is always searching for ways to connect to the natural world and is excited about the related opportunities SYI presents. She hopes to broaden her horizons by merging her passion for environmental stewardship with Steinbeck’s critical commentaries of modern society while developing a greater appreciation for his work.

Madeleine Forrest is a musician, soccer player, foodie, and senior at Santa Monica High School. As a violinist and pianist, she plays in her school’s philharmonic and symphony orchestras. Despite not being a morning person, she loves waking up for sunrise and early morning hikes with friends. When she isn’t at orchestra rehearsal or doing homework, she spends her spare time watching Harry Potter movies and baking for her family. Spending the past two years reading and rereading Steinbeck’s writings, she’s looking forward to exploring “Steinbeck Country” where much of his inspiration originated. Madeleine is excited to spend the rest of her senior year as part of the Steinbeck Youth Institute, extending her relationship with Steinbeck and his world.

Kaelen Song is a junior at Santa Monica High School and an avid artist. She loves writing, reading, painting, drawing, sculpting and just about anything else creative. Kaelen is a member of the Junior State of America (JSA), the largest student-run organization in the country. This organization promotes civic and political engagement, hosting overnight conventions filled with political debates and discussions. Kaelen is also a practicing environmentalist, participating in numerous climate strikes and activism opportunities. Kaelen is quite the Steinbeck enthusiast, especially enjoying his short story cycle, The Pastures of Heaven. Kaelen loves the way Steinbeck is able to integrate community and California seamlessly into his stories. In her future, Kaelen hopes to continue down a path abundant with Steinbeck, creativity, and environmentalism.

Karina Wisen is a musician, photographer, environmentalist, explorer, and lover of the outdoors. When not jamming to reggaeton songs on the ukulele, she enjoys playing tennis, going to the beach, and listening to music. Karina is a junior at Santa Monica High School, and participates in the band and orchestra program. She recently won first place in the Bowseat Ocean Awareness contest with select members of Team Marine. After reading Cannery Row, she was instantly hooked onto Steinbeck’s works. She admires the way he integrates the fascinating landscape of the golden state, and the way he allows the reader to connect with the characters. This is Karina’s second year in the Steinbeck Youth Institute, and she could not be more ecstatic to see the works of California’s most celebrated author come to life while traveling through “Steinbeck Country” this spring.

Eva Lynch is a senior at Canterbury High School in Ottawa, Ontario. She is part of the school’s Literary Arts program, where she focuses on creative writing. In her free time, she likes to read, make pottery, visit museums, go to galleries, see live theatre, listen to music, and above all, write. She has had poetry published in a few magazines such as Bright Lite Magazine, and the Poetry in Voice Foundation’s VOICES. She spent her sophomore year at Santa Monica High School, where she was first introduced to Steinbeck. Beginning to read Steinbeck opened her eyes to a new side of California, as she found his stories made the landscape and natural beauty simply come alive. She is beyond excited to be a part of the Steinbeck Youth Institute, and to see how Steinbeck’s work will continue to shape her view of literature, as well as California.

Emily Putnam is currently a junior at Santa Monica High School and a newly minted member of the Steinbeck Youth Institute. She is a science enthusiast, destructive baker, reluctant athlete, avid reader, and most importantly an active political voice. She is a part of Santa Monica High’s award winning environmental activism club and a record scorer on the school’s Science Olympiad team. Emily has also been working as a researcher and public relations liaison at the Heal the Bay Aquarium for over two years where she helped with the promotion and creation of Measure W and other initiatives focused on protecting the bay. She is an active voice in the Santa Monica High orchestra government and has been playing violin for three years now, but she continues to cultivate a love for all types of music. Additionally, Emily spends a lot of her time creating art pieces and entering them in competitions – she also spends a lot of her time using her winnings to buy more art supplies. She finds herself being reprimanded frequently for reading during class and has a penchant for spending hours reading classic literature and nonfiction when she should be studying. Steinbeck may not be Emily’s absolute favorite author, but she has thoroughly enjoyed all of his work, especially The Pastures of Heaven. Because of her love for interacting with nature, her favorite parts about reading Steinbeck are his rich descriptions of the natural world. Emily cannot contain her excitement to grow as a Steinbeck Youth Institute scholar and continue the pursuit of knowledge through her high school career.

Anouk Jouffret is a senior at Santa Monica High School and will be attending Barnard College of Columbia University in the fall. As a violinist in her school’s symphony and singer in her shower, she strings music through every facet of her life. A native Swedish and French speaker, she considers music to be the fourth language by which she communicates. An avid reader since childhood, she discovered her love of Steinbeck by stumbling upon Of Mice and Men in her parents’ shelves, and her fascination for Steinbeck has grown through her reading of Cannery Row, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Pastures of Heaven. She will further her literary education as an aspiring literature major along with her pre-med studies that will eventually lead her to what she hopes will become a career in women’s health.

Tupelo Sullivan is a senior at Santa Monica High School whose passion for literature has grown exponentially over her high school career. While she did not explore Steinbeck’s work until her junior year, she instantly connected to his focus on the “common man” and the way he weaves California’s natural world into his writing. Tupelo is also a six-time school record holder on the school’s cross country and track teams, plays trombone in the band and orchestra, and is managing editor of her school’s newspaper. When not at school, Tupelo can be found tearing it up on the flag football field or whipping up some chocolate avocado mousse or duck egg sweet potato hash.

Ian Richardson is a passionate surfer who is currently partaking in the California Literature class at Santa Monica High School. He is learning not only about the remarkable works of John Steinbeck, but also exploring the noir genre that derived out of Los Angeles. Ian is the captain of the surf team. He loves to run, spend time near the ocean, and play the guitar. He runs a surf report, checking the waves every morning for surfers all over L.A. and loves it, particularly because he gets to start his day at his favorite place where he can reflect and think over the sounds of the ocean. Ian is greatly appreciative of being a member of the Steinbeck Youth Institute because he knows that great memories are being made and that new friends will emerge out of this experience.

Liam Bartlett is a senior at Santa Monica High School.  He has been on the swim team for 4 years and is a member of the Cambodian Children’s Dream Organization.  He is a pool lifeguard at the local community college and teaches children’s swim lessons as well. He likes to listen to a lot of music, as well as surf and swim in the ocean.  He enjoys spending lots of time with his dog, Ruby, and his cat, Gato. He likes how the works of John Steinbeck provide a historical record of California by focusing on small groups of people and their unique experiences. He also liked the comparisons he was able to make when learning about Ed Ricketts as a scientist in his marine biology class while simultaneously learning about him as a man and a friend of Steinbeck’s in his senior English class, California Literature.

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Kiyono Gray is an artist, traveler, food enthusiast, musician, and a senior at Santa Monica High School. She likes painting with oil paints, capturing her interpretation of the world through landscape paintings. She has expanded her perspective on California through the works of John Steinbeck, particularly Cannery Row. By indulging in California literature through writing and poetry, Kiyono has discovered a newfound love for the state in where she has grown up. The Steinbeck Youth institute has influenced her art as well, generating pieces of work that capture Steinbeck’s scenic literature, especially the Pacific Ocean.

Justin Best is a senior at Santa Monica High School. His favorite subject is math and he loves to create art. He is incredibly interested in architecture and finds beauty and amazement in all types of buildings and structures. He loves to travel, almost always bringing a sketchbook wherever he goes, capturing the moments and locations through his art. His interest in Steinbeck’s literature has strengthened his love for reading and writing as well. He was impacted by characters such as Doc in Cannery Row and Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. Just like them, Justin hopes to always be grateful and give to others, no matter the circumstances.

Rex Evans is a senior at Santa Monica High School. He travels around the country competing in Lincoln-Douglas debate and is currently the #1 ranked debater in the nation. Rex also plays varsity tennis and is the president of the Jewish Student Union. Outside of school, he loves playing the piano (particularly songs by his favorite band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers). Rex is interested in religion, ethics, and politics, and is excited to explore themes present in Steinbeck’s works such as fate and injustice.

Aidan Blain is a Senior at Santa Monica High School who is fascinated with the work of John Steinbeck and the methods he employs while sharing the art of storytelling. Whether it be through a screenplay, literary commentary, or poem, Aidan uses different means of words to express his ideas and emotions. In his free time, Aidan loves to discover new music from various genres, go on road trips throughout California with friends, attend art exhibits and theater performances, and watch films, old and new. Aidan Blain is also the 72nd Youth Governor of California, founder of the “I am a Teen Voter” nonprofit, and a four-year varsity track athlete.

Nathan Wetmore is a Santa Monica High School senior who will be majoring in applied mathematics in college. He is a math and science nerd turned literature enthusiast who has enjoyed being exposed to all types of writing. He is an avid Los Angeles Rams fan, a follower of technology, and a Pokemon connoisseur. His favorite genre of both writing and film is science fiction, and his favorite movie is Logan. He spends his free time playing video games, watching sports, and spending time with friends. Nathan is fascinated by the proximity of Steinbeck’s stories to our lives as Californians. As a bit of a history buff, Nathan is appreciative of Steinbeck’s representations of the lower and middle classes, stories that often go untold.

Bria Stocker is a Santa Monica High School student. She is captain of the varsity soccer team and is a member of the concert band and jazz band. She plays the saxophone and ukulele, but enjoys playing any instrument that she can get her hands on. She founded Music Mentors, a nonprofit club that donates money to music education in local schools. In her spare time, she enjoys going to the beach, hiking, and spending time with friends. Always eager to try new things, Bria is looking forward to learning more about Steinbeck’s literature and enjoying the beautiful natural scenery Central California has to offer.

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Clair Davis is a skateboarder, biology and mathematics enthusiast, political advocate, poet, ceramicist, photographer, and snowboarder. Born and raised in Santa Monica, California, Clair has developed a strong tether to natural settings. Although she is traditionally drawn towards science, Clair has a deep passion for expression through creative outlets. From competing in skateboarding to competing in mathletes, going on road trips with friends to participating in political rallies, and attending poetry workshops to pursuing research opportunities, Clair is always open and ready for the next adventure.

Tom Wickline is a junior at Santa Monica High School. He is especially enthusiastic about music and writing, playing the clarinet in the wind ensemble for the past three years and also serving as opinion editor for the school newspaper. He is also passionate about literature, especially the writings of John Steinbeck. He hopes to pursue a career involving literature and language of some kind and looks forward to the Steinbeck Youth Institute providing more tools with which to do so.

Yvonne Liu hopes of becoming a professor of education. If she wasn’t going to a college to become a professor, she would be in Paris at a culinary school so she could make ratatouille for Anton Ego at a Michelin star restaurant. Besides her love for teaching and chefing, Yvonne likes to live as a 70-year-old grandma with “her” cats, tea, meditation, and books. She particularly indulged in Steinbeck’s Pastures of Heaven as Molly Morgan’s attentiveness to her students, but naiveté towards herself, resonated with Yvonne as an aspiring teacher. Therefore, Yvonne is eager to travel up to Monterey to be inspired by what Steinbeck was inspired by. As a Steinbeck scholar, Yvonne is interested in writing poetry about the interconnectedness of tide pools to serve as an introspection to her own cultural richness.

Emma Guerrini Romano is a senior at Santa Monica High School and will be attending the Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering at Loyola Marymount University in the fall of 2020. Throughout high school she has shown to be an excellent student athlete, maintaining a competitive GPA while leading her competitive water polo team to four league championships. As swim team and water polo Varsity captain, Emma has shown leadership both in the pool and outside of the classroom through her Surfrider Foundation sponsored club, Teach and Test, which focuses on improving the public health of Santa Monica’s Bay through sampling of enterococcus bacteria to determine water quality. Having grown up in an all Italian household with adventurous parents, Emma has found much of her inspiration for writing in the culture of her family and her experiences abroad. Emma enjoys divulging in literature. Her favorite books include The Goldfinch, East of Eden, Feminasty, Cooked, Forge, and The Help. She also enjoys reading the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Billy Collins while hanging out with her dog, Bourbon. Steinbeck in particular has had a large impact on her love for books in recent years. She read the whole of East of Eden in less than three days, unable to put down the enthralling story.

Riley Masterson is a junior at Santa Monica High School. She is a musician, sunset enthusiast, and Junior State of America cabinet member. She loves reading, writing (anything but short stories), debating, picnicking, occasionally running, amateurly painting, and most of all, stargazing around a campfire. Her favorite of Steinbeck’s   works so far has been East of Eden, which she read on a road trip (through Salinas) this past summer, and she is ecstatic to explore more of his work and the sunset and star-filled coast with the Steinbeck Youth Institute.

Eleanor Winterer is a rower for the Marina Aquatic Center in Marina Del Rey, CA. She has grown to hate the wind, once her favorite weather, for its nasty habit of causing her to take involuntary swims in the marina. She is an avid reader and has been since childhood. Her favorite genre of literature is historical fiction, especially books centered around World War I and II, such as All The Light We Cannot See. She loves spending time outdoors, whether it is hiking, swimming, running, or her favorite pastime, rowing! Because of this love for the outdoors, Eleanor’s favorite aspect of Steinbeck’s work is his incorporation of the natural world into his writing.

Chloe Forssell is a senior at Santa Monica High School and a passionate literary scholar. Over her past two years as a leader and editor of The Hour of the Pearl, Chloe has cultivated a fascination for the relationship between the natural world and California landscapes in relation to Steinbeck’s works. Of all of Steinbeck’s writing, the novel that Chloe cherishes most is East of Eden. She also has found a permanent spot in her heart for Beloved by Toni Morrison and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. When Chloe doesn’t have her nose buried in a novel, you can find her in The Samohi newsroom working as editor-in-chief of the school newspaper or in the Drake Pool swimming laps with the varsity water polo team. She also can be found on the piano bench with her younger sister and brother, belting notes proudly despite her below-adequate tone and pitch. The Steinbeck Youth Institute is incredibly important to Chloe and has allowed her to find a beautiful community of peers who share her love for literature and desire to create ripples in the waters of change.

Ryan Kashanchi is a junior at Santa Monica High School. Though primarily a math and science kind of guy, Ryan has come to appreciate the broad range and visionary spirit embedded in Steinbeck’s work. When not listening to foreign music, playing piano for patients at the UCLA Hospital, or stuffing himself with vast quantities of eclectic food, Ryan can sometimes be seen running throughout the traffic-packed streets of Los Angeles, usually triumphant in being unharmed despite his frequent jaywalking (jayrunning) and shameless trespassing onto private property. Whether he ends up in astronautics, linguistics, or the fascinating realm of bio-engineering, Ryan intends on leaving the world better than how he first found it. Come what may, he leaps into the future with unbridled optimism.